Anirban Roy Choudhury
Media

What has the growth in consumption done to scale and security in the OTT game?

India has leapfrogged to 2022-23 in terms of the number of users streaming content, said panellists in a webinar organised by afaqs! last evening.

The Coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown have dealt a massive blow to many businesses. But there are a few which, to some extent, have been more on the lenient side of the disruption. The digital video-on-demand (VOD) streaming business is one of them.

In a webinar organised by afaqs! last evening in partnership with Akamai, the panellists, who work with some of India’s top OTT platforms, said that the country has leapfrogged to 2022-23 in terms of the number of users streaming content. "We thought we will evolve to such high numbers only by 2023," said Ali Hussein, CEO, Eros Now.

Moderated by Sreekant Khandekar, co-founder and director of afaqs!, the panel discussion was arranged to address the pros and cons of this unprecedented consumption. Apart from Hussein, other panellists included Hiren Gada, CEO, Shemaroo Entertainment; Mini Gupta, partner, advisory services, EY; Mohit Srivastava, head of product and engineering, Viacom18 Digital Ventures; Sidharth Pisharoti, regional VP, media and carrier division, APJ - Akamai Technologies; and Tushar Vohra, head of Technology, ZEE5.

Khandekar started the conversation by asking the panel to shed some light on the consumption behaviour, post lockdown. Gada was the first one to respond, saying, "All parameters have grown more than 4X, and the numbers have held up, with a few minor fluctuations."

As ShemarooMe is a new addition in the digital video space, it has a lower base. However, the growth was significant for established VODs like Eros Now, too. Hussein said that within the first week of lockdown, the numbers doubled. He said that the consumption during lockdown wasn’t just restricted to ‘prime time’.

"What we also observed is the penetration outside (of) metros, and a 1.8X growth in the consumption of our content on the large screen," added Hussein.

While the lockdown played a role in the consumption growth, Ali attributed the growth to Eros Now's recent content launches. One of them was 'A Viral Wedding', a show shot by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK during lockdown.

A screengrab of the webinar
A screengrab of the webinar

Like television, most of the consumption on OTT platforms generally takes place post office hours, and during weekends. A phenomenon that didn’t hold true during lockdown. "The 1 to 4 p.m. consumption has grown manifold," said Gupta of EY.

Khandekar asked Gupta if the consumption pattern in India was different from the rest of the world. Gupta revealed that in India, there has been a ‘15-20 per cent’ increase in the time spent per user per day. She added that unlike the west, where existing users are consuming more, in India, a significant number of ‘new population’ has subscribed to the new mode of entertainment.

"Thirty to forty per cent of new connections have taken place, once the lockdown began," said Gupta. Another insight she shared is that 65 per cent of the digital video consumption is happening in rural India, which is 40 per cent of the total Internet penetration.

News, content related to health, social media and gaming... Pisharoti of Akamai said that there has been an uptake in consumption in all spheres. "We have seen a 30 per cent month-on-month growth globally, which is roughly a whole year worth of Internet growth in just one month," he revealed.

He reminded everyone that this growth in traffic happened despite no live sports streaming at all. "Normally, sports drive a lot of eyeballs," he added.

The unprecedented growth in consumption also brings in technical challenges. As both Ali and Gupta mentioned that there has been a significant growth in viewership in rural India, where many are first time OTT users. But, are they tech-savvy enough to navigate through the pieces of content they want to watch?

"I don’t think that anyone is less tech-savvy when it comes to OTT," said Vohra of ZEE5. He added that most people who land on streaming platforms, like ZEE5 or Eros Now or Hotstar, have already experienced Facebook and YouTube, and it is very much the same technology. "Yes, it might be a little tricky when it comes to connecting to the television, where the user needs to verify through the mobile device," added Vohra.

So, the rise in consumption may not be a big technology issue, but it does expose a lot of security concerns. Due to the lockdown, any kind of filming was prohibited. Television channels did not have new episodes to telecast, film entertainment was completely stalled, and it was only the OTT platforms that were rolling out new shows for the paid subscribers. This resulted in a spike in demand for fresh content. "Immediately, we saw that the ‘pirates’ got more active," said Srivastava of Viacom18 Digital Ventures.

He said the content that was supposed to be inside a ‘walled garden’, was made available on many ‘China-based’ apps, from where one could easily download, without subscribing. Apart from content piracy, Srivastava said a lot of credential sharing is also taking place due to which people, who are not supposed to get access, are also getting access to the content.

When it comes to technology issues, password changing emerged as a big one. "A lot of people had come back to the platform after a long time, and many of them forgot their email ID, so resetting it was a bit of an issue," said Srivastava.

Piracy has always been an issue, not just for OTT, but all forms of entertainment. Stakeholders in the industry have worked together to deal with it, and to some extent, have succeeded, too. Torrent is banned today, camcording in a theatre is a criminal offense, etc.

The panel concluded by stating that the digital VOD industry will need to sit with the telcos and other Internet service providers, and together chalk out a plan to deal with the menace of piracy. "While individual players are doing their bit, there is a lot that can be done collectively, as an industry," concluded Hussein.