TV9 Network, CNBC TV18 and India Today launched their OTT offerings last year.
In 2022, TV9 Network launched News9 Plus in March. In June, CNBCTV18.com launched Binge. And in August, India Today launched Originals. All of these are OTT offerings catering to the changing needs of news consumers.
For these television news broadcasters, the video news offerings are not just a means to strengthen their digital presence. These platforms are attempting to make the most of the growing online video user base and bring in the OTT wave in the news genre as well. The launch of 5G is expected to give a greater impetus to this growing segment. As online video consumption increases and news consumption increasingly shifts to digital platforms, these news networks are presenting news in alternate ways to the audience.
TV9’s News9 Plus, an English video news magazine, is a separate app. It is the digital descendant of News9, the Network’s erstwhile English news channel based out of Bengaluru. It offers the depth and gravitas of news magazines but with the production qualities and story-telling techniques of OTT platforms.
Being a part of the My Home Group, which also owns the Tamil-Telugu OTT service aha, News9 Plus’ tech architecture is the same one that was built for the OTT service.
“In the last year, we have made the technology and the product robust. The overall user experience is at par with any other OTT platform. We have incorporated all the customer feedback, in terms of content and product. We have also built a good library of content,” says Raktim Das, chief growth officer, TV9.
TV9 Network has launched News9 Plus with an eye on the growing Connected TV (CTV) market. As per the FICCI-EY report 2022, CTVs are predicted to increase to 40 million by 2025.
“The viewers of the English genre on television have migrated to CTV or hand-held devices. It is a discerning audience and they are early adopters. They have started consuming content on OTT. Similarly, the English news audience base is also shrinking. In another year or so, even they will start migrating to CTVs,” he says.
2023 is a crucial year for the platform. This month, News9 Plus will be entering into its 2.0 phase, whereby it will start promotions, advertising and marketing. In terms of monetisation, from February it will be streaming live content for around three hours in the morning and evening. This is intended to bring in ad revenue. Meanwhile, it also intends to create a paywall and offer subscriptions in the first quarter of the next financial year.
“In the initial years our focus will be on advertising. We will also focus on subscriptions- if the content is good the consumer needs to pay for it. But our target is that in the next couple of years at least 50% revenue should come from advertising,” he adds.
Meanwhile, CNBCTV18.com launched a video-only OTT platform on its website in June. Unlike News9 Plus it is not a separate app, but is a feature within the website.
Smriti Mehra, CEO, business news, Network18 Group, says, the new offering was a result of a rising demand for video content on its website. The live television was one of the heaviest traffic generators for the website.
“CNBC TV18 is known for its video offering and that’s what the consumer is coming for. We decided if the audience is seeking video then let’s build on it. And that’s how Binge was launched. It gave a dedicated home for our prolific video programming,” she says.
In 2021, India’s online video user base increased to over 350 million people, growing 24 per cent over 2018 to 2020, revealed a report released by Bain & Company.
Apart from the television content, Binge also offers digital-first video content. Currently, it rakes in ad revenue through display ads. “A lot of it becomes a bundled offering of display plus video advertising. As we build audiences on Binge we will also look at some amount of branded content and solutions-led video creation,” she adds.
It is also considering introducing a paywall. “It is something we are constantly pondering upon - whether to do it and at what point to do it. To do it we need to have content that will create customer acquisition for it. It is on our mind. But we don’t know yet when and in what form we will introduce paywalls,” Mehra says.
In 2023, Binge will be equipped with the latest digital technology. “Our studios are getting equipped with AR and VR-lead machines to give better viewing experiences. Hopefully we'll dabble with the metaverse at some point on CNBCTV18. We would like to make the visual experience of the video content a lot more engaging,” she says.
Quite unlike these news video offerings, India Today Group forayed into production of original web series in the non-fiction space for video and audio streaming platforms with the launch of India Today Originals in August. It will be creating content for the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Originals.
Potential of the OTT offerings
While these OTT offerings are touted as the future of English news consumption in the country, how sustainable are they?
Paritosh Joshi, an independent media and communication consultant, says that rather than launching standalone OTT apps, it makes more sense for these channels to be nested within other OTT apps.
“As more people become cord cutters, it will become necessary to distribute linear channels into their homes and this can be one way. OTT platforms are already streaming news channels. However, the problem is in launching a standalone OTT platform,” he says.
Joshi contends that the content on these platforms will have to compete with other entertainment OTT platforms - not only in terms of quality but also in variety.
“BBC Player is one of the oldest OTT players in the world. But it is not just a news broadcaster. It has a full spectrum of content. So it is not difficult for it to populate the platform. Other international news channels also spend a lot on non-news content. Indian channels don't do that. Then what will they populate the platforms with? They can’t make all new content just for the OTT platform,” he says.
Moreover, OTTs ultimately depend on content with a longer shelf-life. News content generally has a very short life. Joshi also lists out subscription fatigue and time spent on these platforms as a factor.
“The average time spent on the news genre is half an hour per day out of three and a half hours spent watching television. There is no association of these brands with long-form viewing. If the time spent is going to remain so low, what is the point of having an independent streaming platform?” he asks.