Global audience, diverse content: OTT platforms are the new normal

OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ Hotstar, SonyLiv, Zee5, and even new regional platforms like Aha and Neestream have become popular during the pandemic when people stuck in their homes started exploring new means of entertainment.

By Nimisha S Pradeep  Published on  8 Feb 2022 11:24 AM GMT
Global audience, diverse content: OTT platforms are the new normal

Hyderabad: Srinivas Balabommala, the associate vice-president of the Telugu OTT platform Aha, was on a call with his relatives in Visakhapatnam. Srinivas, who reviews movies, documentaries, and shows for children at Aha, was not very up to date about the latest original shows, talk shows, and reality shows that Aha had lined up for streaming. One of his relatives asked him, "When will Aha start streaming Indian Idol Telugu?" and Srinivas went blank. He wondered how people got to know about all this and how he missed it despite being an employee of Aha. That's when he found out that there are exclusive WhatsApp and Telegram 'Aha' groups in gated communities and among small social groups where the new Friday Aha releases are updated religiously every week.

OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ Hotstar, SonyLiv, Zee5, and even new regional platforms like Aha and Neestream have become popular during the pandemic when people stuck in their homes started exploring new means of entertainment.

Aha, an OTT platform exclusively serving Telugu content, was launched on 8 February 2020. It celebrated its second anniversary on Tuesday. It now has 17.8 lakh paid subscribers all over the world. Despite streaming only Telugu content, Aha's audience is spread all over the world with a majority of them from the US, the UK, Singapore, and Malaysia. "Since Allu Arjun is our promoter, fans of the star in different parts of the country also watch our content," says Srinivas.


Pandemic and viewership

"OTTs are opening our content to a global world. It's a blessing," says Padma Katurirangan, the vice-president, Original Content, Zee5 Telugu. She further says, "During the pandemic, people were stuck in their homes. There has been a dramatic change in perception. This made content makers recognize OTT as a media. Directors who refused to make content for OTT media are now more open and are like, let's try it."

Srinivas agrees that the pandemic was a "blessing in disguise". He explains how people have become more open and have started exploring content in different languages from across the world. All they need is subtitles.

Srinivas specifically says that Aha has a lot of subscribers for dubbed content. "We have a huge library of Malayalam to Telugu dubbed movies for which there is a large audience," he says.


Another thing that is interesting to note is that people are ready to watch the same movie that they saw in theatres once again on OTT. Srinivas recalls how many had asked who would watch the film on OTT when deciding to stream Sai Pallavi and Naga Chaitanya starrer and theatre-hit 'Love Story'. "Believe me, we broke even in six months," says Srinivas. The same happened with 'Crack' and 'Anukothi Athithi' (the Telugu dubbed version of Malayalam movie 'Athiran'), says Srinivas.

More recognition for new heroes

OTT platforms not just brought a global audience for regional content but also opened up a global stage for budding regional artists. Srinivas gives the example of the movie 'Colour Photo' which didn't have even a single big star. The hero was Suhaas and the villain was Sunil. The movie was a massive hit on Aha, says Srinivas. Similarly, 'SR Kalyana Mandapam' starring Kiran Abbavaram, who had previously acted in one movie, was also a hit. Many yesteryear heroes who had faded also got a platform for a comeback. "The movie 'Sethupathi' which got an overwhelming response was streamed last month and had actor Rajendra Prasad as the hero," says Srinivas. In this way, people have also started looking at the story, concept, etc. rather than for megastars.

How content is selected and promoted

Padma has been working for OTTs for the last six-seven years. Over time, by analyzing different content, OTT platforms have come to better understand their audience. "The first five minutes of the first episode of a series is the catch," says Padma.

Zee5 aims to make high-quality originals that can be consumed by a large number of people. While choosing content, Zee5 always likes to go with conviction about what the writer brings to the table. But generally, it looks for content that can connect emotionally or is relatable and can be consumed by a larger audience. "We always look for that emotional hook that lets the viewer travel with the character," says Padma. She explains how in Zee5 originals, they try to bring out region-specific content that tells the unique tales from a particular region.


On the other hand, Aha has a three-stage selection procedure for movies. The movie is initially watched by Srinivas, then it goes to the movie review team, and finally, it is watched by the management after which it is decided whether to go ahead with it.

Srinivas takes the example of the movie 'Thank You Brother' to explain how promotion content works at Aha. The movie is about a pregnant woman who gets stuck in a lift. "The actual thrill of the movie begins from here but it happens just before the interval. In our promotion teasers and trailers we take this part of the movie to tempt people," says Srinivas. Besides, the content is also promoted by big stars who act in that movie.

Aha also has a very personalized promotion process wherein depending on a viewer's likes, s/he is updated about similar releases through messages. For example, if a person watches more thrillers, he or she is kept updated about all the thrillers lined up for release.

Aha releases new content every Friday. This is a challenging task, but they always manage to bring out unique content.

What's trending?

Currently, among Zee5 originals, 'Okka chinna family story' is the most popular show, says Padma. It is the story of a boy, who after losing his father doesn't know what to do with all the loans that he has left behind and which the son has to pay now. "People felt so connected with the mother-son relation, father-son relation, and for many other reasons," says Padma. The second season of Zee5's inspirational drama 'Loser' is also very popular.


Meanwhile, Aha's 'Unstoppable', the talk show with actor Balakrishna, is the most talked-about show. It is also one of the top five shows in IMDB rating. In movies, it is 'Senapathi', the crime thriller starring Rajendra Prasad, and 'Bhama Kalapam' starring Priyamani. Aha is also planning to start streaming Indian Idol in a few days.


The future of OTT

With the popularity of OTT, the number of DTH subscribers has come down. "Only people who want to watch the news are now subscribing to television channels," says Srinivas. But when it comes to choosing between theatres and OTTs, he believes that it would be a parallel consumption of both even if the pandemic ends. "Theatre experience is different. It's a family outing. Yes, OTTs have become mainstream media to some extent, but people will continue to consume both (theatres and OTT) in the future," adds Srinivas.

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