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Digital entertainment sector adds some positivity to the otherwise gloomy business environment

 

  • How has the global pandemic led lockdown impacted OTT players?
  • Is this growth sustainable in the digital media industry?

 

The world is experiencing one of the most unprecedented times in the history of mankind. The Coronavirus which began from Wuhan in China, has locked everyone, across the globe, in their homes, sparing no country/region. This outbreak has brought the entire world at a standstill, diluting all kinds of differences such as wealth, religion etc. The world’s superpower - United States America is equally vulnerable as any other economically backward country and is forced to shut all activities and implement the lockdown like most countries in the world. In India, the lockdown is being practised by all the states since the initial address by the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi. While following the lockdown is extremely crucial to break the chain of this pandemic, however, increasing number of business leaders in the country are worried about the loss of revenue and even continuity about their business operations. While almost every industry globally has been shunned, industries like aviation, hospitality are expected to remain impacted for a longer timeframe even after we emerge on the other side of this crisis. Nonetheless, amidst this gloomy business environment, there are a couple of sectors which are witnessing growth - one such sector is digital entertainment. Televisory has looked into the current  state of the digital sector in India and impact of lockdown on it.

Locked inside their homes, Indians are suddenly experiencing an enforced lifestyle change. With extra time at disposal, they are now turning towards OTT platforms to keep themselves occupied. With no new content on television, home locked audience is resorting to Over the Top (OTT) media platforms. This is reflected in the considerable increase in viewership of OTT platforms during the last few weeks. As per a survey by mobile marketing platform InMobi, online viewership has surged by 46% in last couple of weeks.

According to a recent survey report released by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), viewers have spent ~12% more time on digital streaming platforms during the lockdown period (20 March to 3 April) compared to 3 weeks period early this year (calculated from 13 January to 2 February). Within this, viewers have spent 32% more time on watching original series while nearly 52% more time on watching movies on these platforms during this period.

Even higher increase was witnessed in the number of viewers switching to OTT platforms. The number of viewers watching original series on these platforms jumped significantly by 123% and the count of movie audience increased by 56% during this lockdown period.

 

To capitalize on the increased demand, many players in this industry have launched several initiatives urging people to stay inside their homes and still remained entertained through numerous options available online. For this, these players have also made some of their paid content available for free.

Zee5 CEO Tarun Katial recently stated that “The viewing time has increased by over 50% with Daily Active Users (DAUs) and app downloads rising by 15 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively. And the viewership on connected devices has also seen a 3X growth in this period. ZEE5’s popularity has further soared with the #BeCalmBeEntertained initiative, which urges viewers to stay calm and enjoy responsibly by staying home, a premium content accessible to our AVOD (ad-based video on demand, or free subscriptions that require viewers to watch ads) users for free during the lockdown period”

The global entertainment giant, Disney+, which was already scheduled for the launch in India, entered the country in early April this year (in collaboration with Hotstar), and seems to have benefited the most. Within days of its launch, Disney+ had approximately 80 lakh paid subscribers in India.

Hence, a significant large portion of population is now relying on this medium for entertainment. Though, given large number of players in the industry, viewers are spoiled for choices and these players are doing their best to remain competitive by adding more original content or bringing in international shows apart from making some popular shows free.

Nonetheless, this increased streaming has added some stress on cellular infrastructure as huge traffic may cause internet outages blocking all communication services. In order to deal with this, all OTT players have decided to cut down high definition (HD) content to standard definition (SD) content.

Paritosh Joshi, media consultant and principal, Provocateur Advisory echoed this concern in a media statement recently - “OTT platforms with a smaller base, such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, might even end up doubling their subscribers; Hotstar, which already has a substantial subscriber base, might see a growth of 20-50%. If everybody is constantly using the internet, then data bandwidth will start becoming an issue, and people will not be able to have a seamless experience,”

However, the continuity of growth of this sector, during as well as after this pandemic, is debatable as it depends on several factors. The most important of these factors is internet infrastructure. As of now, most players have switched their content streaming to SD mode, however, internet remains to be excessively used during this lockdown period. Given this, some users have already started experiencing intermittent troubles in network availability. Therefore, a lot about the growth of this industry, particularly during lockdown, depends on the availability and speed of internet services. Another crucial factor is the length of the lockdown - since the overall pandemic situation does not seem to have improved substantially, lockdown has been extended for another few weeks, (uptill 3rd May in India). The lockdown extension could, prima facie, look good for the industry as viewership could increase during this period, however, non-availability of any new content could also drive viewers away from this medium.

In nutshell, though this pandemic has raised several concerns across the globe, there are a couple of positive developments for a few sectors with one of them being digital media. In India, this sector has seen multi-fold growth in viewership and subscriber base during the past few weeks. Though, increased streaming time has added some stress on telecom infrastructure, which in turn poses a threat of continuity of streaming services. Nonetheless, the OTT players and telecom players are working towards ensuring seamless experience. On a macro level, growth of this industry, during and post crisis, depends a lot on the economic situation of the country and the financial health of the viewers during this period and revival of income/businesses post the lockdown. Hopefully, as everything comes back to normal, the current jump in viewership is expected to translate into further higher number of subscribers in the long run for these players.

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