‘In 2016, OTT was an unknown category; today it’s the buzzword’

Archana Anand

What an incredible year 2018 has been! Starting with the fabulous launch of ZEE5 India in February, to closing the year with ZEE5’s Global launch across 190+ countries. This period was punctuated with frenetic activity, supercharged energy, and speed.

And it’s a speed of change that’s echoed across the entire OTT industry. As I take stock of where we are today vis a vis at the start of my OTT journey in 2015, I am wowed at the stark difference between then and now. Then, we struggled with an ecosystem that barely supported content streaming or online payments; today we speak of 5G and AI, and wallets are nearly hygiene. In 2016, OTT was an unknown category; today it’s the buzzword.

As Business leaders in the space, many of us at this point are busy penning down our plans for 2019. As I look ahead, here are my thoughts on some key industry trends that we’ve seen emerge or become more pronounced this year, which I also foresee as dominant themes for 2019.

OTT sweeps the Outdoors: In cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, the skyline that used to be dotted with hoardings advertising the latest movies has now been taken over by OTT show promotions. Try driving down Mahim Causeway without seeing a hoarding for an OTT original or movie every couple of hundred metres. With the need to gain an edge in the battle for online viewers getting intense, players are locking down prime inventory to promote their shows.

Vernacular is all the rage, and across the globe: What started off as an interesting idea in end 2017 is now a full-blown reality. According to a recent BCG-Google report, 48% of India’s internet users (~650 million by 2023) are likely to be from rural areas, and will surely look for content in languages beyond the default English and Hindi. In 2018, we’ve seen a steady rise in content availability on OTT platforms across languages like Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali, Marathi etc. with significant investments in both original content production and dubbing.

Some players being ahead of the curve have even gone a step further to offer a user interface across languages, like Amazon, recently, or ZEE5 where viewers can customize their browsing experience from among 12 different language options. This focus on localisation is getting dominant the world over. OTT players, especially in markets like Asia-Pacific, are realizing that offering content in local languages is key to winning viewers over and are ramping up their offerings across languages like Bahasa, Thai etc.

Can Pay, will pay: With more and more content being consumed online and on-the-go, and access to global content, I see viewer expectations in terms of production, HD quality video, new storylines etc. evolving even further and people warming up to the idea of paying for quality content and for an ad-free viewing experience. With players increasingly experimenting with sachet pricing, regional packs, and even TVOD, and with an increasing number of online payment options, SVOD is surely on the rise.

Telcos and OTT form a symbiotic relationship: The telco partnership route that we kicked off in 2016 with dittoTV became even more mainstream this year with the abundance of Telco-OTT partnerships. With the kind of investments into original content production we’re seeing across the industry, distribution becomes key and bundling and OTT packages are increasingly the norm. The Subscription business has also been richly helped by these partnerships.

There’s a video in my Social feed and it’s blurring the lines: Over the last year or so, we’ve seen an unprecedented blurring of the lines between social media, telcos, media houses, and even technology companies, in a battle to own the content and attract consumers-and their data. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes in 2019, as what we’ve seen thus far looks like just the tip of the iceberg.

Combo deal: Coffee + Wifi: ‘Free WiFi’ is increasingly being leveraged as a marketing tool to drive footfalls at cafes and restaurants or as a value-add for paid services like cab rides eg Ola, or even at the airport and railway station eg Google’s imitative with Railtel. This is a key ecosystem development and a critical driver to increasing consumption as well as getting first time Internet users comfortable with using the Internet.

Digital Advertising is forced to be well-mannered: As consumers become more discerning and impatient about their viewing experience being marred by frequent ads, digital advertising will increasingly be forced to become less intrusive. Native advertising and the like are already on the rise. Tying in with this however is measurability and deep analytics to support better targeting.

We close out 2018 with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction and look forward to 2019 with tremendous optimism. Our confidence stems from the strength and relevance of our language proposition which has only grown over the course of the year. As we now take ZEE5 to ‘Dil Se Desi’ South Asian audiences around the globe, we’re eagerly looking forward to 2019 being even bigger and better, for all of us in the space!

To all of us in the OTT fraternity, the future augurs well. Let’s raise a toast to good times in the year ahead.

(The writer is the chief business officer, ZEE5 Global. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of TelevisionPost.com)

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