Over-the-top players reap dividends as binge-watching spikes amid lockdown

Shobha Roy/Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on March 28, 2020 Published on March 28, 2020

The method of consumption of content via OTT has changed   -  REUTERS

Over-the-top (OTT) players or streaming services have been witnessing a spike in viewership on their platforms in the wake of the pandemic.

The lock-down has not only led to the closure of educational institutions, but has also prompted a number of companies to allow work from home for their employees. This has contributed to the sudden surge in viewership, or binge watching, industry experts say.

Subscriber numbers are up by 6-10 per cent depending on the platform, while traffic on these platforms are witnessing a three-four times jump.

Subscriber base

According to Tarun Katial, CEO, ZEE5 India, subscription numbers are up over 10 per cent compared to the previous weekend.

“As far as content consumption is concerned, we have seen an increase in key metros with audiences opting for a wide variety of content across 12-odd languages. There is also a 10 per cent jump in the consumption of our original content,” he told BusinessLine.

Bengali OTT provider Hoichoi, owned and maintained by SVF Entertainment Pvt Ltd, has also witnessed a significant rise in its subscriber base.

“We don’t share our subscriber numbers. However, we can say that the traffic on our platform has increased four times. Even the average watch-time spend by a subscriber on the platform per day has increased to 60 minutes and continues to increase daily,” said Soumya Mukherjee, Head – Revenue and Strategy, Hoichoi.

While Amazon Prime refused to comment on its subscriber base, it has opened up the section of kids and family content as a free offering to all its customers. This was previously a paid subscription available to Amazon Prime members.

“This (opening up for free) includes our Amazon Original kids and family shows, select third party family movies and TV series licensed in cooperation with several of our studio partners. We continue to explore opportunities to make a wider selection of content available for customers,” the e-tailer and streaming platform said.

Alternative devices

The method of consumption of content via OTT has also changed. Earlier, watch time was restricted to morning travelling hours or at night (post returning home). These would mostly be through mobile phones or handheld devices like Kindle. Now, smart TVs and ‘alternative devices’ are the primary ones. “There has been an over 5 per cent spike for TV content via connected devices like Amazon Fire Stick and through smart TVs,” Katial said in an emailed response.

Binge watching had led to the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) asking the Department of Telecommunications to ensure that internet networks are not clogged because of high bandwidth usage by streaming services.

Suggestions made by COAI include temporarily switching from high definition to standard definition streaming. Another is removing advertisements and pop-ups that consume high bandwidth.

Most players including Voot have already moved to standard definition for streaming. Industry sources are, however, divided in their opinion as to whether this increase is sustainable or not in the long term.

“We do think this is sustainable in terms of people renewing their subscriptions, the reason being the kind of content we provide. We always ensure two web series and a number of films stream every month,” Mukherjee of Hoichoi said.

Faisal Kawoosa, founder of techArch, says: “Yes, people are watching more OTT content. Viewership is up. But in view of future uncertainties no one knows how users will behave or if renewals will happen.”

An economic slowdown and salary cuts post the withdrawal of lock-down are a possibility. In such a scenario, people could curtail these subscriptions.

Moreover, many people have opted for monthly subscriptions, during their present work-from-home phase. Converting them into long-term dedicated subscribers is also an issue that streaming services will have to look into once the curbs go.

“True content is king and in these time streaming services are witnessing a spike. But at the end of the day, consumer behaviour is unpredictable. As movie halls and malls open up, binge watching may take a backseat,” said an analyst.

Published on March 28, 2020

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