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After getting Telugu right, aha is ready for its second language

With a focus on customisation of content and a native audience, Telugu OTT platform aha has found success in the 50 million+ Telugu language speaking market in India. While bigger OTT platforms offer content across different languages, platforms such as aha and Hoichoi (Bengali OTT content) have carved a niche for themselves by focusing on depth of content. Discovery of language related content may also be an essential factor driving the growth of these platforms as recommendations on Netflix and Amazon Prime may be a mixed bag.

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Adgully spoke to Ajit Thakur, CEO, aha, on what’s working for the OTT platform, the opportunity in the Telugu language speaking audience, strategy and expansion plans.

What is the opportunity for growth as a platform for Telugu language content?

Regional is an extremely important growth driver for OTT. Customisation of content is very important for OTT and local languages are one aspect of customisation. I think the potential for local languages is infinite. We started out with Telugu because we had a film library, but it is one of the highest consumed languages in entertainment content, whether it is film or television.

We are now at 50 million+ streams, out of which 25 million are unique users. More importantly, our subscription plans are comparable to other apps with multiple languages and genres. Last year, we crossed 1 million paid users with no distribution partnerships. We’ve only seen organic growth since launch. We have achieved 2-3X of the parameters that we have set for ourselves.

"Last year, we crossed 1 million paid users with no distribution partnerships. We’ve only seen organic growth since launch."

Between the two states itself (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) there are about 50 million users with access to the Internet and obviously not all of them are willing to pay for content yet. But even if a section of those subscribers pays, then you can imagine the numbers we can we get from Telugu language and that’s only in India. In fact, we are active in 90 countries but we’ve done marketing only for one, even though we’ve seen traction in the US, Canada and other markets. Outside the country, the Telugu speaking diaspora audience is estimated at 100,000-150,000. But the diaspora audience consumes in multiple languages, so we can multiply that base.

"Outside the country, the Telugu speaking diaspora audience is estimated at 100,000-150,000. But the diaspora audience consumes in multiple languages, so we can multiply that base."

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What are the content preferences of Telugu audiences, especially those accessing content on digital platforms?

We offer extreme customisation, which is one way to make our platform popular. We are based out of Hyderabad and our content team and ecosystem are comprised of directors, producers, actors and writers who are from the two states. The second level of customisation is the story, flavour and the characters. You’re getting the kind of stories which are native to this market.

What is your playbook for distribution and marketing?

There are some rules for OTT that everybody needs to follow. Unlike cinema and television, we are more focused on the narrative. You can tell darker and realistic stories which are popular. The nativity of the content is also one of our strengths. OTT platforms are fairly available across the globe, especially to those who are travelling.

In terms of marketing, we always look at the affinity of any piece of content. One thing that we kept in mind is that we marketed OTT content like they were films. This means that we marketed them across mediums. We also made sure that we didn’t just focus on metro audiences and went beyond to Tier 2 and 3 markets and went deeper and wider to reach more people.

"One thing that we kept in mind is that we marketed OTT content like they were films."

In terms of distribution, we had a clear target to start with and a great set of partners. Together, we managed to get distribution overnight across the two states and it was not easy. We were available from day one.

Lastly, the brand positioning was the key to making this happen. The singular point of our success was our simple brand called ‘aha’, which is easy to remember. We positioned it very sharply. We kept the brand separate from marketing as the latter is an important aspect for every OTT platform.

Why launch your own OTT platform and what are your expansion plans?

Both our promoters are based out of Hyderabad and understand the market well. We wanted to launch one language and get it right, now we are ready for our second language. We have 25 million users and we think it is time to celebrate our audience. So, we launched the aha Awards last year, which celebrates our content. The award winners are selected by audiences as well as critics. Our target is to release one show or film every week. This medium is built on habit and since we don’t have a library of legacy content we will launch fresh content every week.

"We wanted to launch one language and get it right, now we are ready for our second language."

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