OTT is much more grounded and a lot more local, say experts at SCREENXX 2021

Amid the pandemic OTT players have now understood about the concept of Going Local, with the growing focus on Tier 2 and Tier 3 and below markets. The tastes and behaviour of the audiences in these markets is different from urban and metro audiences. Regional content is seen as a major driver for the OTT sector.

Adgully turned the spotlight on this burgeoning industry with its prime property – SCREENXX 2021. Day 1 witnessed this largest gathering of stalwarts from the fast-growing entertainment industry that has risen to become a part of the digital world with growing OTT platforms and releases, which was held on October 6, 2021.

The panel discussion on ‘Going Local - Why OTT needs to grow deeper roots’ provided some deep insights on the regional content and audience space for OTT players. Moderated by Mrinal Jha, Founder, MAJ (Mrinal Abhigyan Jha) Productions, the panelists included:

Abhishek Jain, Co-Founder, OHO Gujarati

Ajit Thakur, Chief Executive Officer, aha

Soumya Vilekar, Co founder and Chief Financial Officer PlanetMarathi

Sathyajith Divakaran Nair, General Manager - Digital, MMTV

Vishnu Mohta, Co-Founder, Hoichoi TV

Rabindra Narayan, Managing Director & President - PTC Network

Commencing the discussions, Mrinal Jha remarked, “We have got great popular culture in all languages, especially in Bengali, the Southern states also have great local content.” She then asked the panelists about how much the players are dependent upon the local literature, which we have been consuming for decades, to create their content.

Hoichoi’s Vishnu Mohta replied, “As far as Hoichoi is concerned, we have been lucky enough to be gifted with the legacy of literature. The Bengali writers over a period of time have continued to delve into that. The greatest interest comes in when people are watching the show or such a movie while they are growing up and are continuing to watch. ‘Byomkesh’ and Eken Babu’, some of the biggest detective shows for Hoichoi, are a few of them. Even today, a lot of writers in India are Bengali, which ensures that there is a great leadership, a great body of work that needs to be created and that’s one of the key ways for us to look at the content that we work and continue to make.”

Oho Gujarati’s Abhishek Jain remarked, “I already picked out my pen and my notepad because I feel today more than the speaker, I’m a seeker here. We are just four months old OTT platform; we started as a production house and somewhere we found that our voices and our stories are not finding the right place at the right time and that’s when we went into the technology business. All these panelists and the channels have been our part of research and study, beginning with Hoichoi, aha or PTC and we at Oho Gujarati are looking forward to giving a great amount of content in the coming years.”

Speaking about the literature, Jain said, “Literature is very rich in Gujarati and a lot of it has been explored, we intend to get into that, but the disparities, the fact that all these literature that we are talking about are classics. If we have to talk about contemporary literature, there is not much to really see in the open forum and because of that, when we go back to the classics, it has got its own certain amount of production value and all of it attached to it, which is a little difficult for a very new company or a start-up. But we aspire to do that.”

Commenting on the Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets, Jain noted, “In my view as a filmmaker since the last 10-12 years of my journey, when it comes to regional content, enough of being very aspirational and modern. These Tier 2 and 3 cities really want to see the content coming from their own place, their own heartland. That’s where we are trying to hit the market and hopefully by bringing the right mix of literature and today’s stories from that heartland would make a good deal.”

Agreeing with Jain, Aha’s Ajit Thakur firmly believed that not only in regional, but the OTT medium demands a lot more personalisation of content, which is not in the case of cinema. “You’ve got to fill a theater with a certain kind of cinema and that cinema will continue to exist. I think what it has done is created a whole generation of us who are looking forward to much more realistic, relatable content and one big aspect of that is the content which is rooted. I also believe that the more rooted the story is, the more it travels. This is true not just for local but international markets as well, and that is one thing that OTT has allowed us to do,” he added.

Planet Marathi OTT’s Soumya Vilekar added here, “The only thing is that people have aspirations, but they want the stories in their local language and their local stories because they create the flavour of it. Whatever we show to the audience, it should be motivational and inspirational, irrespective of any language. Those are the local stories, the people who have struggled and reached some place – that is story that people in the regional markets would like to see and hear about, rather than someone based in the US struggling and achieving success, that doesn’t correlate with their lifestyle or their thought process. Thus, the regional platforms have a long way to go to bring in the flavour of the local audience.”

MMTV’s Satyajit Divakaran Nair felt that the content is getting very real on OTT. According to him, “It is not about bringing content back from literature or creating heroes out here, it is about very real people, real situations around us and what can be seen around us and that is true in every aspect. This is not just in Tier 2 or Tier 3 towns, but every place has its own energy and charm that needs to come out in every story and only when that comes out are people engaging with the new forms of content that are becoming popular on OTT.”

Speaking on the reach of local content, PTC Network’s Rabindra Narayan said, “What we saw is the escapism that is being provided by the English platforms, the fantasy series, science fiction and all. There were experiments in Hindi as well, but they didn’t work that much. The local audience is not looking out for these world heroes, they are looking at characters which look like them, behave like them, talk like them and are like them. They want them to succeed, they want their stories. We are producing a movie every week, the teams which we discovered are contemporary and are localised, which talk about issues and happenings around them. Stories which are related to them – the immigration issue, the local violence, the degradation of politics – everything that is happening around them is getting you far more traction on local OTT platforms, as opposed to the English or the Hindi ones.”

Watch the complete discussion below:


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