Ever since global streaming giants Amazon Prime Video and Netflix entered the Indian OTT space in 2016, the conversation around original series has mostly revolved around them, thanks in part to market leader 21st Century Fox’s Hotstar’s circumspect attitude at the time about producing content.
Netflix had great success with “Sacred Games,” while Amazon rode on “Inside Edge,” “Breathe,” “Mirzapur” and the recent “Made in Heaven,” and the U.S. majors also announced several other commissions.
Cut to 2019 where the scenario for homegrown Indian OTTs is vastly different and there is a glut in originals production. Hotstar, with 150 million monthly active Indian users, scored a slam-dunk in January, announcing a slew of A-listers signed up to create content, including Shekhar Kapur (“Elizabeth: The Golden Age”), Neeraj Pandey (“M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story”) and Kabir Khan (“Tubelight”). The first of the new original commissions include local remakes of hit franchises “The Office,” “Hostages” and “Criminal Justice.”
In February, Zee 5, the OTT division of media conglomerate Zee Entertainment Enterprises with 56.3 million monthly active users, celebrated its first anniversary by announcing 72 originals across six languages that will bow on the service through March 2020. While Hindi-language titles including “Rangbaaz,” “Karenjit Kaur” and “The Final Call,” abound, Zee 5 also announced originals in Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Bengali and Malayalam languages.
“The regional markets are where the future of entertainment lies; our next viewers will come from there,” says Zee 5 CEO Tarun Katial. “We are cognizant of this and building an ecosystem to add more value to our stakeholders in these markets.”
February also saw the launch of five originals, including Hindi-language “ImMature” and “Lots of Love” in the Tamil and Telugu languages, from the Times media conglomerate’s MX Player, which claims 75 million daily active users. Viacom 18’s Voot platform has some 15 originals, including two in the largely under-catered Kannada-language, “Comediga” and “Just Car Caralli,” with 16 more in production, while Sony’s Liv platform has a vast array of more than 70 originals. Both players have some 35 million monthly active users.
Alt Balaji, with 13 million paid subscribers, has 33 originals with 30 more on the way. The company with the most ambitious plans is Bollywood giant Eros Intl. with its Eros Now platform. Paid subscribers are 16 million, a 218% growth from last year, and the company is investing some $70 million across a 100 new shows, in addition to such existing ones as “Side Hero,” “Smoke” and “Operation Cobra.” Eros Now is targeting 50 million subscribers over the next three years.
Eros Now COO Ali Hussein says originals will be a big driver in growth, but also acknowledges the contribution of its massive 12,000-title movie library, across 10 languages. Looking to the future, he says: “We are at early stages of the growth of the online video business in India. Data is going to be a large driver on a lot of the business and content decisions.”
With Reliance Jio’s aggressively low pricing for data forcing competitors, including Airtel and Vodafone, to follow suit, projections of the Indian OTT market growing to $5 billion by 2023 appear to be on track.