The COVID-19 pandemic may have proved to be a tipping point for Over The Top (OTT) platforms around the world. New platforms emerged even as global players strengthened their positions. Software firm Contus is set to unveil GudSho, an OTT platform that will focus on content in the south Indian languages. Sriram Manoharan, founder and MD, said OTT platforms are set for rapid growth but also that the theatre industry will come back stronger once the pandemic ends, to co-exist with OTT platforms.
Software development has been your strength. Why are you now betting on OTT?
One of our flagship products is VPlayed, a platform that enables audio and video streaming across the Web and on mobile phones, game consoles, set-top boxes and smart televisions with multi-platform delivery, monetisation and security. It is used by customers in the fitness, enterprise and edutech space and also by OTT platforms like nvivoTV, which is sometimes referred to as the Netflix of Africa, and Heeroz, a Punjabi OTT platform, and several others across the globe. So, it was a logical step for us at Contus to enter the OTT space. Also, a lot of people have content, but existing platforms are very selective in what they buy. We thought we could give them a platform to exhibit their content.
Do you think there is space for one more platform in an already crowded space?
We have global players like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar, and also those operated by big TV groups such as Zee5 and Zeeplex, SonyLIV and Sun NXT, besides several other players like Voot, ALTBalaji, Viu, Airtel Xstream and of course, YouTube.
The OTT industry in India has over 3 crore paid subscribers, and the number is increasing leaps and bounds on a daily basis. It has got a staggering 30% to 35% surge in the number of subscribed users in the past 12 months alone. So, there is enough space for more players.
Netflix and Amazon Prime are global platforms but their content in south Indian languages leaves a lot to be desired. They cater more to the urban population. We are not in competition with them.
GudSho is a hyperlocal, vernacular platform that will have content only in the four south Indian languages. If you go beyond Chengalpattu or any tier-2 or tier-3 city in Tamil Nadu, very few people know about or subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime. These are the people we are looking to serve.
Big platforms spend thousands of crores to buy movies and develop original content. How will you manage the high costs of acquiring content?
We are concentrating only on movies and have no plans to develop original content. We have already built up a library of over 100 movies and continue to acquire more. We have set aside a sum of Rs. 50 crore to buy content for the first six months. Let me add that the funds are from internal accruals only; we have no plans to bring in any investor from outside.
There are plenty of small-time producers waiting to find an OTT platform to release their films. Most producers in India either do not know how the OTT industry functions or do not know how to reach a platform. Whereas the smaller OTT players are having a tough time establishing themselves, they are either knocking on the wrong producer’s door or finding it hard to create a business model that suits film-makers. Users, on the other hand, are confused as to which OTT platform to choose.
We are promising content creators and producers favourable terms and also revenue share with an assured guarantee model, which other players do not give.
Will these be enough to attract people to subscribe to your platform?
People living in the interior parts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka are exposed to the same Hindi content that is being provided for urban audiences by top operators. The south Indian OTT market has around 10 million active users. People are willing to spend but a lack of awareness and a lack of preferred content is stopping them.
Unlike others, GudSho will not have a fixed subscription model. For example, if you pay Rs. 200, you can watch one movie or a pack of movies whenever you want. It will be total value for money for the end users. Besides, we will have a lot of free content.
The pandemic allowed people time on their hands to try OTT platforms What will happen when things are back to normal?
There is a major shift in the mindset and people are now used to watching new movies from the comfort of their homes. They are aware that any movie that releases in theatres will soon be available on an OTT platform in a month or two, if not sooner. But the reverse is also true. Several big films like Master, Krack, Uppena and Karnan have performed well in theatres. In fact, many people watched Master on the big screen even after its release on OTT. This just proves that both theatres and OTT platforms can function in parallel. If it is a superstar film or a big budget one with grand production values, they are willing to watch in theatres with their loved ones. But when it comes to small or critically acclaimed movies, they prefer to wait and watch on OTT.
What is the future of OTT?
On average, time spent on OTT platforms is close to 70 minutes a day and each session lasts up to 40 minutes normally. With the arrival of 5G networks, the loading speed and network access will only get multiplied. This will only increase the OTT market size. In the next 20 years, OTT will become a dominant force. Today, every house has a television with a cable subscription; you will see the OTT industry turn as popular.
When will GudSho be unveiled? What will its USP be?
GudSho is in testing mode now, and we will launch it very soon. Our USP is that we will be introducing a social watching concept to OTT. We will have a recommendation engine that works on friends and family network. After logging on to GudSho, you can invite friends and family using Facebook and WhatsApp links, and you can have a watch party. You can add feelers (emoticons) while watching a movie. It will be like watching a movie with friends even though you are sitting in different locations and time zones – you can know when a friend is watching a movie and whether he is laughing or enjoying himself. Millennials are more clued into social media, and we are hopeful that the concept will be a big hit with them.