The ‘Vocal for Local’ credo is not just an entrepreneurial tagline for the Indian startup world, but a new sentiment that OTT (over the top) platforms are embracing now. The pandemic forced people to stay home and halt travel. Perhaps it was the ‘missing home’ feeling or good content in regional languages or a combination of both that OTTs have seen a spike in consumption of regional content. So much, that a bunch of new OTTs catering to local languages have sprung up too, in the last one-and-a-half years. With big players like filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma stepping in to start Spark, or Tollywood producers such as Allu Aravind launching AHA, setting up such platforms and producing regional content has really caught on. Then there are also dedicated regional players like Hoichoi for Bengali, Koode for Malayalam and Talkies for Tulu.
According to the FICCI-EY report ‘Playing by new rules’ released in March, the share of regional language consumption on OTT platforms will cross 50 percent of the total time spent by 2025. A case in point is a platform like the Bengaluru-based Talkies app, which claims to be the world’s first digital entertainment platform for Tulu, Konkani and Kannada languages and has 1,00,000-plus downloads in about a year. Not just movies, dramas, TV shows, and web series, the app also takes pride in giving bandwidth to Yakshagana, an almost-forgotten traditional theatre form.
There are lakhs of Kannadigas and Tulus living abroad and they love to watch content from back home. “An average worker in Dubai will hesitate to splurge a few hundred Dirhams in the mall to watch a Hindi or English movie. But subscribing to an OTT platform like this (for about 10 Dirhams) gives him unlimited content of his home state in a language he knows, and in the comfort of his home,” explains Ganesh Kamath, CEO of Talkies app.
In June 2020, the platform uploaded over 100 series/movies. In just five months, the audience had exhausted the content and was looking for more. “So we started producing original movies and web series and they have optimal viewership,” he adds. Currently, they have a three-month subscription for Rs 199 for Tulu. In future, they want to have a separate package of 12 web series in the language. They are also keen to have a premiere option where viewers can watch the latest films, even before they release in the theatre, for a nominal fee of around Rs 100. Kamath believes that regional filmmakers will find it easier to get their movies to every Kannadiga across the world via such platforms, leading to better business.
GudSho, an OTT platform for South Indian languages which started in April, already has 100-plus films in its library across four South Indian languages (Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada). Some of the recent releases include The Great Indian Kitchen, Mojin and Papas. “In the current scenario, this business space is highly dominated by English and Hindi content providers. This vacuum can only be filled when more OTT streaming platforms provide local content,” says Sriram Manoharan, Founder & CEO, GudSho. He calls the app a hyperlocal, vernacular platform. “In rural areas, very few know of Netflix or Amazon Prime. These are the people we are looking to serve,” Manoharan adds.
Right now, most OTTs provide single-language content. Sagar Machanuru, Managing Director, Spark OTT, says, “Spark is keen to cater to multiple language audiences in a single platform. We want to lift the language barriers and provide top-tier content to cover all regions and every genre.” For the OTT user, it’s the more the merrier.