2018 marked an important year for the regional digital market with established players like Amazon Prime Video India, Sony LIV, Hotstar, Netflix, Viu India and AltBalaji constantly upping their game by bringing content in local languages like Kannada, Marathi, Bengali and Gujarati. More interestingly there was an emergence of local operators like Hoichoi (Bengali) and Sun Nxt, that started operations in an effort to capture the huge regional market. And 2019 will witness players like Voot and Viu prioritizing on regional expansion. The market is too huge for the major players to ignore and content creators need to start catering to that large audience by bringing  localized content that is seeped in local culture and speaks the language the audiences want to hear.

One of the major reasons for the need for regional content is the spurt in smartphones and the dirt cheap data rates that are dominant in India. With the coming in of JIO the data wars have just started, and more and more smaller cities are getting data connected. Cheaper data is spurring growth in the tier-2 and tier-3 cities for OTT players and  platforms realize that there is a market for regional content. Also there are a slew of content creators for the regional market or local cable television, that already exist in these markets who are more than happy to jump on the OTT bandwagon. According to industry reports, India is among the developing digital economies on the planet today, consisting 13.3 per cent of universal Internet users. India’s Internet user base stands at 461.12 million, and it is also estimated that 75 per cent of new Internet users are going to be from rural India and also 75 per cent of new Internet users to consume data in local languages.

Amazon has gone on record to say that the company will commit upwards to invest $300 million for creating original content (in Hindi and regional languages) for Indian users. The video platform has now begun rolling regional web series in languages other than Hindi and English in India. This year, it launched its first regional web series in India, a Telugu dark comedy called Gangstars. Apart from Amazon, video streaming service Viu has started offering service in Telugu after Hindi and Tamil. This July, it plans to launch six new originals in Tamil language in collaboration with local production houses and talents. Along the same line, the streaming service platform of Zee Entertainment ZEE5 is going forward to release one original show every month in regional languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam.

Experts say that the streaming platforms have realized the potential of regional languages whose speakers are spread across the world. For instance, ALTBalaji’s Tamil show Maya Thirrai witnessed viewership across the Middle East, US, and UK, which house huge sections of Tamil population. Right now the biggest regional digital markets based on consumption include the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka, which have been traditionally contributing a significant chunk of TV advertising revenues too. Bangla and Marathi are the largest regional language internet markets in India based on the size of their populace and their desire to consume internet based content. Many networks are dubbing their Hindi shows into regional languages, but sooner or later the main focus will have to shift on creating original content with local culture seeped into its story telling. With the exception of Netflix that has restricted its India originals to Hindi, the regional market is a space that over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms are looking at closely in India, betting about 30% of their annual budgets on content produced in these local languages, according to video industry experts.

Media consumption across the globe is increasingly happening on digital formats, and India is no exception. And as digital audiences across the country shift to familiar shows in their respective regional languages, there is an opportunity to create specific content for this new audience set. The next wave of growth in Indian Internet is expected from non-metro and rural areas, making it a ripe time to foray into regional digital content. So if you are a content creator, it’s the right time to start thinking beyond English and Hindi.

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