Future Of OTT Platforms in India- in conversation with Reliance's Rajiv Bakshi

Rajiv Bakshi, CEO of Reliance Entertainment's Big Synergy talks about OTT platforms



3 years ago | 7 min read

Better connectivity, cheaper devices and even cheaper data plans have been aiding the growth of India’s over-the-top (OTT) industry over the past few years. However, 2020 became a year when more and more people came onto the digital ecosystem, thanks to being stuck at home during the lockdown.

Rajiv Bakshi, the CEO of Reliance Entertainment's Big Synergy talks about the rise of OTT platforms, the effect of the pandemic, and what the future looks like for the OTT industry!

Q. How much has the digital entertainment industry evolved in India last decade?

It certainly evolved exponentially. Not only evolved but disrupted too.

So, technically it is not a moderate change. We witnessed the evolution with the disruption of internet usage. It changed the entire ecosystem of this particular industry. Initially, the process was slow and took about a decade to convert the entire industry into what it is today.

Q. Which trends dominated this industry in the last 4-5 years?

The most dominating trend that I noticed is personalisation. Each communication, each engagement, and each form of entertainment is personalised and I believe that Personalisation is what makes a digital platform distinctive.

Personalisation is the key for the survival of digital platforms and is it the feature that gives a competitive edge. Since people got control of choosing the content they want to see, they are more fond of it. Personalisation is not there only for the consumers but is of enormous value for the makers as well. It is good for the business because of equal opportunity.

Q. With people spending more time at home due to Covid-19, how has it affected this industry and what kind of new trends are expected to be seen?

After witnessing the pandemic, we can say that we are experiencing the “digitalisation” in true sense, at least in our country. It is growing in a collective manner.

People are consuming data at ease through their phones, tablets, laptops, etc at any given time as per their convenience which was not possible a few years ago. So, if we consider change as an “x”, the growth in the industry that has happened in accordance with the digitalisation would be “3x” or “4x”.

Also, this change is not only for the metro areas or cities but is spread across the smaller cities, towns, and villages as well. The last data that I checked showed me that rural consumption was more than the urban consumption and it was surprising.

It happened during and because of the pandemic. In other words, the pandemic period was kind of a breakthrough for this particular industry and it will keep changing and expanding from here onwards. It is an irreversible, unidirectional, and a progressive change.

Q. Before the revolutionization of the OTT platforms, almost all age groups used to consume content on TV. However, with OTT platforms, a large portion of users are between 18-35. What could be done to get the age group above 35 get involved actively with OTT platforms?

Many people have this misconception that people in this particular age group constructs the majority of the consumer base but it is not true. Digitalisation and technological advances have made things easier for people in other age groups too.

Since the majority of our country’s population is the young generation, hence they are automatically the largest consumers, but the older age groups are active participants as well.

We have witnessed the 60s becoming the new 40s and 40s becoming the new 20s, so it is only about the falling in an age group at a right time.

It has nothing to do with the consumption of data because you cannot beat the younger population of our country. They are in majority. You don’t need help to understand the process anymore because it has become much more easier and accessible.

So, everyone is consuming their data from some platform or another at some point or another because that’s the need of the hour and the part of new normal.

Keeping the needs in mind, the products are built very intuitively to keep the consumer at ease until they become familiar with it. It is all about adaptive learning, you don’t need schooling for it. Only the inertia is changing, rest everything remains the same. All you have to do you exert some efforts and maybe a little time!

Q. In an Indian setup, what model works best when we talk about OTT industry. Should it be an ad-based, subscription-based, or maybe something else?

India is a large country, so if you are thinking of sticking to one particular model and survive, it is not going to happen.

We have such a large audience with changing demands and different behavioural patterns, one single model will not be able to succeed. Still, the predominant model in my view would be an ad-driven model because our society has seen it, and has been seeing it since time immemorial.

When it comes to content consumption, ads subsidies the content and the consumer enjoys it too. The second model would be a subscription-based model but it isn’t that active in our country yet.

Rest of the models are in an early or experimental phase so we haven’t experienced much of them especially when we consider language-based platform. You can clearly see that television has 800+ channels in our country but around 7-8 OTT platforms out of which only a few are performing very actively and rest are still trying.

OTT platforms are trying their best to match the pace with the personalisation demands after testing the models & designs and hopefully, we will see it in the nearby future.

Q. Recently, with the growing reach and demand, OTT platforms have come under government regulations. What does it mean for the future of the OTT platforms? What could be some pros and cons?

I think the growth of any platform is defined by its consumers. About the regulations, I have seen TV being regulated according to the government guidelines which never came in their way towards their growth so far, so it won’t be a problem for us as well.

What I believe is that rules and regulations are essential at times to keep things in proper order. Hence, guidelines will only help the industry to prosper further.

It is not only about government regulations but about self-regulation too. I believe all the industries in the market are quite mature to handle themselves and don’t need the guidance about the obvious.

Q. The digital penetration in India has been increasing but rural India is yet to be reached effectively when we talk about OTT platforms. What do you think the future of OTT platforms looks like in rural India?

Pandemic impact! Millions went to their hometowns which were the rural areas, so we saw a swift drift in the data from urban consumption to rural one.

The user-base has already started increasing in rural India and it will grow further because things have become easier. A lot of changes happened during the pandemic which made people familiar with the digital platforms and technology.

So, I believe that the future of OTT platforms in rural India is going to be fantastic.

Having said that, we are seeing different types of content too as we are geographically huge! We have different languages, cultures, likes, and dislikes, and hence makers are going to be on their toes to provide something for everyone as per their preferences.

We already started working on it and we will see more of it in the future. After all, it is a platform for an audience so you have to see if your content is for your country, for a targeted section, or for the entire globe.

Q. Production houses with immense production experience, knowledge about what content consumers prefer are venturing from linear TV to OTT. What do you feel about this shift?

You cannot put any medium in the obituary. In India, TV has played a dominant role as an entertainment provider and will continue to do so in upcoming future too.

Growth could be slower, but they will find out ways to combat it. Talking about the digital platforms, it is already running in the race and is trying to match the pace. So it is all about co-existing.

It's time that one learns to walk with the competition as we are not here to knock someone out but to build a better future which can only happen when we join hands. Collective growth can do wonders!

Anyway beating TV in regard to content cannot happen, they have a library of hundreds to thousands of hours of content from the past till present. So they are very diverse and OTT can only survive “with” them and not “against” them.

Q. To what extent do you believe the content produced on OTT platforms( and the actors) are going to be appreciated and recognised in award shows in this decade?

Content is the king! We got amazing creators, amazing screenplays, amazing actors, and writers in our country and they are constantly working to provide better content than they already did.

India holds a very good potential to lead in this sector and will do it eventually one day. We are already working on it. Also, everyone got a chance to present and provide because of the personalisation so it is a win-win for everyone.

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges Indian OTT industry faces and need to find ways to overcome?

The biggest challenge would be a tradeoff. Everyone wants to do everything today.

The strategising process from deciding a short form to a long-form, it is all about people’s temptation and their preferences. So, coping with that on a regular basis is a little challenging. The change in the mindset is really something that the brands are trying to match.

Apart from that, we know that change is the only constant and is meant to happen but we can overcome this once we attain maturity. The economical conditions of our county has affected our ecosystem as well.

Once it is balanced, rest everything will fall at their respective places.

Q. During these tough times, what does it takes to lead a team and what are the mistakes to avoid?

You should not try to do everything. Prioritise as much as you can. Selection is my mantra!

So prioritisation of people, time, and resources has to be done. Leading a team is a participative process. You need to know what people around you are capable of, how talented they are, what can they do, how can you solve their problems, and vice-versa.

In order to be a good leader, you have to be on the same page with your team and think distinctively yet alike. The idea is to over-communicate not only within the organisation but with the customers as well in order to combat every worse scenario together and collectively.


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