Rise of niche OTTs

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A little-known OTT app that is only 10 months old and with content only in one language has raked up 5M+ downloads on Play Store with a rating of 4.5 (1.9 lakh ratings).

AHA is an OTT service officially launched in March 2020 (soft launch in Jan 2020) with only Telugu web-series and movies.

What’s interesting though it is not a venture by a millennial aged tech or media hipster. It is owned by Geetha Arts whose owner in turn is Allu Arvind – a leading producer in Tollywood cinema (Telugu film industry) since the last few decades.

This idea of a legacy production house getting into OTT is not new.

We have seen this with Sony (that shitty Sony Liv app), Zee, and Eros launching their own OTT services. We are now seeing an extension of this trend to regional production houses. SVF Entertainment was the among the first in this race launching Hoichoi in 2017 – an OTT service with exclusively Bengali content.

This trend is largely driven by one insight – a large section of people consume content only in one language. And quite a few Indian languages have sufficient speakers to be called a large market.

AHA has an addressable market of 84M+ Telugu speakers.
Hoichoi has an addressable market of 225M+ Bengali speakers.

Both platforms monetize through paid plans (AHA @ ₹365 yearly and Hoichoi @ ₹599 yearly). SunNxt by Sun Network launched in 2017 is another good example of this trend but not the focus of my thread since it is multi-language (Tamil, Telugu and Kannada). There are few more single language OTT examples like Cityshor.tv (Gujarati) and Planet Marathi. These however are not backed by established production houses.

OTT apps by established production houses have an advantage.

1. Their content library is more wholesome from Day 1 given their existing ownership rights.
2. They have larger marketing budgets and also have the industry network to rope in regional stars as ambassadors or for exclusive content.

AHA is a really good example here. Their ads are all over Youtube and TV – something unimaginable for a 10 months old company if it was run by an outsider. Allu Arvind also roped in his son Allu Arjun – a leading Tollywood actor – for promotions.

And to those who know about Tollywood a little more, they know it is a cartelized industry controlled by a few powerful film families (similar to Bollywood but a bit more pronounced). Allu Arvind’s family happens to be one of them. So star faces for promotion and exclusive content (see talk show called SamJam) would have been a phone call away.

Way forward

A welcome change due to AHA is the increase in story & format experimentation in Telugu content. Producers in offline Telugu cinema have mostly stuck to template-y potboilers with a star cast as their safest bet to recover money (has been the case for last 2 decades).

AHA, however, has realized the flexibility of the OTT platform to capture long-tail tastes in storytelling. Unlike offline cinema, OTT lets you experiment with different kinds of stories in a safer manner (because of the lower marketing & distribution costs). Ironic since AHA’s parent Geetha Arts hardly experimented with stories for decades.

Anyway, on AHA, you will see a lot of original content from new & young directors, actors who started their careers on youtube and kinds of stories you will never see in traditional multiplex Telugu cinema. This makes AHA a new platform for the next generation of Telugu storytellers and artists. It is also potentially a talent pipeline for offline traditional cinema. And Geetha Arts, its owner has first access to all this talent. Pretty smart move. Anyone say flywheel??

I published this post first as a Twitter thread here.