If numbers are an indication, then God’s Own Country is becoming a haven for players in the OTT space. But not all are betting on the OTT staples of movies and web series.
Koode, which means “with you” in Malayalam, is a tech-driven OTT platform using data insights to drive viewership. Koode’s Founder Radhakrishnan Ramachandran spoke on the prospects of OTT platforms in the Malayalam language space. Excerpts:
Q: How did Koode come about when the OTT space already has big names in the fray?
Radhakrishnan R: The reason we looked at launching Koode is because the so-called mainstream OTT platforms were not giving adequate space for regional language content to grow, barring a few languages. Content creators were looking for an alternative platform to express themselves. And we all know Malayalam creates possibly the finest content among all Indian languages, if our movies are anything to go by.
Moreover, we have been in the digital media space for more than two decades and have seen the reach of regional language programming. We launched one of India’s first OTT platforms iStream.com way back in 2011. We also manage the social video channels of many of the leading national TV networks.
The reach of many of these regional language channels of YouTube and other social media platforms is a clear indication that regional content will be a huge factor that will drive content consumption in the OTT and digital space.
Q: What is the content strategy that Koode has adopted to create its market and distinguish itself from the competition?
RR: We are trying to build a new content ecosystem by bringing together a bunch of fresh talent who are looking for an alternative independent platform.
We are putting together a content creator network in Malayalam. We will support these creators to produce compelling content — we will provide them infrastructure support and mentors to finetune their creative capabilities. We have built two such ‘content spaces’ — one in Kochi and the other in Thiruvananthapuram.
Koode will pursue a two-pronged approach — creating original programming with this bunch of creators as well as curating content from other social media platforms.
One area we are betting big is Esports and gaming. We recently bagged the exclusive streaming rights for one of the biggest gaming events in the country — India Today Esports Premier League (ESPL). It is the first franchisee-driven Esports league in India. The idea is to build highly interactive communities who will be a part of our platform.
We are also in the process of identifying micro-influencers across the length and breadth of the state to work with us and create programming. We are using this network to use digital platforms to market and promote the content. Also, with genres such as gaming, we hope to build highly interactive communities who will be our brand ambassadors.
A lot of platforms are primarily focusing on movies, but we would like to bet on a wider range — looking at data and analytics. We analyse data to understand what sort of content genres our audience is looking at. We believe good content will always have takers and will be experimenting across multiple genres.
Q: How easy or difficult is it for regional language OTTs such as Koode when international players are also going aggressive on Indian languages?
RR: Apart from a few big-budget movies, which they have picked up rights for, none of these platforms are focusing on original programming in Malayalam. We understand the pulse of the audience better and have a good rapport with a lot of young and talented creators. So, while we may not have the content budgets that these platforms have, you will see a lot of interesting programming coming from Koode.
We are also looking beyond just showcasing content to provide immersive experiences, connecting local businesses to the audience and bringing communities together for events. Content is just one layer.
As a technology-first digital media company, we have a strong focus on data and analytics. This gives us deep insights into content consumption patterns, which will greatly help us shape our content strategy.
Q: And how are you going to tackle local competition?
RR: Original programming will be the key to our growth. We have already started producing influencer-based shows — two shows are already on air. We’re introducing new segments such as crime-based docu-dramas, mini-movies and web series. We’ll release them in November.
We will also launch Koode Kids in association with one of the largest global content providers for children.
Most of the OTT platforms available today in Malayalam focus exclusively on films. Many of them are trying to provide an alternative to theatres, which had been shut down for some time. One needs to have a broader content strategy to remain relevant. Anyway, it is always good to have competition as it grows the market and forces you to innovate.
Q: Apart from content and marketing, what are the other factors that regional language OTT players like Koode have to consider?
RR: The awareness about OTT products or apps, availability of good internet connections and access to smartphones are high among metro users, while B- and C-tier cities are still catching up. The audiences therefore are at different stages of their journey when it comes to adoption of streaming services. This itself causes a huge variation in the viewership.
Big-ticket movie releases and sporting events such as the IPL are helping in creating awareness and adoption of such services in B- and C-tier cities.
In Kerala, our experience has shown that the awareness is high but adoption has its challenges. It is B- and C-tier cities that we are constantly targeting by working with creators from such places, promoting them and collaborating with them. This is where we see the opportunity.
Q: Now that normality is returning after two years of Covid-19, will OTT continue to maintain viewership numbers?
RR: The last 24 months have seen video consumption growing manifold. We have been riding on that wave. But even before the pandemic struck, we have seen a huge traction on platforms such as Netflix and Prime. If your content is sticky, OTT platforms will continue to thrive, irrespective of theatres opening up.
I believe regional OTT platforms will grow the same way regional media grew across other formats. Of course, they will face the same challenges players across other formats faced in terms of the size of the market they were addressing. But right now for us, it is about creating good content for the global Malayali audience.
–By Narendra Puppala