Hoichoi means ‘fun and excitement’ in Bengali. It also stands for one of the most exciting developments in India’s over-the-top (OTT) streaming industry.
Hoichoi is the first dedicated regional language OTT service in India. Owned by the Kolkata-based film production house SVF Entertainment, Hoichoi started streaming in late 2017. Its mix of original series and Bengali films has been a big hit—both in India and among the Bengali diaspora in the Middle East, Europe, Australia, Canada and the US. “On OTT, most users want to consume content in their local language,” said Vishnu Mohta, cofounder, Hoichoi. “[Ours is] a distinct brand that connects Bengalis worldwide.”
The success of Hoichoi and similar regional OTT platforms has global biggies paying close attention. “Our original content from India is largely in Hindi, but we are also licensing films in various regional languages,” said Srishti Arya, director, international originals, Netflix India.
Netflix’s lineup of original Indian content includes 16 series and 24 films, including Marathi films like 15 August (produced by Madhuri Dixit, and based on life in a Mumbai chawl) and Firebrand (produced by Priyanka Chopra, and based on the struggles of a female lawyer).
The competition is not far behind. ALTBalaji is focusing on creating content in Tamil, Gujarati, Telugu and Marathi. Bigflix, the OTT platform from Reliance, offers films in nine regional languages. Amazon Prime will invest 02,000 crore to create original content in India.
Getting a slice of the regional pie is not going to be a cakewalk, though. Users in India have distinct tastes, and platforms need to be ultra-sensitive. “Different users have different needs,” said Mohta. “We work on multiple genres and even make a mix of them to create original content that is unique. You will find a Byomkesh (an iconic detective show) on Hoichoi, and you will also come across a Charitraheen, an erotic drama!”
Zee’s OTT platform has programmes in nine languages competing with content in English. “We are concentrating on each of them as if they were a completely different product; because a Bengali guy would like something different compared with a Marathi guy, who would prefer something different from what a Gujarati guy likes, and so on,” said Rohit Chadda, chief executive officer (digital publishing) at Zee.
ManoramaMax, the OTT platform launched by Malayala Manorama in September, has already struck a chord with viewers in Kerala. “We have a total user base of three million, including users on Android and Apple devices and the web,” said Sathyajith Divakaran Nair, general manager (digital), Malayala Manorama. “We have launched original programming, and [in terms of budget] we are going about it in a way that it is sustainable.”
Viacom 18, too, is betting on the regional wave. Having found that the Marathi version of Bigg Boss had 100 million views online, it launched a new channel, Colors Telugu, not as a cable-satellite offering, but on its OTT platform, Voot. Akash Banerji, Viacom 18’s digital head, summed it up best: “Regional has become the new national.”