Revolutionizing Streaming in India's Heartland
Dialect based OTT for the next billion users in Bharat + The art of a comeback
Welcome to the 9th edition of “Streaming in India”, your weekly news digest about streaming players, OTT trends and more in one of the fastest growing video markets. If you are not already a subscriber, please sign up and receive it directly in your inbox every Wednesday!
^^ Winter is coming to Dubai?
Stage OTT and several other Direct to Consumer streaming platforms feature prominently on our exclusive Streaming in India OTT report which deep dives into the Top 30 OTT platforms in India - it’s available for download here!
Stage OTT founders, Parveen Singhal, Vinay Singhal & Shashank Vaishnav (from L to R) featured on a very entertaining episode of Shark Tank India Season 2 where they raised INR 3 cr ($366,000) at a valuation of INR 300 cr ($36.6 million).
Story of an OTT Founding Team’s Comeback
The Stage OTT Platform
User Experience Highlights
Story of an OTT Founding Team’s Comeback
Started in 2014 by Stage OTT’s founders, viral content website WittyFeed was India’s answer to American company BuzzFeed. The founders had revealed that by the end of 2016, the website had recorded 120 million unique month-on-month users. Additionally, it generated 420 million page views and 2.5 billion impressions.
Fast forward to 2018 and they had just hit $1 million Monthly Recurring Revenue with offices in Delhi, Bangalore, Bombay, New York, Singapore & Indore; the company was going great guns until on 26th November 2018, Wittyfeed’s Facebook page was shut down. Even if there was a policy violation, the team was not informed by Facebook, as per the founders and Wittyfeed was about to close down their operations. The founding team called for a town hall with 90 employees remaining and laid out two options. They could either shut down immediately or the team could trust the founder and stick with them for another six months.
To their surprise, 54 people decided to stay back, taking home only 25 percent of their salary. Double of the remaining 75 percent was given as equity - the employees became angel investors in the company and thereby Stage OTT was born!
The Stage OTT Platform
Stage OTT aims to serve the “underserved” markets within India and build a NETFLIX FOR BHARAT (Reference to the Non-English speaking & primarily non-urban audiences in India), starting with the Haryanvi and Rajasthani dialects. Today, it has become one of the largest OTTs in the region with 400k+ paying subscribers.
Vision: “We aim to uproot the cultural roots of Bharat by providing premium and sensible dialet based content to young and adult audiences” Stage OTT app.
Subscription rates: 3 months: $2.4, 6 months: $3.6 and 12 months: $4.9
As per recent census results, India has about 19,500+ languages and dialects, of which almost 1,369 are considered dialects and only 121 are recognized as languages (the acceptance criterion being that the language has 10,000 or more speakers)!
The idea behind Stage came from the fact that OTT platforms in India focus on languages in the name of vernacular content. That is, they make video content in languages like Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and Marathi. However, “The moment you go beyond urban settlements in India, everybody speaks a dialect…Language is an urban concept,” explains Vinay.
From poetry to movies to motivational content to folk music, almost every form of entertainment package is available on this platform.
A few notable highlights regarding the customer messaging and relevant experience on the Stage OTT Direct to Consumer platform -
The Stage OTT web site is slow to load and does not flow as smoothly as one would expect, HOWEVER there is a clear communication message for the user when you open the web site that says “Download the app for better experience” with a hyperlink for the user to download the mobile app! It is a strategy to get the app installed on the user’s phone real estate which is incredibly difficult nowadays - interesting strategy to increase app installs.
The traditional OTT subscription call to action “Subscribe” is replaced by “RECHARGE”. The Stage team has a really good understanding of their subscribers - most of the subs are used to “recharging” bandwidth / data GBs and talk time on their “prepaid” plans with their preferred telco provider and therefore it is much more intuitive to them to “top up” OR '“recharge” their balance on the app!
Using terminology like VIP to showcase a premium customer - easier to understand words for their target audience - Tier 2, 3 and rural folks who still have the appetite to subscribe and watch quality content.
Whatsapp icon on the app as a customer service line for users who want to share feedback OR have an issue with the app making it convenient for users to have a direct line with the company.
Top 10 replaced by Top 20 - to showcase a much larger but also popular content slate.
Refer and Earn - word of mouth marketing is the best way to spread the word and platforms understand that reducing cost of customer acquisition (CAC) is the holy grail towards profitability for an OTT platform. Giving existing subscribers the ability to earn while referring Stage is a great way for the platform to increase subscribers at a lower CAC. Also this promotes a feeling of community amongst it’s users.
There is a lot to learn from Stage OTT when it comes to Customer Service & Payments -
They offer a customer service help line from 10am - 7pm! I have not seen this on any other OTT platform in India or overseas. Since their overall operational costs are low (including tech being built in-house), the Stage team can probably afford to offer this as an extra service to it’s users.
On the payments piece (The image above on the right), they have activated UPI Auto-Pay, which means that it is easy for a user to activate a trial, acquire a subscription, however also for Stage to auto-deduct monies and therefore retain the users for longer - removing any friction in the payment user experience. In case the user wants to cancel, he/she can do so at the expiry of the current subscription.
The Stage OTT platform is focused primarily on exclusive Web Series and Short Films which are primarily originals (75%) produced by them, however the rest of the content types like Poetry, Geet etc seem to have been added keeping in mind the tastes of their specific target audiences.
The definition of Genres as used on the platform is different as compared with traditional OTTs - again showcases that it is OK to alter communication and user experience strategies depending on the demographics and type of users you want to reach out to.
User Experience Highlights
The Stage OTT Android Mobile App blocks screen recording and has disabled the ability to take screenshots as well, which is great given that piracy is a major threat to their business - it is a low ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) business and therefore any revenue leakage needs to be plugged.
The Video Player (Left image above) and video start times are fast and playback and viewing experience are at par with the best OTT platforms.
The ability to download content is critical for the audience that Stage OTT is going after as they are sensitive to data costs. The subscribers can plan their viewing time and download content when they are at a Wi-Fi zone for example.
Offering their subscribers a Data Saver (240Px) option enables further stickiness as Stage OTT users can control their data costs.
In addition, a Playback Speed toggle on the video player is an intelligent way to enable subscribers to watch content slower / faster = save time as well as data!
Stage OTT’s biggest strength is a fantastic understanding of their customer. Every aspect of their direct to consumer streaming service is built and designed around the digital user behaviour, communication knowhow, & content tastes of their target audience - it’s an inspiration for any content owner / studio, broadcaster OR OTT platform implementing a streaming service. Their strategies and tactics for customer success are directly linked to their vision - NETFLIX for BHARAT.
To get a sense of Stage OTT’s target audience, it is important to understand the sheer number of users that are available for them to target in India alone. This will also give ideas to streamers who want to enter India OR Indian content owners thinking of starting their own direct to consumer streaming platforms - India 1 on the Blume Ventures Indus Valley Report above has the most amount of competition. On the other hand, India 2 and India 3 are getting disrupted and ripe for more innovation / product targeting, even by video streamers. Stage OTT is clearly targeting India 2 and for the immediate future this audience has significant potential to grow!
Having expanded to Rajasthani from Haryanvi, Stage OTT has 1,300 other dialects to choose from in India to grow further. In addition, hyper local sports and ad supported hybrid business models will help them grow to India 3 who are not used to paying for content.
Stage OTT’s startup mindset and an innate understanding of their user’s behaviour truly sets them apart from competitors and should be a beacon of hope for streamers not only in India, but also globally.
That’s all for today folks. If you enjoyed this breakdown, please share it with your friends and colleagues!
While you wait for the next newsletter on another exciting topic, go ahead and check out Koffee With Karan Season 8, Episode 2 this Thursday exclusively on Disney+ Hotstar - And this time it’s the Deol brothers. This season and episode promises to be a fun ride!
And over the past few hours, I have been bingeing on my all time favourite TV Show, FRIENDS (On Netflix) - this past weekend, we lost one of the funniest guys on TV ever, Matthew Perry. May he RIP.
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