Variety partnered with U.K.-based consultancy Ampere Analysis to delve into the top local and regional ad-supported and pay TV services that are competing with behemoths like Netflix and Amazon. For more, click here. 

With more than 30 million subscriptions, ALTBalaji is one of the leading home-grown players in the crowded Indian SVOD space. A lucrative market valued at $600 million, according to a recent Deloitte study, India’s SVODs are projected to grow 30% annually to reach $2.5 billion by 2024. 

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Among the more than 20 significant providers jockeying for viewers in India’s arena of giant streamers: Disney Plus Hotstar, which relies on a stranglehold of local sports rights and a vast movie library across Indian languages; Eros Now, boasting more than 12,000 library titles, with an accent on Bollywood; and global behemoths Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. 

India is a market that prefers local content over imports — best exemplified by Hollywood’s failure to carve out more than a paltry 13% of the box office — and this is where ALTBalaji excels. Data from research firm Ampere Analysis reveals that 76% of ALTBalaji content is composed of local originals, compared with just 8% for Netflix and Amazon.

During the first phase of lockdown in India, the streamer added 17,000 subscribers daily. While demand for fresh content is high, surging coronavirus cases have forced another lockdown in much of the country, leaving production suspended. ALTBalaji has a dozen new shows already shot and awaiting post-production, and is hoping to deliver them quickly. The company’s aim is to reach 100 originals by 2021. By that time, Ekta Kapoor, joint managing director of Balaji Telefilms, the parent firm of ALTBalaji, hopes the streamer can break even. Last quarter, ALTBalaji reported a $2 million loss.

Balaji Telefilms has been the leading Indian provider of popular entertainment television for some 30 years. Kapoor is a staunch believer in satisfying the tastes of the widest possible audience rather than catering to the niche urban elite — and she has extended the same philosophy to the streamer. 

“We realize that growth comes from reaching out to the masses spread across the length and breadth of the country,” Kapoor tells Variety. “‘Massification’ of content has been ALTBalaji’s goal from the beginning, and that [will be our plan in] expanding our language content library.”

ALTBalaji has built a collection of more than 60 Hindi-language original series across genres since launching in 2017. Hits include gangster thriller “Apharan,” teen drama “Class of 2020,” maternity-themed “Mentalhood,” romance “Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain” and rom-com “Coldd Lassi Aur Chicken Masala.” “Each show on the platform or in the pipeline has been created [by] keeping in mind the audience’s interest across demographic and sociographic segments,” ALTBalaji CEO Nachiket Pantvaidya tells Variety.

Compared with the amounts lavished on commissions by the global streamers, ALTBalaji holds its annual content budget to a tight $15 million per year. This allows it to keep subscription costs low. Customers can access ALT­Balaji for just INR300 ($4) a year, or INR100 a quarter.

Kapoor is unfazed by the glut of streamers in the market and is a firm believer in her own product. “The entry of new players, or for that matter, the emergence of an existing player, does not bother us,” she says. “Reading the market early on, predicting content consumption trends and patterns, and taking due action at the earliest is what has helped us stay ahead of the curve. These can probably only happen when the organization is small, sharp and quick to react.”

ALTBalaji has a co-production deal with streamer ZEE5, a division of media conglomerate Zee Entertainment Enterprises, with resulting programming available on both platforms. But ALTBalaji doesn’t claim any output or carriage agreements with international providers. 

A healthy portion of the company’s subscribers live outside India. Of its global customers, who access the service via a host of partner providers, some 18% are from North America, the U.K., Australia and the Middle East. Internationally, ALTBalaji is priced at $4.99 quarterly or $12.99 yearly.  

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