In the rapidly evolving Indian OTT market, several players are making their presence felt with unique offerings and innovative strategies. One such player is aha, a Telugu-only OTT platform making waves in the industry. Amid the ongoing growth in the Indian OTT space, aha has been exploring new opportunities to expand its reach, tap into different markets, and cater to the demands of its audience.
As a follow-up to the report, we spoke to Rakesh CK, Head of SVOD & Business Strategy at Arha Media, to discuss the deal, his view on aggregation, and AVOD.
Rakesh CK is a seasoned business leader and is currently the Head of SVOD and Business Strategy at aha. He is responsible for the overall strategy, growth of subscriptions & revenue, pricing & subscription plans for aha’s Telugu & Tamil language OTT services while overseeing the P&L.
To those new to aha, it is a Telugu-language OTT app co-owned by My Home Group and Allu Aravind, offering a range of original content, theatrical releases, talk shows, and reality shows.
The platform has become popular in over 190+ countries with a lineup of super hit shows like Telugu Indian Idol, Das ka Dhamki, Unstoppable Season 2 with NBK, Vinaro Bhagyamu Vishnu Katha, Masooda, Ori Devuda, DJ Tillu, Bheemla Nayaak, Color Photo, and much more.
Aggregation Phenomenon in India
We are seeing a phenomenon in the Indian OTT landscape where successful, stand-alone OTT players join “OTT aggregator” platforms to increase their reach further. Users of these platforms get access to a bouquet of OTTs, of which they can pick and choose what they want to watch. Popular among these are Tata Play Binge, JioCinema, Airtel Xstream, and Hindustan Times’ OTTPlay.
When asked about the driving factor behind the deal with Tata Play Binge, Rakesh CK had this to say,
“We understand that the OTT SVOD universe in India currently has around 120 million paid subscriptions and 49 million unique subscribers, according to the ORMAX audience sizing report. We also understand that a significant portion of these audiences watch paid content through aggregated offerings from Telcos, ISPs, bundle deals, etc. Furthermore, we expect OTT consumption to continue growing significantly beyond Tier 1/2 markets.”
“We view this as an opportunity to tap into these untapped audiences. Our partnership with Tata Binge Play and their significant strength in the DTH space and deep distribution network is helping us reach these untapped audiences and become part of a new value proposition. This allows us to tell our stories to a significantly larger audience, whom we would not have been able to reach earlier.”
Working with various aggregators can offer new growth opportunities and help expand a platform’s audience base into regions and territories that they possibly couldn’t not have in a short span of time.
Rakesh explained their approach to collaborations, saying,
“As a company, we are constantly exploring partnership opportunities to expand our reach and provide more value to our customers. We carefully evaluate each opportunity based on various factors such as the scale of the partnership, the target audience, and how well it complements our services. Our approach is to assess each partnership on a case-by-case basis and determine if it aligns with our goals and objectives. We believe that strategic partnerships can help us tap into new markets.”
When it comes to deciding between going solo or collaborating with an OTT aggregator, there are various factors that need to be considered. While going solo provides complete control over content, delivery, and branding, partnering with an OTT aggregator offers a wider reach and access to resources. Nonetheless, the decision also necessitates an OTT to reconsider its pricing strategy and strike a balance between its standalone app’s pricing and what is provided on the aggregator’s platform.
It’s worth noting that the trend towards aggregation is only gaining momentum, as evidenced by the growing number of OTTs joining forces with the likes of Airtel Xstream and Tata Play Binge. At the time of writing this article, Airtel Xstream has 19 content partners, while Tata Play Binge boasts more than 26.
Winding up the discussion on aggregation, Rakesh added,
“Going solo provides control over content and branding, while collaborating with an OTT aggregator provides wider reach and access to resources. The decision depends on a company’s goals and strategies.”
Growth for aha beyond Telugu and Going Global
For regional language platforms like aha, growth can take different forms such as targeting the Telugu-speaking audience in India across Tier 1/2/3 cities, targeting the Telugu-speaking diaspora across the world, or venturing into content from other languages.
To capitalize on the growing demand for Tamil-language content, aha launched a Tamil-language OTT in April 2022, which offers bundled Tamil-Telugu content to its user base. This move enables aha to offer combo packs in Telugu and Tamil with 4K and Dolby through their Special Plan, which is attractive for dual language speakers, according to former CEO and now, Director Ajit Thakur.
Moreover, aha’s recent announcement of a Rs 1000 crore investment aims to consolidate its position in Tamil and Telugu markets and expand into new languages and genres, reflecting their ambitions.
During the interview, we asked Rakesh about aha’s “glocal” ambitions and their approach towards expanding into new markets. We also inquired whether their foray into the Tamil OTT market would undercut or boost their image as a prominent Telugu OTT.
In response, Rakesh stated,
“We ventured into Tamil with a 100% local promise. Our app interface was also built in line with this promise. We allow users to seamlessly switch between Telugu & Tamil content & subscribe to either of the services independently of the other. We have hence been able to go after the Tamil opportunity independently & position ourselves as a 100% Tamil content provider in the TN markets. The last couple of years have been breakout years for content from South, and our belief in regional proposition has only grown.”
Rakesh also mentioned that outside of the domestic Telugu and Tamil markets, aha has a significant worldwide presence and added the following when asked about their global reach and numbers.
“Outside of the domestic Telugu and Tamil markets, we have a significant presence in the US, UK, Australia, and other countries. Additionally, we are expanding rapidly in the Southeast Asia and Middle East markets. Unfortunately, we do not disclose our subscription numbers for each geography. However, we are constantly expanding our reach in various regions and are committed to delivering our content to audiences across the world.”
Thoughts on AVOD
Monetization is a critical aspect of any OTT platform’s business strategy, and aha is no exception. While subscription-based models have been the primary source of revenue for most OTT platforms, aha has also ventured into AVOD (advertising-based video on demand) to provide more affordable and accessible options for viewers. However, as many service providers have realized, an advertising-based strategy can be fraught with risks, particularly when it comes to the number and relevance of ads. Missteps in AVOD strategy can cause more harm than good, and aha is keen to avoid these pitfalls.
When we asked Rakesh about his thoughts on AVOD, Rakesh had this to say
“We believe that AVOD has its advantages, as it allows us to offer value propositions that are more affordable and accessible to a wider range of audiences. However, we also recognize that ads can be intrusive and affect the user experience. To address this, we offer ad-free services for users who prefer a seamless and uninterrupted viewing experience.
And on the point of CPMs, he added “Additionally, our CPMs are competitive and deliver value for brands. We are constantly evaluating the effectiveness of our advertising strategies to ensure that they strike the right balance between user experience and revenue generation.”
In conclusion, Rakesh CK’s interview provided a wealth of valuable insights into aha’s business strategies and perspectives on the Indian OTT landscape. The platform’s collaboration with Tata Play Binge, its entry into the Tamil market, and its emphasis on striking a balance between ad-based and ad-free services show aha’s flexibility and its commitment to meeting its users’ demands.
As the Indian OTT industry grows increasingly crowded and competitive, aha’s continuous search for new partnerships and expansion into new markets should help the platform stand out and thrive. By focusing on providing high-quality, regionally relevant content and delivering it in affordable and accessible ways, aha is positioning itself for sustained success in the years to come.
Krishna Rao Vijayanagar
Krishna Rao Vijayanagar, Ph.D., is the Editor-in-Chief of OTTVerse, a news portal covering tech and business news in the OTT industry.
With extensive experience in video encoding, streaming, analytics, monetization, end-to-end streaming, and more, Krishna has held multiple leadership roles in R&D, Engineering, and Product at companies such as Harmonic Inc., MediaMelon, and Airtel Digital. Krishna has published numerous articles and research papers and speaks at industry events to share his insights and perspectives on the fundamentals and the future of OTT streaming.