OTT overdose

Back in the 90s, when I was doing my UG in Salem, there used to be a Channel V program called Simply South, with Suchitra Pillai as the VJ. It was perhaps the only ‘national’ program on TV at that time that used to curate South Indian film music. They didn’t do a very good job at it (the seeds of Milliblog were sown right there, to set it right!) but since it was the only option, I was very keen to see which songs they pick, every week, from the Southern basket.

Back then, we had the cable-based satellite TV system. So, if we need a channel, we need to call the cable operator and he’d tell us the increase in the monthly subscription fee, we agree and the channel would be added. For some reason, some channels went off the air too frequently because the cable operator has different people handling his systems and one of them forgot who needs/asked for which channels. Yes, it was that clunky back then.

Our cable operator used to frequently forget that I had asked for Channel V – I was probably among the very few in 90s Salem to ask for Channel V, along with some of my college mates. And every week, just before Simply South, I notice its absence and try calling the cable operator to add the channel. It was an 8 pm show if I recall right and I used to walk up to the cable operator’s office around 7:45 pm along with my dad (close to where we used to live, in Salem’s Fairlands area), knock on his door and ask for Channel V to be added!

Those were the days!

Not much has changed, though at least in some circles. See this piece of news from today’s Economic Times:

You’d think the Minister would just go online to Tata Sky website/app (or an equivalent service), use their RMN (registered mobile number) and add the channels they want? Nope. He spoke to the ‘cable operator’!

Back then, the satellite dish was at the cable operator’s premise. That collected an assortment of TV channels and gave people their own bouquet of channels.

Set-top boxes and private dishes changed that equation and everyone had a dish, turning apartment complex terraces and balconies into horrible eyesores.

The current equivalent of a cable operator is perhaps our internet service provider – the large dish antenna the operator had is perhaps the mobile phone, now!

Via the internet pipeline, we get an assortment of OTT channels! How many OTT channels exist in India right now? You’d perhaps name the more popular names – Netflix, Prime Video, Hotstar. How many more?

There’s Airtel TV, ALTBalaji, Arre, BigFlix, Eros Now, Hoichoi, Jio Cinema, Jim TV, Lyca TV, MX Player, Shemaroo, Sony LIV, Spuul, Sun NXT, TVF, Viu, Voot, ZEE5 and more!

From one Netflix that gave us a LOT of entertainment, we have gone to 15+ OTT channels via the internet. Plus, 500+ television channels that beam via a set-top box.

After the TRAI change in pricing for satellite channels, suddenly OTT seemed like a better-priced option. But now, there are so many OTTs to choose from and it looks like we’re back to the 90s scenario of too many individual channels that charge a specific monthly fee and we need to pick one over the other if we have FOMO over some streaming series (because ‘everyone’s talking about it’).

When you look at the global streaming offering, there is Hulu, and other upcoming ones like Disney, Apple, WarnerMedia, NBCU and more! This is very similar to us in the 90s having a pool of ‘international’ TV channels and ‘Indian’ TV channels.

Suddenly, the good old cable TV seems cheaper and more streamlined – one device, and pick channel number to watch something you like. The one big difference was appointment-based viewing vs. on-demand viewing: earlier, you had to set your life around something on TV, but now, the program can be watched anytime, anywhere, paused, continued… all in your control.

When you consider the fact that many of your favorite shows and even past TV shows like Friends are scattered across so many OTT platforms, you’d perhaps wish for the good old days of cable TV 🙂

The ‘scatter’ is already starting to show its impact – Netflix’s 2019 second-quarter results show slowing growth for the first time!

They do blame it on higher prices (they increased the subscription fee) and loss of some hit shows that have gone back to the owners because they have decided to start their own Netflix-rival OTT platforms! But, the scatter is real and we will pay the price for it… or already paying the price of it!

Nothing wrong about it, though – just another evolution. At some point, the cycle will turn again and we may get a ‘mega-aggregator’ that helps us gather individual shows, movies from assorted OTT platforms into our own private playlists!



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