The rush of Western entertainment companies into India’s huge, complicated market continues with the launch of ShortsTV there as a channel on Tata Sky, the country’s biggest distribution platform.
“The short-form entertainment revolution is sweeping across the globe, but nowhere is the appetite for bite-size entertainment content, delivered across multiple platforms, more prevalent than in India,” said Carter Pilcher, CEO of Shorts International, the London-based parent company of ShortsTV. “The scale of this market makes this expansion of significant strategic importance for our company and for short movies as a whole.”
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has told investors he considers India as the streamer’s next big growth market, and has acquired a string of Indian-made films and series to appeal to audiences there and beyond. And Amazon is pushing hard as well, particularly on its e-commerce side.
Both face significant local competition for shares of an online market estimated at more than 500 million people, roughly double the U.S. online population. The country is also on pace to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation. Importantly, unlike China, it does not have the same strict top-down limits on international entertainment content.
India is already a hot spot for shorter-form content. Most notably in recent months, Indian music channel T-Series (with 71.9 million subscribers) has been challenging Swedish gamer PewDiePie (who has 72.2 million) as purveyor of YouTube’s most subscribed-to channel in the world.
PewDiePie, aka Felix Kjellberg, was worried enough about the T-Series challenge to his YouTube primacy (he has been the site’s most popular streamer for half a decade) that he organized a campaign to boost his followers and keep ahead of T-Series’ rapid growth.
India isn’t a simple market to penetrate, however. While Hindi and English are the country’s official national languages, India recognizes nearly two dozen more regional tongues, from Bengali to Tamil to Kashmiri. The Indian film industry is the world’s most productive, releasing nearly 2,000 features last year, about a sixth of them from the Mumbai-based Bollywood sector.
“India has a rich history in short movies that have been responsible for putting many Indian filmmakers and actors on the map,” Pilcher said. “We are proud to be working in partnership with Tata Sky, the leading content distribution platform in India, to create a massive entertainment opportunity for an audience of potentially millions.”
To appeal to the Indian market, ShortsTV spent the past year adding more than 500 shorts from local creators, on top of its existing library of more than 5,000 short films. The company said it also will be partnering with local creators to make more short-form content there.
Short films – whether from influencers, music companies, or professional filmmakers – have drawn increasing attention from across the entertainment busines, as creators on a variety of newer distribution platforms break free of the strict 22-/44-minute formats of traditional ad-supported American TV.
“As viewing habits evolve, short films have seen a huge surge in popularity across the world, including in India,” Tata Sky Chief Content Officer Arun Unni said. “However, there hasn’t been a single curated destination for the Indian consumer to watch this content. Tata Sky Shorts TV aims to be that destination where a curated selection of 2,000-plus of the world’s best short films can be enjoyed on a 24/7 basis.”
Hollywood veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg and former HP CEO Meg Whitman are preparing to launch Quibi, their billion-dollar venture focused on premium, episodic short-form content. As well, Netflix is one of numerous current online streamers experimenting with short-form content as part of their offerings.
ShortsTV has specialized in premium short films throughout its existence. With the Tata Sky deal, it’s now available in about 70 million households in the U.S., India, Latin America, and Europe. It sells downloads of hundreds of its shorts online in 92 countries through iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Verizon/Frontier.
The company recently launched an online app in the Netherlands that uses machine-learning functions to help viewers create their own “channels” of shorts based on their favorite genres and current mood. That app will son be released in India, Pilcher said.
ShortsTV also presides over the annual theatrical release of Oscar-nominated documentary, live-action and animated short films. The 2018 release grossed more than $3 million domestically, a record for the 13-year-old series.