Kerala's CSpace: Should Government Be In The OTT Business?

Kerala's CSpace: Should Government Be In The OTT Business?

The paradigm of OTT or Over-The-Top platforms has become a core component of our fundamental existence. What was an ever growing avenue, shot up in prominence and rose in its sheer visibility in the pandemic years, starting 2020.

Juviraj AnchilUpdated: Thursday, March 07, 2024, 01:13 PM IST
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Pinarayi Vijayan-led Kerala government launched India's first government-owned OTT platform named CSpace on March 7. This comes at a time, when the world of OTT has undergone major changes, in just the past two years.

The paradigm of OTT or Over-The-Top platforms has become a core component of our fundamental existence. What was an ever growing avenue, shot up in prominence and rose in its sheer visibility in the pandemic years, starting 2020. The trend and revenues of the then main players, only soared, with behemoths like Netflix and Amazon reaping the benefits. Seeing this growth and potential for further expansion, many big-wigs of the film and televisions industry jumped into the bandwagon.

The OTT paradigm

Disney came out with Disney+ (Disney+ Hotstar in India), NBC launched Peacock, Warner Bros launched HBO Max or Simply Max. The list is long, and so are the problems that the mass creation of these platform by these giant media giants brought out. The sector is filled with OTT platforms, that is owned by one or the other major media conglomerate.

This has led to the problem of plenty, creating a clutter of empty. This, as one of the principle USP of the medium was the ability to churn out new content, while offering myriad old-legacy content under one roof. With the creation of multiple platforms, that USP is slowly dissipating. Creation of new content is the prime currency in this business, as the appetite to watch 'something new or different', although not as staunch as the 2020-2022 period, is still persistent. This particular facet has turned out to be intricate task to carry out.

Then, when it come to other factor of providing legacy content from all across the board, under one umbrella, that also appears to have taken a hit, given how many of the major media houses and their respective OTTs are pulling the plug on their shows from say a Netflix or Amazon. This in turn has also affected one of the other USPs of these platforms, the good-old ads, that drove many to these platforms in the first place. In short, we are crawling back to the days of television, with each individual channel offering their own shows, with advertisements.

Government in business

In the midst of this, the state of Kerala's decision to launch an OTT channel has engendered a few questions, derived from the aforementioned USPs of the Medium.

CSpace, a platform owned and run by the government of Kerala, offers feature films for Rs 75 on a pay-per-view basis.

As of now the platform has 42 films in the mix, many of them are award winning films. The larger reasoning for this initiative is being placed on the idea of showcasing the culture and aesthetic appeal of Malayalam films.

Now, whether government should be in business is an age-old question, that has plagued the Indian socio-economic and political discourse time and again, given the complexity of the system, that exists in India.

In the recent budget, presented by the Kerala government, it has been noted that the state's debt, which constitutes 23.8 per cent of the state's GSDP has declined, and it currently stands at  Rs 2.38 lakh crore. Although, starting an OTT platform would probably not push the state into a billion-dollar well of debt, it points towards investment in sectors, where the involvement of the state is not indubitable.

From telecom to other sectors, the involvement of public undertaking in competitive sectors, has always been put to question, because of two fundamental reasons, a) whether it would be unfair on private entities to go against the all-powerful state entities. b) whether it is fiscally viable for state to venture into avenues, with exchequer's resources, without there being an exigent need for it. In the past, the Kerala government itself has ventured into other communication venture including KFON, and internet service provider.

The story of CSpace

In this specific case, if CSpace intends to structure and even position itself as a 'conventional' OTT, then would be able to satisfy the aforementioned criterion is where the moot point lies. When it comes to churning out new content, especially in Kerala, where Amazon Prime video has a presence, it does not even appear to be in its ostensible priority or consideration, as it is limited to about 40 films, yet.

When we move to the next element, providing legacy content, the government going all the way to acquire deals from major productions itself appears financially cumbersome, and perhaps even unnecessary in the larger picture. Then comes advertisement and ultimately revenue. Now, although a government enterprise, in the Indian context is always seen and understood, almost organically as a not-for-profit and welfare entity, sustainability in the longer run is problem, that will eventually catch up. If CSpace does not satisfy any of the said demands, would be an OTT or would it morph into something else al together.

All these points and the granular points, that lay within those points, once again, takes us back to the original question, Is it government's business, to be in business, and there is not answer, that is either in black or white, as this discourse dwells in grey.

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