The COVID disruption period has seen an exponential rise in VOD content consumption in the country with almost all OTT players witnessing significant increase in content consumption and subscriber numbers. Homegrown OTT platform from the house of ZEE Entertainment, ZEE5 has also noticed a major 10X increase in subscriptions along with consumption patterns. In today’s virtual webinar of Indian Television dot com’s Vidnet Tech Series – “Challenges of ensuring seamless video experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond” – ZEE5 Technology head Tushar Vohra confirmed the same and also spoke of the current scenario. Said he, “ZEE5 is an AVOD/SVOD platform. The advertisement volumes have obviously gone down, on the monetary side there’s dampness as there’s lack of fresh content due to the ongoing lockdown. So, as a responsible and one of the top players in the OTT business, we’ve spent a lot of thought on how to keep our consumers engaged and provide binge-worthy content with the focus on retention. However, the consumption and the subscriptions have increased manifold. We’ve seen a 10X surge in subscriptions. There has been a healthy growth in that area. Some older content from TV like Hum Paanch has seen good growth on the platform. So has DD National viewership on ZEE5 with the re-run of Ramayan.” Adding 1000 hours of content during the lockdown, the streaming service has witnessed a massive viewership of 437.4 million, and has confirmed to have 66.3 million users. ZEE5 now boasts 76.4 million MAUs (Monthly Active Users), with 11.4 million peak daily active users and 536 million monthly video views, as ZEE5 business head and chief revenue officer Taranjeet Singh revealed in ETBRANDEQUITY’s webinar- ‘Staying Relevant in Difficult Times’. Earlier in February 2020, ZEE5 CEO Tarun Katial announced, “There will be much more in the months to come! 80+ Originals, direct-to-digital movies, regional packs and more to ensure we are the preferred choice for the over 550 million consumers who are estimated to take to online video viewing by FY23!.” But with the outbreak of the Coronavirus and the lockdown that followed, most of the promises were temporarily hindered. But owing to the lockdown, ZEE5 has observed increased content consumption of 14 per cent during afternoon (12 noon to 4 pm), a whopping 92 per cent spike in movie viewership, 78 per cent surge in news viewership and 10 per cent jump in original content consumption. News channels on the platform have seen unparalleled rise in viewership amidst the lockdown. In particular, the tailored news coverage for COVID-19 has reportedly seen 12.4 million viewers. The streaming service also confirmed that the average consumption of news has increased by 178 percent compared to the pre-lockdown period. In an official statement, ZEE5 also revealed that average watch time has risen by 16 percent for live news and 29 per cent for video-on-demand news. The platform has also seen a surge in news consumption via connected devices, reporting a growth of 166 per cent in terms of video views for the same period. Since people are now spending more time indoors with their families with least or no access to outdoor entertainment, they are watching more and more content be it on television, OTT or web content on smart TVs. With the Amazon Firestick and other necessary items, people are now enjoying the coming-of-age web content on their TV screens. Singh mentioned in the webinar, “There has been a shift from linear TV to Smart TV viewing during the lockdown period. Connected TV viewership has increased and driven new user growth for ZEE5 in the post-COVID period, and we are seeing massive connective TV viewership.” Singh also pointed out that of total ZEE5 users, 53 per cent consume regional content. In fact, the OTT player has seen a significant surge in viewership in smaller cities and towns. Added he, “We are the only platform that provides content in 14 regional languages like Marathi, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Southern languages, Hindi, English and so on. The ZEE5 audience is split by 56 per cent, 35 per cent and 8 per cent in Tier I, II and III cities respectively. We’ve observed a surge in consumption across smaller towns in the post-COVID period. Be it Patna, Siligurui or Bhubaneshwar all of these regions have shown double digit growth. It’s an all India phenomenon.” In terms of gender split in viewership and consumers, ZEE5 has an almost 50-50 split (52 per cent women and 48 per cent men), maintaining a healthy balance unlike many other OTT players. Singh emphasises this is mainly driven by GECs, movies and original content. ZEE5 Kids has also seen a 200 per cent surge in viewership on the OTT platform during lockdown as kids come to terms with an early and lengthy summer vacation. With a wide and varied library of kids content from studios like Cosmos-Maya and others, ZEE5 has left no stone unturned to keep kids entertained and engaged. From Bandbudh and Budbak, to Bapu, to Gadget Guru Ganesha, Guddu and many others, ZEE5 has a great catalogue. As Singh further unveiled, the increase in viewership of the platform is also owed to the tailored offering launched during the lockdown – two exclusive channels – Dish Positive and Corona Coverage, as a part of its #BeCalmStayInformed initiative. With Dish Positive, ZEE5 has created a fact check platform that busts myths. It also provides details such as precautionary measures, symptoms, FAQs, doctor’s take, state helpline numbers and others. Corona Coverage, on the other hand, serves as an information-led channel delivering key news about the virus. ZEE5 also said in the statement that COVID-19 notifications have further helped in circulating relevant information. The push notifications are consigned twice a day and it includes vital information. It has also created a special landing page for COVID-19 related news. With the role of OTT becoming more prominent in the sphere of presenting real time news during the pandemic, ZEE5 is taking steps to bring even more trustworthy information with each passing day.