‘You really have to dive into it’: Canadian media and production companies invest in India

Global storytelling platform Wattpad wanted to bring the millions of stories created in India to the world. Years of data told the Toronto-based company that there was a growing pool of Indian writers waiting to have their stories shared.

“In India, there is a really beautiful storytelling culture,” said Aron Levitz, head of Wattpad Studios. “Wattpad Studios started with the intent of bringing local storytelling globally, and India is that important market that we really want to put the focus on.” 

Wattpad is not alone. A handful of Canadian media and production companies have made significant investments in the Indian market in recent years. 

It’s no coincidence. India’s growing number of internet and mobile users has boosted media consumption in various formats, making it an attractive market for Canadian content.

For more on opportunities in the Indian market for Canadian producers, refer to our 2020 Key Trends Report's section on the matter.

A growing OTT sector

India’s online video market is expected to have more than 550 million online video subscribers by 2023, according to a 2019 KPMG study. Currently, 220 million Indians consume English-language content ― and that market continues to grow. 

One of the ways Canadian companies are capitalizing on new audiences is by catering to India’s over-the-top (OTT) video market, which is expected to become the eighth largest in the world by 2023, say the authors of PwC’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2019–2023

“India is the fastest-growing entertainment and media market globally and is expected to keep that momentum,” said Rajib Basu, partner of PwC India’s entertainment and media in a press release. “Our research shows that in the next five years, India will see significant growth in OTT, online gaming and internet advertising. Growth in these sub-sectors spurs from the growing trends around personalization and increased digitalization.”

Canadian companies like Squeeze Studio have already begun partnering with Indian streaming services. The Quebec City-based company sold the first season of the ‘Cracké’ 3D animated series to India’s Viacom18 for broadcast on Nickelodeon India and its streaming service Voot Kids. Other Canadian companies, like Toronto-based Essential Media, have sold episodes of the ‘Body Hack’ adventure series to NatGeo India.

For Wattpad, and other Canadian content producers, India represents an important growing media market with enormous potential. “It has to be an interesting country to anyone who is in the publishing or entertainment publishing business. It has to be. It is a brilliant storytelling culture. They love content more than anywhere else in the world,” Levitz said. 

One of the largest online markets

India’s online audience is expected to grow substantially, from 437 million in 2017 to a projected 601 million people by next year, according to Statista. As more people across the country become connected, more Indians will use their phones to consume media, according to a 2020 report by App Annie, a global analytics and market intelligence firm.

The growing number of internet and mobile users in India offers a huge opportunity for many Canadian media and production companies. Wattpad, for example, has partnered with Times Bridge, the partnership arm of India’s largest media conglomerate, the Times Group, to help develop online audiences interested in sharing stories in a variety of genres.

“It has been incredibly helpful to have Times Bridge on board. Times Bridge represents one of the biggest media companies. They provide boots on the ground,” said Kiel Hume, communications lead with Wattpad. The Toronto-based company has seen significant growth in the Indian market, with currently about 2.6 million monthly users in India, out of their 80 million global users. 

In hopes of connecting with local content producers, the Canadian company has hired a general manager in India to have a local view of the storytelling market. 

“We don’t want to just be telling stories from a North American point of view when we’re trying to tell local stories. It’s important for us to get a home base in that country, understand and really dive into the data of those stories and understand what is really important to those users and bring those to bear,” he said.

Challenges and lessons learned

According to Export Development Canada (EDC), there are some tips for Canadian companies looking to do business in India. For example, EDC experts suggest that business owners don’t think of India as one market and recommend region-specific strategies. 

For Wattpad, that strategy has been a key part of developing their audiences. “India itself is a large country and it is not one country, meaning in the way that any large span of land can be so many cultures within the larger country. Canada is no different for that matter. We are very careful when we go in that we are understanding locally the businesses, the users, the culture, how people are using their technology and how people are sharing their stories and the kinds of stories they want to share.”

One piece of advice Aaron Levitz has for other companies is to build on-the-ground teams to create the content that people crave.

“You have to understand it locally. You can’t fit an office in Vancouver and just hope you figure out India. You have to invest in finding the right partners, having people on the ground, whatever it is to let you know what global storytelling and culture is. Because if you’re going to hope to understand any local storytelling, you have to have people who actually know that culture,” said Levitz.   

“You really have to dive into it.”

Stephanie Dubois
Stephanie Dubois is an award-winning freelance journalist and writer with almost two decades of journalism experience. She is currently a reporter and associate producer with CBC News Edmonton. Her past reporter experience includes CTV News, Metro News Canada, Yellow Pages and various other print and online publications. She also volunteers her time as the social media coordinator for the Alberta and Northwest Territories branch of Crohn's and Colitis Canada.
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