Once on the margins of the Indian entertainment industry, with its racy content only to be viewed in single-screen theatres situated in the dingy alleys of Old Delhi, the increased push towards digital has breathed life back into the ‘erotic’ entertainment industry.
With titles like Open Marriage, Maya Memsaab, Love in Lockdown and My First Practical prominently displayed on the homepages of their websites, Indian streaming platforms engaged in the production and distribution of erotic online content are now the source of voyeuristic pleasure for millions of users. Most such streaming platforms, such as The Cinema Dosti, Feneo Movies, Fliz Movies, Gupchup and Kooku, among others, have also launched their mobile applications on the Play Store, along with various subscription models, starting from INR 49/month.
Our curiosity piqued by a recent report which revealed that the viewership for adult-rated content on popular OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and AltBalaji, among others, had gone up during the Covid-19 induced lockdown, Inc42 decided to undertake a similar examination for Indian OTT platforms that wholly specialise in the ‘erotic’ genre. The results weren’t surprising.
Increase In Website Traffic For Erotic Content
While analysing the traffic for these streaming platforms, a trend that is visible and consistent for most is the progressive increase in website visits as the country went into lockdown. For Feneo Movies, the visits increased from 130,000 in February to 220,000 in March, an increase of about 70%. Visits for April remained steady at 220,000, before slumping to 140,000 in May, as the lockdown was gradually eased in parts of the country.
For another streaming platform Kooku, visits increased by 60% from February to March, and then by another 58% in April, when they stood at 190,000. Thereon, the total monthly visits fell to 140,000 in May, before registering a 35% spike in June and jumping to 190,000. Gupchup also witnessed an 80% increase in website visits from March to April.
As for Fliz Movies, it easily surpassed its competitors in the segment, consistently witnessing around 700,000 monthly visits since the beginning of this year. Fliz Movies also bucked the trend of growth in viewership during the lockdown, with its numbers remaining largely consistent, hovering around the 700,000 mark from January to April, before witnessing a 32% fall in visits in May.
Fliz Movies also leads the pack in terms of downloads, along with Kooku, both having more than 1 Mn downloads each for their mobile applications on the Google Play Store. In contrast, Gupchup, Feneo and The Cinema Dosti each have attained the 100,000+ downloads mark on the Play Store.
While data for website traffic wasn’t available for The Cinema Dosti, Inc42 spoke to Ayushraj Pandey, the managing director of Cine Prime World, the company that owns The Cinema Dosti. Pandey confirmed that his website had also witnessed a similar trend.
“We’ve seen a 25% growth in video downloads during the lockdown period, and a 67% increase in revenue from subscriptions in the lockdown, as compared to the period before the country-wide lockdown was implemented,” he said.
Other interesting insights gathered from the website traffic assessment are about the visits gained by these platforms through social media. For Feneo movies, of the 6,000 website visits that the platform gained through social media from April-June, 90% of them were through Twitter, while 9.5% were from YouTube. A similar trend was visible for Fliz Movies as well, which gained 15,000 visits from social media in the same period, of which, 75% were from Twitter.
Shivank Khandelwal, marketing manager at Feneo Movies, explained the reasons behind the trend. “Twitter allows us to engage with our community rather well. We have a very robust social media strategy, where we upload posters of our web series, films and short films, behind-the-scenes videos from our sets, and interviews with the popular actors and actresses,” he said, adding that being active on Twitter allows the platform to try and meet the expectations of the audience.
“There is a very strong audience for the erotic genre. They have certain demands that we try to meet with our shows. If they ask for a particular actress to be cast in our upcoming series, we try and manage that. Sometimes, there are demands for showing more ‘foreplay’ in the next series, so when the lockdown opened, we fulfilled that demand of our audience as well.”
For Pandey of The Cinema Dosti, his company’s social media strategy differs for every platform. “On Instagram, our posts are very sanitised because we might run into trouble with the authorities there for posting ‘erotic’ content. So we limit our Instagram posts to movie posters and trailers of our upcoming shows. On YouTube, we have the leeway to upload longish, slightly more ‘revealing’ clips from our films and web series. Still, we have to maintain caution,” he said.
Buoyed by the steady viewership for its web series and feature films, The Cinema Dosti is now looking to create content in regional Indian languages.
“We have a lot of content in Bhojpuri which sells well in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But we are also planning to create Bengali content, as there is a huge market, for the ‘erotic’ genre in Kolkata, where a lot of these production houses are also based,” said Pandey.
For a lot of these platforms, the lockdown meant that shooting for ongoing projects had to be stopped. However, what helped them tide over the crisis without incurring a fall in revenue was the existing bank of content which they had already shot. “Our industry always plans for 3-4 months. So we had a bank of content when the lockdown was placed. We began using that existing stock, as well as purchasing more content from other production houses who also have a stock of content ready for release with them. Just as the lockdown opened and the restrictions were lifted, we began shooting in a phased manner,” said Pandey, who works out of Mumbai.
For most platforms working in the ‘erotic’ genre, piracy remains a nagging issue, as clips from their shows are routinely uploaded on porn sites. Pandey said that a lot of The Cinema Dosti’s content is available for free on Telegram. This poses a challenge for these companies in safeguarding the dignity of their artists.
“Our artists are professional actors. Some of them have done regional films while others are aspiring actors. They do their work with a lot of dignity but when they see their work being viewed on porn sites, it affects them. We have a legal team that takes care of these issues and routinely pulls down the pirated versions of our shows and movies from these sites,” Pandey said.
Khandelwal, who works out of Surat in Gujarat, also had similar views on piracy. “There’s some dignity attached to the work when it’s for a web series and uploaded on our OTT platform. When you take the same content to porn sites, you strip the dignity of the actors who’ve worked in the project. It could also have damaging effects on their personal life. We have a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) certificate. So when pirated versions of our content are uploaded on porn sites, we get them removed by forwarding the links to the concerned authorities.”
Fears Of Censorship
The future looks promising for many of these platforms with an ever-growing demand for ‘erotic’ content in India and their foray into making shows and films in regional languages as well. For The Cinema Dosti, the company is actively looking into App Store Optimisation (ASO) and plans for releasing its mobile application on the iOS App Store. However, fears of censorship always loom on the horizon.
A Reuters report in October last year said that the government was deliberating on a potential censorship law for OTT platforms. If passed, it would amount to a virtual ban on platforms producing ‘erotic’ content, where every episode’s premise and most of the dialogues and visuals are bawdy in nature, and hence, most likely to be censored in entirety.
Pandey said that his company is trying its best to ensure that the content released by The Cinema Dosti can’t be viewed by anyone who is below 18 years of age. “We are planning to implement a passcode system, so every time a user logs in, he/she will have to enter the passcode. We want to ensure that kids don’t run into our content. As for censorship, I think more than the government, there are certain groups of people who think we are corrupting the culture by showing ‘bad’ content. But the reality is we are not. This type of content is freely available in so many countries and there’s no stigma attached to it. Here there’s a stigma. But if you are aiming for any kind of progress in the mindset of people, you should realise that these things cannot be stopped and should not be stopped.”
Khandelwal of Feneo Movies concurred. “The ‘erotic’ entertainment industry addresses a need. We don’t advertise our content and still, it sells very well. There are so many actors, actresses, filmmakers and technicians whose livelihoods depend on this industry. I don’t think censorship is a good idea.”
In 2018, the government instructed the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to block access to 857 porn websites. Indian OTT platforms with erotic content, which is often called ‘soft porn’ in common parlance, can never rest easy with the possibility of a censorship law. However, until then, it’s a market with burgeoning demand, with plenty of aspiring actors willing to bare, and an audience that can’t get enough of erotic content.