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[Startup Bharat] Indore-based STAGE is building an ‘Indianised’ OTT platform with original hyperlocal content

After their viral Facebook page WittyFeed was lost overnight, Praveen Singhal, Shashank Vaishnav, and Vinay Singhal launched Indore-based startup STAGE, an artist and dialect-led OTT platform, in 2019.

[Startup Bharat] Indore-based STAGE is building an ‘Indianised’ OTT platform with original hyperlocal content

Friday September 04, 2020 , 5 min Read

In 2016, WittyFeed was one of India’s most viral websites. The platform started in 2014 with a user base of one lakh users and within the next two years, it had garnered 420 million page views and 2.5 billion ad impressions. 

But, in 2018, WittyFeed’s Facebook page was wiped out overnight, and the founders decided to continue working in content but with a different approach.

“This turned into an opportunity to re-think the future of content in Bharat,” WittyFeed Co-founder Vinay Singhal tells YourStory

Along with his other co-founders Praveen Singhal and Shashank Vaishnav, he started researching content generated by Indians beyond the metros.


The founding team at STAGE

STAGE“We realised that most content platforms were offering sleazy content, foreign shows dubbed in Indian languages or poorly localised versions of popular global shows, something that Bharatwasis (Indians) don’t relate to,” says Vinay. 

Having grown up listening to indigenous tales from their parents and grandparents, the trio wanted to bring in this hyperlocal flavour to OTT (Over the Top) content, and rebranded WittyFeed to STAGE in 2019.

The founders define STAGE as an “artist-led and dialect-based OTT platform”. Based out of Indore, the platform offers unique and original content in local dialects such as Haryanavi, Rajasthani, Bhojpuri, and Konkani through art forms, including comedy, folk, poetry, storytelling and motivational content

STAGE claims to have received enthusiastic response for its content in Haryanvi, garnering more than four lakh downloads.

Bharatwasis at work 

Hailing from Nunsar, Haryana, CEO Vinay is the first engineering graduate from his family. He was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug in 2010 when he started Badlega Bharat, an online organisation for youth awareness.

His brother Parveen is a BSc graduate from SRM University in Chennai, and serves as the Chief Content Officer at STAGE. 

CTO Shashank is from Barnagar, Madhya Pradesh. He is a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from SRM University and is responsible for STAGE’s tech vision. 

Explaining the name of the platform, Praveen says, “To cater to Bharat, we needed a platform that not only resonated with the audience with its offerings but was also easy to pronounce. Every Bharatwasis in every nukkad, galli or muhallah (neighbourhood) understands and can pronounce STAGE.” 

Additionally, the name is aligned with the platform’s core — an OTT platform that provides artists a ‘stage’ to showcase their talent in their local dialects. 


Team at STAGE

Catering to Bharat 

The parent brand STAGE has two offerings STAGE OTT and Nukkad by STAGE

STAGE OTT is an artist-led, dialect-based platform that offers professionally-generated content in local dialects. On the other hand, Nukkad by STAGE offers professionally-generated infotainment content.

“It [Nukkad] is inspired by everyday conversations that take place at local tea stalls, community meetings, and street corners,” explains Shashank. 

Nukkad by STAGE offers relatable content in short video format. These are usually fictional character-led shows in entertainment, politics, health, fake news, tech, culture, sports, lifestyle, and finance segments. 

Shashank adds, “It aims to bring world-class sensible and satire-based content, on the lines of popular Comedy Central shows by Jimmy Fallon and Trevor Noah, to small towns and cities in a language that’s inclusive and familiar.”

STAGE has leveraged digital platforms such as Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn to acquire its first set of customers. The founders claim that Nukkad by STAGE has reached more than 80 million users, and engages over three million users every month. 

Diversification of content

“We understand that there is a Bharat in every metro and an India in every small-town. One cannot build content for Bharatwasis based on geography. That traditional approach needs to change. STAGE is focused on creating high-quality informational and entertainment content in local dialects. This we believe is our USP,” says Vinay. 

Nukkad by STAGE works with brands across industries. It generates content or AFPs (Advertising Funded Properties) for brands that are ingrained within the shows. “Depending on their needs, brands sponsor weekly shows and we align every episode to their key messaging or USPs,” Shashank says. 

Some of the brands working with Nukkad by STAGE are SBI YONO, Pee Safe, and Insurance Samadhan, among others. 

STAGE OTT works on a subscription-based model. Since it is in beta stage at present, it is yet to create a brand campaign.

“Going ahead, we will also experiment with a tipping model on the platform. It is inspired by the traditional way of showing respect and encouragement to an artist,” says Vinay. Under this model, viewers will be able to pay tips to content creators or artists if they wish to do so. 

The OTT market and STAGE’s way ahead

According to Statista, revenue generated in the OTT video segment is projected to reach $2,315 million by the end of this year, and have 428.7 million users by 2024. 

Additionally, a recent report by RedSeer Consulting states that the Indian OTT sector saw a 30 percent jump in paid subscribers between March and July 2020, growing from 22.2 million to 29 million. It also suggested that while metros lead the consumption, Tier II towns and cities were not too far behind. 

The OTT market in India is led by Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, ZEE5, ALTBalaji, Eros Now, and more.

During the early days when WittyFeed was being rebranded to STAGE, the founders ran out of money. “We were almost about to shut down early last year when our employees pitched in to become investors,” Vinay says. STAGE’s employees agreed to work on 25 percent salary for the first seven months. 

In 2017, WittyFeed raised Pre-Series A funding from Ritesh Malik (Founder of Innov8), Anand Chandrasekaran (former Director of Facebook), Apurva Chamaria (CRO at RateGain), Siddharth Banerjee (CRO and CMO, Games 24x7), and Aneil Mahajan (former COO, Dainik Bhaskar Group), and angel investor Harsh Mani Tripathi

The 35-member team is now planning to roll-out STAGE OTT platform pan-India.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta