After losing a Rs 40 crore revenue company overnight, Vinay Singhal returned to his village Noonsar Haryana’s Dhiwani district in search of subsequent adventure.
He recalls that his viral content company WittyFeed, which he had started with Shashank Vaishnav and Praveen Singhal, was abruptly pulled down online, which unwittingly forced the three friends to start over. But a return to his village also made him privy to an opportunity to develop a hyper-local OTT platform that caters to vernacular audiences.
In conversation with The Better India, he explains, “In India, there are more than 40 OTT platforms. They broadcast language based content in the name of vernacular content, like in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu.”
“We found that there is no cinema or web series focused on local dialects. This is despite a large chunk of the population speaking it. In Rajasthan, about 70 million people speak Rajasthani, Marwari. Similarly, in Bihar, people speak Bhojpuri, Maithli, Angika, Bajjika. In UP, Awadhi, Braj, Bhojpuri, Bundeli, and so on and so forth,” Singhal notes.
Growing up speaking Haryanvi led Singhal to wonder why there wasn’t any content available in the dialect.
“In Haryanvi, there are 11 different dialects. And there are around 700-800 dialects used by people across the country. There is a saying, kos-kos par badley paani, chaar kos par vaani (A country like India celebrates diversity in dialects and languages). But these dialects remain ignored as they are not scribed,” he notes.
“We found that language is an urban concept. The moment you go beyond cities, you will find everybody speaking in a local dialect. And if there’s a true hyper local content company to be built for Bharat, it will be a dialect based company and not languages. And that’s what STAGE does,” he notes.
Started in 2019, STAGE is a first-of-its-kind OTT platform for local dialects. From Golu Molu Ri Shayri to Khotey Sikke, Choriyan Bojh Na Hoti, and Gangs of Haansipur, it has over 400 hours of content in its library in terms of long-duration web series, movies, short films, standup comedians, poetry, folk, storytelling. With this, STAGE produces content in dialects with an aim to develop a ‘true Netflix for Bharat’.
Vinay Singhal started STAGE along with his younger brother Praveen and college classmate Shashank.
A STAGE for local dialects
STAGE currently focuses on Haryanvi and Rajasthani dialects. Started in June 2022 in Rajasthan, the platform is aiming to expand its base in the state. On January 4, the OTT platform launched its first big web series, Sarpanch, in the state. The web series focuses on village political drama.
The application has over 1 million downloads on Play Store. It has become the largest OTT in the region with 2.25 lakh subscribers in Haryana and 10,000 subscribers in Rajasthan. The platform has more than 2.25 lakh paid subscribers across Haryana and Rajasthan, growing at 30 per cent month-on-month.
“In 2023, we will focus on Haryanvi and Rajasthani content only. We are planning to launch content soon in Bhojpuri, Magahi, Maithili targeting eastern UP and Bihar audiences of nearly 100 million. Later, we will expand our work in Bundeli, Avadhi, Chhattisgarhi, Nepali, Konkani, Sindhi, Assamese, Odia,” says Singhal.
STAGE on Shark Tank
STAGE co-founders Vinay Singhal, Praveen Singhal and Shashank Vaishnav will appear on the Season 2 of Shark Tank to raise funding for their OTT Platform.
So the cat is out of the bag – STAGE is featuring on Sharktank Season 2.
It has been hell of a ride – nothing but gratitude to everyone who has stood by us! pic.twitter.com/DkV7bEFPDi— Vinay Singhal (stage.in) (@vinaykrsinghal) December 28, 2022
Narrating their story of losing viral content based company WittyFeed overnight, the co-founders had Sharks overwhelmed.
“No reason was specified. Our biggest mistake was that we were dependent on a third party for distribution of our content. We lost our company. But our investors stood by us. We built STAGE and gave them equity in the new company. This time we are very careful. We will continue to grow and survive even if Play Store bans us,” says Vinay.
Creating local Bollywood
With a team of 40 people working across the country, STAGE is headquartered in Noida and works 100% remotely. Moreover, it employs over 1,500 local artists and creators in Haryana and over 500 in Rajasthan, says Vinay.
“It is important to set up local industries. Not everyone can go to Bombay. Most of these creators and actors did not have a job. They are now earning a livelihood after getting a job with STAGE. This is one of our biggest impacts,” he adds.
How difficult is it to find actors to deliver local dialect content? “In India, talent is universal but opportunity is not. There were so many people who wanted to create original content in Haryanvi but they didn’t have a platform to release the content. We broke that cycle.”
“We have established local Bollywood in Haryana — Harrywood of Haryana. We have up to 30 production houses who make content for us,” he adds.
Apart from paid subscriptions starting from Rs 199, the platform also features hundreds of web series, poetry, comedy shows available across genres for free consumption.
Edited by Divya Sethu. All images: Vinay Singhal