The Over-the-Top (OTT) platforms are the ‘in thing’ in the entertainment industry today. However, there is not enough clarity on the technical and business aspects of these platforms. Debarati Palit Singh speaks to the business and content heads to find answers
Person A: Hey dude, did you see Netflix’s latest series, Delhi Crime? It’s one of best series made in India.
Person B: No man! I am catching up with Made in Heaven. Binge-watched all the nine episodes in two days.
This conversation thread is quite common among people aged between 18 and 35, who watch content (films, series) available on platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hotstar.
The OTT or Over-the-Top market is divided between two kinds of service providers — those who already have content rights and are also acquiring readymade material from other production houses and secondlythose who are creating fresh content.
Big players like Eros Now, Sony Liv, Zee5 and ALT Balaji have content of their own and are now building their repertoire. Shemaroo too has a huge bank of content ready. Then, there are new names like Yupp TV, Voot, Jio, HOOQ, TVF Play, Q Net and Vue Clip, who are buying content from others, showcasing it and trying to offer something of their own.
No wonder then that the segment has attracted big names from the entertainment industry like Akshay Kumar, Priyanka Chopra, Madhuri Dixit, Anushka Sharma, Salman Khan, Zoya Akhtar and Farhan Akhtar, Abhishek Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, R Madhavan and Shah Rukh Khan.
All said, there are some questions about the working of this segment that people want to know answers to. For instance, how does one know whether a particular series is successful or not? Or how does it fit within a business framework and what is the way ahead for the medium? Here we address them...
Unlike television, where you can monitor if a show is working or not via TRPs, or you gauge the success of a movie on its box-office collection, there is no direct way to know if a webseries is actually working on an OTT platform.
Obviously, the success of any series for the lay person depends on the buzz it creates on social media. But how do the market players ascertain what is working or what is not?
Manish Aggarwal, Business Head, ZEE5 India, replies that there is no industry-accepted currency yet to determine the success rate of the content in the OTT space. “Having said that, we have our own team of experts dedicated to identifying success rates with the help of Google Analytics resources and dashboards. Additionally, we have partnered with Conviva that gives us unique and new intelligent video measurement analytics with real-time updates. Other parameters such as the rise in subscription numbers, viewership for a particular show and traffic on the platform also help us constitute the analytics,” he says.
“Furthermore, the response gathered from trailer and teaser releases along with the social media buzz and word of mouth publicity across mediums, through our 360 degree marketing campaign, are key indicators of the subscriber engagement with the brand,” adds Aggarwal.
Ali Hussein, COO, Eros Digital reiterates that there isn’t a centralised reporting platform that’s consistent for the segment. “We measure a series’s success through the trailer promotion, IMDB rating, quality of the comments on the series and so on,” says Hussein, adding, “We are finding out what kind of content works through audience’s viewing preferences, the timing that they prefer to watch and so on. There is a sufficient amount of data which is slowly emerging and we are trying to get a certain pattern out of it. It’s still not mature though.”
BUSINESS, AS USUAL
At the end of the day, the digital world offers serious business opportunities and so the production houses and OTT platforms are investing heavily, not just in creating good content, but also in the production values of the series and films. Amazon Prime’s latest series Made in Heaven has grand production values.
Many believe that the platform is drawing the mainstream makers because of the prospects of financial gains. The makers affirm that the economic side is all taken care of and no risk factor is involved. Once a project is approved, it’s a win-win situation for the content makers.
Throwing more light, Vikram Malhotra, CEO, Abundantia Entertainment who has produced Breathe and announced The End starring Akshay Kumar and Breathe season 2 with Abhishek Bachchan, says, “There are multiple modules for producers. It can be commission based, where the platform funds the entire production budget or there is the licensing and syndication module where the producer funds the production and licenses out the content.”
Hussein says there are different methods of getting investment back for different platforms. “Voot and ZEE 5, for example, run on advertisements. They are television broadcasters and have extensive advertisements market, which they have extended to their digital platform. Even their top TV shows like Big Boss are screened digitally. Platforms like Eros Now or Netflix are into the business of producing very high quality movies and originals. At Eros, we work towards building the entire subscription model where we lay the core commerce part of our business through consumer subscription. That becomes a lot more relatable and value oriented for the customer,” explains Hussein.
Talking about how they work out their business plan, Hiren Gada, CEO, Shemaroo Entertainment Limited (Shemaroo Me) says that they have launched paid services. “Keeping in mind different needs of the consumer, we have offered two options. They can either subscribe for just one language, say for example Gujarati pack, or opt for full bouquet which includes all the seven sections. However, it’s still early days in India and therefore at present, it’s an advertisement-supported market.”
SEX AND VIOLENCE
The digital platform, with the creative freedom it offers to the makers, has seen a spurt in web series and films that are high on sex, violence and abusive language. Some makers use these themes as a part of the narrative whereas some use it to the grab eyeballs.
For instance, Netflix’s Sacred Games was criticised for going overboard with violence and sex scenes. Series like Gandi Baat, Ragini MMS Returns, Twisted, X.X.X. Uncensored etc. have been in the news for its adult content. In fact, the Nagpur bench of Mumbai High Court, had criticised platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar and others in October last year for broadcasting ‘pornographic’ content, crudity, sexual or discriminatory language and high level of violence. The bench had ordered the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to initiate effective steps for curbing the trend.
Actor Rasika Duggal, who has been a part of a couple of web series, says that sex and violence aren’t the only genres that are working. “True, there are series with sex and violence that have worked. But there are other series which are giving these factors a miss, and are still doing equally well. In fact, The Viral Fever (TVF), who was the initial player to get into this segment, had created the slice-of-life content and were successful,” she says.
Filmmaker Sujay Dahake, who launched his first web series Sex, Drugs and Theatre on ZEE 5, says that there is no denying that there are many who are using sex and violence to promote their content. But that alone won’t work at the end of the day. “Your content has to be strong,” he insists.
Kabir Sadanand, who has directed the second season of Virgin Woman Diaries, believes that viewers are far more intelligent to fall for this. “Initially, there was a lot of excitement to watch someone use slang language or kiss on screen. Now new age filmmakers are looking at it as reality. People do kiss or abuse in real life and there is lot of violence in this country. But they are not using it as a bench mark to sell their content,” he adds.
DIGITAL VS CINEMA
According to reports, the footfalls at theatres have gone down by 10 to 13 per cent. This is an alarming decline, believe trade experts. With high ticket prices, improper show timings, many now prefer to watch newly released films on their mobile phones. Also, many films are available on these platforms soon after their theatrical release.
In addition, OTT platforms and production houses are announcing content driven projects backed by well-known actors and directors. Does this mean that movie business will be affected?
Not really, believe some industry people. Sujay says that with the growth of OTT platforms, cinema will also evolve. “Films that will give a grand experience to audience will work. That is what most Indian films do. Experiential cinema like Avatar and Jurrasic Park will have a market,” he says.
Recently, filmmaker Hansal Mehta had tweeted that he missed the preview of Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota as the film didn’t show up on Bookmyshow. Replying to the filmmaker, noted director Shekhar Kapur said on social media that cinema halls are driving away audiences towards the digital world. “Saw Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota at Macao Film Festival. Audience couldn’t stop cheering. Cost of multiplexes driving people to online platforms. All new/best directors in India are finding that a better option. Theatres are ultimately killing themselves,” said Shekhar.
To this, actor Gulshan Devaiah adds, “When television was at its peak in the ’90s, Amitabh Bachchan, in an interview, had said, ‘No one is watching films because of television’. But both the mediums co-existed. The same thing will happen with OTT platforms. I think the problem lies with the young filmmakers. There are so many small budgeted films which are not able to release in theatres. The OTT platforms give these makers a space to screen their films. They also give them a chance to make their film and a platform to release it. These filmmakers won’t think twice and take up whatever opportunities come their way. In return, the art form suffers. Let episodic series be restricted to OTT platforms and cinema for theatres.”
THE WAY FORWARD
The picture for OTT platforms looks bright yet there are a few teething issues. Gada says, “Considering that there are so many players in the market, the challenge to get the audience to sample and consume the content they like.”
Hussein says that there are several aspects that need to be worked on. “We have to take into account the infrastructure. There will be a lot of viewing on television in the near future. We are going to consume videos more actively and for that we need connected TVs, fibre networks and better telecom networks. Smart TVs will become cheaper. And, then we can determine what the cost of production should be, which genres are popular and who the target audience is,” he says, adding, “Digital advertisements are at the early stage of double digits growth as compared to overall advertisement. Subscriptions are relatively in primary stages.”
When it comes to advertisements, Kabir says, “Once the content starts moving, the advertisement model will start shifting and advertisers will give preference to online content. The ad spend has gone up by 12-14 per cent this year.”
Malhotra strongly feels that Indian storytellers need to tell Indian stories and that’s where we can score. “We do not need to copy or ape any content coming from the West as it’s just not required. We have such a rich and deep storytelling culture and tradition behind us. We need to focus on that,” he advises.
All in all, OTT platforms are a welcoming change for young India. With a few changes here and there, it can be a potential market.