By Sunil Doshi
While personal viewing had recently gained prominence on OTT platforms, with subscriber numbers going North, the government of India tightened its control over digital news media and OTT video streaming platforms by introducing a three-tier mechanism calling it a “soft-touch regulatory architecture”. While the first two tiers bring in place a system of self-regulation by the platform itself and by the self-regulatory bodies of content publishers, the third calls for an oversight mechanism by the Centre.
The introduction of these guidelines is likely to accelerate co-viewing or family viewing and, thus, necessitate OTT platforms to create comfort-viewing content. I predict creative departments of the streamers working overtime to read through and greenlight ideas for shows likely to facilitate a family viewing experience.
In fact, this shift from personal viewing to community viewing has already started to take shape with leading OTT players adding co-viewing features such as ‘Group Watch’ (for up to seven subscribers) which enable viewing the content in sync while sharing reactions via a pre-set selection of emojis. More OTT players are joining the bandwagon. While the young generation prefers to socialise online over meeting in real life, the drift of watching content together is becoming a big part of online hangouts.
I predict the rise of remote-control co-viewing behaviour, and technology companies along with television manufacturing companies collaborating to amplify co-viewing habits amongst family members. Additionally, with technology enabling access to content anywhere, at any time and on any platform, co-viewing has become more critical. With co-viewing, we are in a position to sensitise our children that media is made by people, it is made for commercial reasons, it is socially, culturally and politically important, and that different people will react differently to media. Also, that the medium a story is told in, affects its meaning.
The question is: are there good programmes, shows, films, etc, on linear or non-linear platforms and the content ecosystem around us? My answer is ‘not enough’.
Comfort over crime
Most OTT platforms are currently the default destination for dark, crime or horror genres. The streaming company’s priority is to grow subscribers and minimise churn, as opposed to building the next Game of Thrones for kids. There is not enough content that would cater to age groups beyond their target group of 18-40 year-olds. This would be the best time to expand and cater to young adults (12-17) and those falling in the 45+ age group, especially given the reappropriated life we are currently living in together. It’s the time to make content that reflects the world we live in and to shine the spotlight on those who don’t always get it. In our own universe of storytelling, there is no dearth of great, pre-existing characters that have the potential to become franchise material.
There is immense opportunity to create inclusive and diverse content for families to sit back and engage with together. There is a crying need for content that enables comfort viewing. Otherwise, I am afraid, young adults will migrate in larger numbers to YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, and other e-sports and gaming platforms with an element of interactivity.
Co-viewing will undoubtedly grow significantly as some sense of fatigue is setting in among the Indian audiences watching season after season of murder mysteries across platforms. Co-viewing is social, emotional and educational, enabling families to bond and spend time together.
The author is director, Manzar Studios