In the past two years, over-the-top (OTT) platforms have seen an influx of Indian content. From web-series to digital first films, big screen producers as well as actors are migrating towards the digital space as viewership and demand for content reaches its peak. In conversation BrandWagon Online, Sunder Aaron, co-founder and principal, Locomotive Global Inc, talks about the company’s content line-up as well as the changing dynamics of OTT space for producers. (Edited Excerpts)
What does your content line-up look like for this fiscal?
This fiscal the big ticket item for us is Rana Naidu which is an adaptation of CBS’s Ray Donovan. The series will release on Netflix in the first quarter of 2023 and stars Rana Daggubati and Venkatesh. It is directed by Karan Anshuman, director of Mirzapur, Inside Edge, among others. We also have a project in the works with Applause Entertainment on a series called Seeker created by Gurinder Chadha and myself. This project is still in the scripting stage and we hope to start production early next year. Furthermore, we have a project with Amazon Prime Video’s that’s a horror series for which we are also in the scripting stage. From an acquisition point of view, we continue to acquire formats that we think will work for the Indian audience. For instance, we have a project with Hansal Mehta in the pipeline.
How did the pandemic impact your revenue?
While I can’t comment on our revenue overall, a lot depends on the delivery of the show. Currently, we are trying to adjust to the commission model and have taken on a major partner last year. We wanted access to greater resources so that we can start investing in our own productions and start deficit financing. Further, for a number of our productions we work with partners so that we can spread the expense of both development and production. For instance, we have a project with Endemol India wherein we’ll be sharing the financing burden. These are the kinds of approaches that we want to increasingly make with our productions. While commissioned shows by platforms is a good business practice, it can be more lucrative to retain the intellectual property rights and licensing it versus selling it outright.
Are you only focusing on web-series for this fiscal or are you also looking at producing films?
We are working on a couple of films slated to release not just on streaming platforms but also for theatrical release. Interestingly, with theatrical we can move a little bit faster than web-series. We are hoping to start producing a couple of films and aiming to release a film before the end of the year. Our approach to film is different as we don’t want to be a commercial or mainstream cinema producer, though we may have a project or two on those lines. Our approach is to create critically acclaimed film properties that have the potential of being appreciated globally as well. That’s a combination of niche as well as mass.
Do you think there’s a difference in content that goes for a theatrical release as opposed to films that opt for digital first release?
Yes, in fact we are already seeing this trend internationally. For instance, in the US films that are releasing on Netflix vis-a-vis films that are going for theatrical release are different. In Hollywood there has been a general lament that the mid-budget films are releasing straight on OTT. In India, we’ve only recently started getting non-commercial mainstream films. Edgy films are finding more of a mainstream or commercial audience in the urban areas. This trend was pushed forward because of the pandemic. Instead of sitting on films, people were still making movies, not worrying about the theatrical release, and they were able to find the market with the streaming platforms. I believe alternative cinema will be split between OTT and theatrical release.
Since there has been an increase in content slate that’s going towards OTT, has there been a dip in the production cost?
Macro-economic forces inflationary around the world are driving up input costs. Hence, the cost of production is going up. There has been a lot of work that came out of the pandemic, and these projects are vying for attention, thereby driving up costs both above the line and below the line.
Has the commission fee seen an increase?
That is always subject to negotiation. However, there has been a shift in producers seeking ways to finance and retain ownership of their projects. Prior to covid, producers always had a very healthy upside, especially in the West, due to royalty income along with syndication deals. However, OTT normally buys out the entire rights. I believe this will change and newer hybrid models where a producer, or a creator can get a little bit of an upside or a sense of ownership and continue to get some economic value out of the work they’ve done.
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