Video-on-demand and OTT open avenues for the unconstrained rise of digital storytellers

By: |
New Delhi | January 24, 2017 4:27 AM

The recent advent of video-on-demand (VoD) and over-the-top services (OTT) in the country has opened a plethora of avenues for content creators to tell their stories without constraints.

Though most digital platforms replicate what is already on television, many are now focussing and investing in original content.Though most digital platforms replicate what is already on television, many are now focussing and investing in original content.

“Platforms will change and shift. What goes in them are stories. Invest in great storytelling.”
— Wendy Clark, CEO, DDB North America

Entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. This is the most cherished word in India where folklore is passed on from generation to generation, new films are released every Friday and hundreds of channels dawn on our television sets. At 17.5 crore TV households (as per KPMG-FICCI Indian Media and Entertainment Industry report 2016), the medium is growing at bullet speed. However, digital — which has picked up momentum recently, has left everyone dumbstruck.

In 2000s, webisodes or web series took the West by storm. The concept took a while to gain traction here at home, starting with music channels like MTV and Channel V experimenting with digital platforms to reach their TG who were changing their viewing habits.

There are two kinds of content consumer buckets in India — first, high value-low volume, which are already subscribed to a handful of OTT players. This includes long-format content translated to digital directly from the theatrical or a TV show. The other bucket includes loyalists, who flock to artist pages on the release day of a video. This market is primarily driven through mobile consumption and involves short-to-medium format, snackable content.

Though most digital platforms replicate what is already on television, many are now focussing and investing in original content. In search of newer stories, the platforms are partnering with numerous production houses to offer something different to their audiences who are young and more exposed to the online world. Seen as disruptors, video-on-demand (VoD) and over-the-top (OTT) services have changed the storytelling game. What’s really in it for content creators? Connecting through stories.

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For Prasoon Joshi and Ram Madhvani, telling stories comes naturally. Their job as admen lets them tell stories for hundreds of brands year after year. But what gets the duo really excited these days is their next venture — a web series called Bodhidharma: Master
of Shaolin.

Joshi and Madhvani both wanted to make a film on the subject before signing Amazon Prime Video (on which it will be aired) as a partner. “There are numerous vehicles to tell a story, but digital does come with certain advantages,” says Madhvani of Equinox Features (Ram Madhvani, Prasoon Joshi and Sunil Doshi), who believes that the platform lets them explore their creative bent. “We know that India is moving towards digital and as it penetrates deeper, the audience will no longer be an appointment viewer.”

Selling a four-quadrant (which appeals to all four major demographic ‘quadrants’ of the movie-going audience: male and female, over- and under-25) concept is easier on digital than on television or films. “The stories on OTT have different grammar, characters and visuals. They have more edginess and humour,” says Nikhil Mirchandani, group CEO, Shashi Sumeet Group which has just announced a new series — Untag on VOOT.

Given the advantage of self-regulation, the characters can be more realistic, compelling and relatable on the digital platform. Actor and film director Kabir Sadanand of Frog Unlimited (a production company for films, television, digital content and commercials) is busy chronicling the lives and issues of an urban couple from the woman’s perspective with Married Woman Diaries on SonyLIV.

Sadanand reveals, “We have a shareholding production out of Canada and while developing content for viewers there, we had started with the original form of storytelling and the dipstick results were a slap on our face.” He adds, “The audiences wanted a quick meal served and digested in a short span of time. We changed our narrative to get direct involvement and the results were bang on. New-age India does not like to be directed, they have a voice and they want to hear that online.” Money, not a villain

With the introduction of numerous OTT platforms, each player is trying to understand their version of what works and at the same time establish themselves as a leader of that particular genre. “OTT platforms are looking for those differentiated concepts to attract newer audiences,” asserts Vishal Mull, creative producer of short films at Idea Shop who directed #LoveBytes for SonyLIV.

“Creating content for digital is certainly easier and cheaper than it is to get a film or a TV show greenlit, made, released or broadcast. Because all you really need is a half-decent camera, basic edit software and critically a good idea/unique talent. There is no middleman,” says Ashish Patil, VP, brand partnership and talent management at Y-Films.

The platform also allows for experiment with form, format, stories, genres and talent, both on and behind the screen.
However, even with a sizable fan base, content creators are not generating adequate revenue due to bundling of inventory over a range of content. This dilutes monetisation of premium content providers. But producers are optimistic. “To read Babu Devakinandan Khatri’s Chandrakanta, people learnt Hindi. Similarly, this will change the viewing habits of people altering the way the market works,” says Prasoon Joshi, CEO, McCann
Worldgroup India.

Mirchandani points out that producers get a margin from the platform as the metric of success on digital are views and subscribers. “Another way to get the money is through sponsorship,” he adds.
Online platform budgets compared to the TV and film world are very different. It would be a while but surely a change that would see the OTT platforms at par. The West has shown the way. And though nascent, a definite revolution is brewing in the online space in India.

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