Content creation has never been more democratic, say experts
The OTT platforms are taking outlier themes to create not only bold stories and bind India and the world together, but their subscriber bases also witnessed a huge surge up to 80 per cent amid the COVID-19 lockdown. However, in the mid-term and long-term period, they face multiple challenges to sustain this growth trajectory from sustaining new content creation, building talent pool, monetisation and, above all, from engaging policy makers in imposing legacy regulations before it realises its full potential.
The discussions turned towards ‘Accelerated Transformation: Opportunities and Challenges for OTTs in the Crisis Economy’ on Day 3 of the ongoing virtual conference of FICC Frames 2020. Moderated by Vikram Chandra, Founder, Editorji Technologies, the panelists included Gaurav Banerjee, President, Hindi & English Entertainment, Star India; Gowree Gokhale, Partner, Nishith Desai Associates; Satya Raghavan, Director, YouTube Content Partnerships, India; Gourav Rakshit, Chief Operating Officer, Viacom18; Gaurav Gandhi, Director & Country General Manager, Amazon Prime Video; and Monika Shergill, Vice President - Content, Netflix.
Vikram Chandra remarked that this has been the most significant transformation period anywhere in such a short period of time. He began the discussion by asking the panelists about the changes that they have observed in the OTT landscape in the past four months.
Star India’s Gaurav Banerjee stated that the way OTT platforms grow has seen the biggest transformation. He said that two trends that traditionally held back OTT consumption have since changed.
“A lot of people believe OTT means niche content,” he remarked, adding, “This led to a mistaken belief that the top 50 million people are OTT consumers. The truth is that OTT platforms reach 500 million consumers via their smartphones, and content on OTT is not less than TV.” He believed India has an opportunity to become a global creative hub, where our stories can travel across the world. Here, he cited the example of the Oscar-winning South Korean film ‘Parasite’, and said that India has not recaptured the global stage since the success of ‘Gandhi’ and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.
Amazon Prime Video’s Gaurav Gandhi observed that today, trust and safety play a greater role in consumer decision making. “It takes 70-80 days for consumers to form a habit and we’ve been in lockdown for 100 days, so behaviours have really changed,” he said.
Gandhi believed that streaming content has done to TV what the multiplexes did to single screens. “It has unlocked a completely new economics in the entertainment business,” he said, adding, “While the content is more sharply segmented, it does not mean that it is niche, but rather the economics of creating content and distributing content are completely different.”
Speaking about the opportunity for film releases on OTT, he noted, “There has always been a need gap in this country, where 2,000 films are being made each year, but only 9,500 screens are available across theatres and 3,000 multiplexes. The biggest films in India are watched by 1-1.5 per cent of the population in cinema halls and most movies reach 0.1 to 0.2 per cent of the population.”
Banerjee concurred, saying streaming creates the opportunity for infinite primetime. Adding further, he said, “With 50 available weekends during the year, the thought was that you could launch only 50 big films. That process has changed and more money is being spent on creating content as the distribution need-gap has been filled.”
There is an untold plurality of content that has been unlocked by OTT players. While TV used to cater to the lowest common denominator and an audience of many (co-viewing), VOOT’s Gourav Rakshit observed that “OTT serves an audience of one. This opens a new paradigm and creates opportunities for interactivity, content ownership, and adoption of blockchain systems to curb piracy.”
Netflix’s Monika Shergill pointed out, “People are watching hit German series ‘Dark’, Spanish series ‘Money Heist’, cinema from all over the world. Streaming caters to a specific need in individuals who need to find the story and content that they personally like. The audience has been exposed to so much great content during the lockdown that they’ve reached an inflection point.”
Editorji’s Chandra observed that dynamics of monetisation has also changed during the lockdown. “There has always been a price difference between inventory on TV and digital, but with the TikTok ban and that inventory going out of the market, how does the monetisation power change?” he asked.
YouTube’s Satya Raghavan responded by saying, “It is no longer viable to look at monetisation only from the point of view of advertising. On YouTube, a comedian can not only earn from advertising, but in the last two months, by going online, they have been doing more shows than normal. With a revenue sharing model, we have been able to tap into this business model by creating a platform where you can perform. Dance content creators have been taking online classes based on the community of fans that they have built. By looking at monetisation as an overall construct, we have been able to maximise on advertising revenue and consumer spending by unlocking fan love.”
“Content creation has never been more democratic,” commented Raghavan. Dice Media, a digital content creator, launched the first season of their widely popular show ‘Little Things’ on YouTube and now they’re available on Netflix. “A content creator can now reach their audience across multiple platforms,” he said.
Star India’s Banerjee believed that the new normal is completely a content game. “If you look at TV, the top shows garner 5-7 crore viewers watching just one episode. That kind of aggregation of audiences was last seen five years ago.” Adding to this, Amazon Prime Video’s Gandhi said, “The Indian customer was believed to be price sensitive, but we believe they are value sensitive. The acceleration in the adoption of digital services has enabled people to buy digital services more conveniently, making it a great model to focus on.”
Speaking about VOOT Select, Rakshit said that it was launched in March and has grown during the lockdown months, showing that OTT model is resilient to such a crisis. Star India’s Banerjee remarked that even launching a new brand has moved to individual homes. “What was a centralised process has now become decentralised.” Promotional content pieces are now created at homes and have created a new dynamic for marketing of shows.
Nishith Desai Associates’ Gowree Gokhale provided a regulatory overview of the entire content ecosystem. She said, “I would like to demystify the belief that OTT content is not regulated. What is illegal offline is also illegal online. And Governments and OTT platforms are in discussions to protect vulnerable audience segments like children (<18).”
She further said, “Content deals being made four years back on TV involved a standard package. Now, stakeholders are experimenting with new deals because you don’t have considerations like backend profit.”
“Star power, which was a must for theatre audiences, is not a must for OTT platforms. Even writer talent is being represented by an agent and has a lot of influence in the scheme of things. There is a marketplace model, where buyer and supplier can enter into a pay per view agreement or look at monetising content over various platforms,” she added.
“The plurality of content should motivate a variety of fresh talent to enter the content ecosystem. It will be interesting to see whether the plurality of OTT content will be an ongoing trend as the measurability of digital platforms tells you immediately about the success of these shows,” Gokhale concluded.