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Vidnet 2021: On innovation & creating disruptive content on OTTs

OTTs also look into short form and snackable content.

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MUMBAI: The rise of streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Voot, Zee5, MXPlayer and ALT Balaji has allowed Indians to watch diverse content from around the globe along with experiencing new genres.  Unlike the big screen, where the market, actor’s face value, big-budget investment, and producers decide the genre of films that eventually get made, OTT platforms on the other hand give room for a lot more experimentation because of their format and comparatively lower investments. Hence, a whole new breed of filmmakers for OTT has popped up. After the initial euphoria of palling with well-known film producers, OTT platforms are engaging with new kinds of content creators.

These fast-changing trends and more was discussed during a special session titled ‘Content: new genres, new stories, and new players’ on day two of Indiantelevision.com’s flagship property Vidnet 2021. The panel moderated by Jigsaw Pictures founder & producer – Thinkistan Rajnish Lall, included Viacom18 Studios COO Ajit Andhare, MX Player chief content officer Gautam Talwar, Shemaroo Entertainment chief operating officer Kranti Gada, Excel Entertainment producer Rucha Pathak, SonyLIV original content head Saugata Mukherjee and Applause Entertainment content head Deepak Segal.

Out with the old, in with the new

The advent of digital has unburdened storytellers from catering to a generic formula of “mass appeal,” which gives them the freedom to innovate in terms of plot, character, format and delivery. This has resulted in phenomenal stories being told which would have been very hard to do either on film or television, opined Andhare.

No longer is an A-lister required to guarantee critical acclaim and wider popularity he added, pointing to originals like Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story and Kota Factory to drive his point home. “Scripted reality shows like Masaba Masaba or Ak vs AK can never be attempted on the silver screen. You are also able to innovate in terms of duration, compared to 2.5 hours of film and 40-minute episode on your disposal, your limitation of telling a story in a very limited screen time is no longer there.”

Segal was of a similar mind; content creators are now in a position to explore new story structures and are no longer constrained by the daily soap and “doorbell ringing” at the end of every episode. According to him Applause Entertainment took the route of adaptation not because of the dearth of writers but to understand the story structure. After being in the industry for the past 30 years, he sought inspiration from American shows to create premium originals.

He went on to add that the industry is moving away from viewing the director as the whole and sole of the project. “We are understanding the concept of the showrunner. But if you see the series Game of Thrones and how it is shot in multiple locations by multiple directors for the same episode and how it’s aggregated and put together. It is the showrunners who are fulfilling that vision. In the future there will be an opportunity to get supremely great directors who are great technicians,” he quipped.

The content conundrum 

According to Pathak, 2020 has put the spotlight on content, and OTTs, which were a reliable fallback for fresh, innovative and engaging entertainment when there was a dearth on other mediums, have realised that audiences are not looking for the same old stuff but something different.

“I think genre-wise, structure-wise, narrative-wise, and trying to get the cinematic quality and not leaving that in all the storytelling that we as a platform do, I think those will be the future challenges moving forward,” mentioned Talwar.

For instance, parallel or niche categories have become mainstream today. The overall ecosystem has become more democratic, where shows like Arya or Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story became instant successes, despite being headlined by actors of different renown and caliber. Mukherjee held the notion that it is not about casting a star, it is more about casting the right person who fits the bill. Be it platform or a production company, more and more are subscribing to this view. But there is still a long way to go.

“We will have to bring in content which is appealing to the next level of audience. The discerning audience is ready to take risk of investing time in newer content but the masses like mindless stuff of loyalty to either stars or concept. So, things will evolve and in the long run, there will be soaps on OTT. We will see it as the audiences evolve and as the model evolves,” Gada explained. Shemaroo Entertainment is currently focusing on regional and age-wise cohorts instead of targeting the masses.

Short and sweet

Andhare pointed out that there is already a phenomenal amount of disruption and innovation happening with shows like Panchayat, Little Things or Made in Heaven. The makers have explored a new set of formats through these originals. The anthology is something new which was never attempted before.  “We had two narrative structures fixed — television and cinema, so at the creative level when we’re writing, (we would) set (our) constraints. But with OTT storytelling, you remove those constraints... There are format innovations,” he shared.

Pathak asserted that series will become shorter because audiences’ attention span is reducing. Soon there will be 30-minute episode series and that is the kind of innovation he would expect to happen from here on out. As people are glued to their screens most of the time, hopping from social media like Facebook and Instagram to short form video apps, OTT platforms too are attempting to create content which can hold their attention.

However, in the race of creating something innovative Mukherjee cautioned against the core essence of storytelling getting bastardised or lost.

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