THE new sunday express MAGAZINE Voices Pushpesh Pant Shinie Antony S Vaidhyasubramaniam Ravi Shankar Siddharth Dasgupta Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment Now Streaming in India october 18 2020 SUNDAY PAGES 12 New bold shows and series dealing explicitly with crime, violence, sex, gender and romance have woken up India. The establishment is watching. LOCKDOWN MAGIC In June, Netflix unveiled a lineup of 17 originals, including six new films Hungama Play saw a 66% increase in streaming since March By Smitha Verma C ome next week and all eyes will shift to Mirzapur. Who is going to rule its blood soaked streets—Guddu Pandit or Kaleen Bhaiya? Will its fate be another gang-war or will law and order be restored in its violent darkness? No, these questions do not concern the tiny city in Uttar Pradesh in northern India. Rather, it’s the fictional city of Mirzapur, which is giving most Over the Top (OTT) addicts sleepless nights. Mirzapur Season 2 that starts streaming on Amazon Prime Video on October 23 will be the culmination of their two-year long wait. OTT platforms have become the go-to option for entertainment. And it’s not just for shows anymore. With cinema halls staying shut for the last seven months, big-ticket movies found their booking window on the internet. The much-awaited Suriya-starrer Tamil film Soorarai Pottru will be out on Amazon Prime on October 30. The streaming rights of Akshay Kumar-starrer Laxmmi Bomb that releases on November 30 on Disney +Hotstar, has reportedly been sold at a whopping `125 crore, making it one of the costliest streaming rights for a Hindi film. Cinema halls are opening but in these Covid days, OTT has become the new multiplex. It is also the new cable TV And the . viewer isn’t the urban millennial anymore. In August, Netflix, the world’s leading streaming entertainment service, launched its user interface in Hindi. When the fastest-growing Indian streaming platform MX Player released Aashram in August last week, a web series based on the life of a godman, what came as a surprise was the 400 million people streaming it from small cities and towns across the country . “In our estimate, about 12 million people were initiated into the world of web series in the Hindi-speaking markets during the initial lockdown period,” says Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of media consulting firm Ormax Media. The world of video consumption is changing. Viewing habits are getting redefined and innovative business models are opening up new markets. So what is India watching? Will the set-top boxes become more of an accessory in Indian homes? It’s a Showstopper Sometime in August, ALTBalaji, a subscription-based video-ondemand (VOD) platform, organised a press conference for its latest show Bebaakee. The hour-long event on Zoom was packed with the media and lead cast in full attendance. It was just as big an online event as it would have been offline in the pre-pandemic world. And why wouldn’t it be? In recent times, the launch of a web series attracts as much publicity as a movie. According to a recent report by industry body Broadcast Audience Research Council, Indian users spent 12 percent more time on online streaming platforms during the lockdown (March 20 to April 3) than they did before (January 13 to February 2). The numbers have only gone up since then. The players are catering to audience taste and vying for their attention. “We want a robust slate of stories that are differentiated and suited to the different moods of our members. Sometimes, you want to lean back and watch a delightful comedy and at other times, you , want to enjoy a pulse-pounding thriller that takes you to the edge of your seats,” says Aashish Singh, Director–Original Film, Netflix India. There are more shows and viewers than ever in an expanding entertainment universe. Creators are vying for the top platforms. Streaming services have never had it so good. “It’s crowded out there. But At Zee5 paid viewers went over 45% while subscriptions went up by 80% you have to make something clutter-breaking. People may like it or be offended, but it has to be a show where they say ‘Have you , seen Paatal Lok?’ This is what sells on OTT,” says Vikramaditya Motwane, filmmaker and creator of Netflix’s first India original Sacred Games. Motwane would know. Sacred Games remains one of the most successful shows from India, which unleashed the country’s thriller trend on streaming platforms. It also gave India its first taste of indigenous binge-watching. On OTT, what’s on offer is compelling. Viewers look beyond the saas-bahu sagas of the past, which are still playing on TV but with a vastly diminished fan base. A case in point is Veena Sharma, a homemaker from Chandigarh. A few months back, if you were to ask her about Sacred Games, you would have drawn a blank. Under the lockdown, TV was showing re-runs of old shows. Her son, who had opted for a premium subscription plan of Netflix, downloaded the app on her smartphone and suddenly she had a range of shows in her fist. “I could watch anything, anytime. I was no longer at the mercy of a remote control,” says 69-year-old Sharma. The first show she watched was Delhi Crime followed by Sacred Games. “Some of the shows are a bit of a shock for me—especially the language and the explicit scenes. But the storyline keeps me hooked,” she admits candidly . In the Sharma household, cable TV has become obsolete. ALTBalaji saw an incremental between 50-60% Outside the Box Two decades ago when satellite TV was at its peak, Indian households got a new show that became a turning point for daily soaps. The year was 2000 when Indians got their first glimpse into an upper middle class Gujarati joint family in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. The rest is history as the popular show catapulted the saas-bahu phrase into common TV lexicon. A decade later, serials started moving towards supernatural characters, with shows like Naagin entering into its fifth season in 2020. “TV was getting stagnant. It was the same old daily soaps or dramatised reality shows. It’s no longer the younger audience or those in the metros who are consuming content. It could even be a small town cab driver or an actor like me. Everyone wants to consume entertainment through their smartphones,” says actor Suchitra Pillai, whose latest show Bebaakee started streaming on ALTBalaji and ZEE5 Club last month. Having acted in almost all mediums—films, theatre, serials and now webseries—Pillai finds OTT the most appealing as it offers space to experiment. According to a report by independent research and consultancy services firm Media Partners Asia, India’s online video market is expected to reach $4 billion by 2025, with subscription services contributing more than $1.5 billion and advertising $2.5 billion. And fuelling these numbers In the last 28 weeks, MX Player launched 27 shows won’t be just urban young India. Tell Anant Joshi, actor of the popular Zee5 original Virgin Bhasskar, about the changing viewership demographics and he reiterates the same point. “My brother and parents were TV loyalists but now I see them bingeing on shows. OTT has become the new TV in our house,” the actor says. So, what makes digital streaming the flavour of many households? “Even before the coronavirus, we had started to see a shift in content consumption from cell phones to connected devices and Smart TVs. The pandemic accentuated this shift,” says Rahul Maroli, Senior VicePresident and Business Head– SVOD, ZEE5 India. For one, OTT platforms have democratised the act of content consumption. Unlike linear TV , OTT users have complete control over what they want to watch, when to watch, where to watch and how much to watch. “This sense of freedom and liberation is unlike what is offered by any other medium. Additionally OTT , platforms have ensured that there is content available for all sections of audiences,” says Siddhartha Roy COO, Hungama , Digital Media. Traditional forms of entertainment—films, music, TV shows—are tightly controlled and distributed. But OTT changed the game altogether. “From around 180-190 million TV screens, in a very short time we Turn to page 2 “It’s crowded out there. But you have to make something clutter-breaking. People may like it or be offended, but it has to be a show where they say, ‘Have you seen Paatal Lok?’ This is what sells on OTT.” Vikramaditya Motwane Filmmaker and creator of Netflix’s first India original Sacred Games
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