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OTT platforms eye big-budget shows as they go mainstream

Better known for their niche, experimental stories, video streaming services are now looking at upping investments and launching large-scale shows as they penetrate deep into the country and families congregate to watch web content, often on large TV screens. Applause Entertainment is making Rudra-The Edge of Darkness for Disney+ Hotstar starring Ajay Devgn while Amazon Prime Video has shows lined up with Akshay Kumar and Shahid Kapoor.

Applause is also planning high-budget remakes of foreign shows Fauda and Call My Agent while Netflix, which has a spin-off planned on the Baahubali franchise, has introduced Dolby vision and studio-quality sound for its catalogue. Media experts see the spectacle genre gaining ground on OTT especially as big stars recognise its relevance at a time when film releases are expected to go slow. Many of these shows could cost up to ₹200 crore.

“OTT (over-the-top) streaming at its nascent stage was more in the space of individual consumption and on the small screens of mobile phones. However, with the growth of the medium accelerated by the lockdown, there has definitely been a shift – where the consumption on smart TVs and connected devices is also on the rise,” said Nimisha Pandey, head, Hindi originals, ZEE5 adding that content viewing is also becoming a co-viewing habit, giving rise to more genres. The service has an original called State of Siege: Temple Attack starring Akshaye Khanna slated for 9 July.

“India as a country has always loved spectacles and larger-than-life stories, so it makes perfect sense for this medium also to tell stories in its full scale and glory,” Pandey said adding that the need of the hour is also ‘escape’ and with the demand and ecosystem growing at the pace it is today, the investments in the medium have gone up significantly which explains content being mounted on a big scale.

Big stars inclination towards web originals stems from the belief that these platforms can set shows on a large canvas, reach wide audiences and grab eyeballs, as a result of which requisite budgets are available, said Vikram Malhotra, CEO, Abundantia Entertainment that is developing Akshay Kumar’s The End for Amazon besides working on an adaptation of author Ashwin Sanghi’s book Keepers of the Kalchakra. “It may not grow at the cost of movie theatres but people now know there is an alternative available for a family outing,” Malhotra said.

“Owing to the lockdown and restricted to home entertainment, people are opting for larger screens over usual TV with a cable subscription to have a cinema-like viewing experience,” agreed Rohit Jain, managing director, Lionsgate South Asia and networks- emerging markets Asia. “Also, quality content needs great actors to add up to a certain scale which is why we are seeing Bollywood stars jumping on the bandwagon. We are certainly looking at the super premium space of budget with regards to originals currently,” Jain added.

While traditional viewing outlets like movie theatres are still a viable option for content distributors, OTT platforms are increasingly on their radar, said Baskar Subramanian, co-founder and CEO at Amagi, a media technology company. “Mainstream actors have brought in tremendous possibilities for grander content spectacles. The bigger the star, the greater the chances of success,” Subramaniam said. Amagi provides cloud broadcast and targeted advertising solutions to broadcast TV and streaming TV platforms.

Top stars benefit the platforms which are able to utilise their brand value, while the actors also get an opportunity to showcase their talent and augment their income in these unprecedented times, said Vikash Samota, founder and CEO of MultiTV Tech Solutions Pvt Ltd, a technology firm that provides advertising, monetization and encoding solutions to platforms, live events.

To be sure, technology has a big role to play in large-screen viewing and platforms are increasingly investing in better discovery, audio and video formats. For instance, in 2019, Netflix introduced studio-quality sound on the platform, making content available in features like 4K, HDR and Dolby Atmos. “Our members enjoy best-in-class stories from around the world- from action dramas and visual spectacles to interactive shows. They can watch these stories on a range of devices- from televisions to smartphones. What matters to us is that they have an incredible viewing experience, with the most compelling audio and video,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

Amazon Prime and Disney+ Hotstar declined to comment on the story.

Post-lockdown, sales of TVs, especially large-screen ones, have hit record highs. The reason for strong growth in large screen consumption can be attributed to the drastic reduction in cost in the past five years, even while the speed doubled, Subhasish Gupta, managing director, sales, Brightcove, a global provider of cloud solutions for video pointed out.

“While there are a couple of considerations to make such as the bandwidth the user pays for the experience, these have been eased with the mushrooming of partnerships between OTT players and telcos. This network infrastructure forms the foundation of a seamless, high-quality big-screen experience, and with telcos solidifying 4G networks and investing in 5G, this will grow further,” Gupta added.

While there are logistic challenges to this kind of content, especially in times of the pandemic, taking longer to turn it around, platforms are increasingly investing in expertise outsourced from across the world. For example, for its show State of Siege: 26/11, ZEE5 had an international team working on photography and VFX. “The biggest challenge for the OTT creators and platforms is to evolve at the pace the audience is evolving,” Pandey said. Live Mint

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