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OTT superstars driving streaming platform decisions

A handful of top OTT stars, who are now seen across premium web originals, have gained so much popularity over the past few years that streaming projects are being mounted on their names.

Actors like Manoj Bajpayee, Shefali Shah, and Pankaj Tripathi not only make 3-4 crore per title, they are also seen as so bankable in the plateauing OTT ecosystem that platforms are willing to wait until they can come on board. However, industry experts warn a certain fatigue could set in, given that the same faces are seen across shows. According to media consulting firm Ormax, the list of most popular OTT actors in India between October and December of 2023 was led by Bajpayee and Tripathi.

“Similar to how television cultivated talents that transitioned to prominence on the big screen, OTT platforms are introducing a new generation of talents onto the main stage,” said Kavitha Jaubin, vice-president, content and strategy at aha, a service that streams programmes in Telugu and Tamil.

“The coordination of schedules becomes particularly challenging when intricate scenes involve collaboration of two or three popular stars. Selecting specific names as leads for a project can significantly increase the likelihood of scheduling conflicts, necessitating potential reshuffling of show timelines,” she added.

To be sure, entertainment industry experts point out these top OTT stars can charge ₹ 5-6 lakh a day for a seven- to eight-episode series, making around 3-4 crore per season. Some of them are doing at least four such projects every year.

“When creators and studios speak to OTT platforms, there is more often than not a certain director and cast aligned with the project in principle. The wait (in case of top actors) is pretty common, given that they are not just looking at acting projects, but a lot of offline events and influencer commitments too,” Barin Mukherjee, co-founder and chief executive officer at Digital Refresh Network, a content solutions company, said.

Akarsh Khurana, director of Netflix original Mismatched, said there was a time when new talent was coming into the OTT ecosystem and becoming popular.

“There is a certain amount of content fatigue, and all genres have been covered now so you have to stand apart in some way,” Khurana said.

He added that streaming services are falling into similar traps as films. Until a few years ago, it was also common for direct-to-digital movies starring newer or unknown names to be promoted, but economies of scale are now taking over.

That said, the fact that the same faces are seen across titles may soon backfire for platforms trying to play safe and ensure returns. “A lot of actors are being approached for the same kind of roles and projects, because there is a push from platforms to take these names. A level of fatigue will definitely set in, because a churn of talent is needed and platforms are slowly realising that,” said Mautik Tolia, director, Bodhitree Multimedia Ltd, known for Netflix original class. LiveMint

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