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OTTs fear lag in content pipeline as cases continue to surge

 Lockdowns in Maharashtra and other parts of the country to combat the second wave of the pandemic have led to fears among web content creators and over-the-top (OTT) streaming platform owners that new shows may be delayed, resulting in a lag in their content pipeline later in the year.

Most content creators and OTT platform owners are holding on to projects, hoping things will get better over the next month. However, a few have moved shoots out of Maharashtra but still worry about curbs being imposed at new locations as covid cases continue to surge across India.

“We have a deep pipeline in development. Many shows that were already filming had to take a break but hopefully should resume shooting as soon as things get back under control. I don’t think there will be a content crunch, but a slowdown of sorts could occur,” said Sameer Nair, chief executive officer (CEO), Applause Entertainment, which has produced shows such as Scam 1992 on SonyLIV and Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors on Disney+Hotstar.

“As creators, the safety of our talent, crews, and teams is paramount and all production activities must be relegated to a secondary position till the second wave curve is flattened and the vaccine roll-out achieves critical mass,” said Nair, whose company is using this time to write and develop new material and complete shows at a post-production stage. The situation had barely started to normalize for production houses after nearly a year before it was disrupted again, said Abhimanyu Singh, CEO, Contiloe Entertainment. “All of those plans have been wiped out and nobody can have as big a library ready to fill the gap between demand and supply (in the coming months),” Singh said.

Insurance doesn’t cover production disruptions such as these and it is a dangerous scenario for content creators whose timelines with talent under contract have gone for a toss. “There hasn’t been a blanket stop because some shows are being shot in states such as Goa or Rajasthan but many of us don’t want to resume production till there is clarity (on statewise curbs and vaccination),” Singh said. It is a challenge to move locations for outdoor-based shows, said Ferzad Palia, head, subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) and international business, Viacom18 Digital Ventures.

“We’re trying to shoot parts that can be shot indoors, for instance, earlier than planned but the situation is very tricky and fluid right now,” Palia said. The crisis has thrown up further challenges for Marathi film producer Akshay Bardapurkar who is floating a Marathi language video streaming service called Planet Marathi, as they must maintain a robust pipeline for audiences trying a new service. “We are contemplating moving out of Maharashtra to Gujarat or Goa and may change some storylines for this,” he said.

The ALTBalaji team is looking at different locations to shoot its pending projects and will procure permission in line with shooting protocols, said Divya Dixit, its senior vice-president, marketing and revenue. There will be pressure on production but work will go on, said Goldie Behl of Rose Productions, which has produced shows like Hello Mini on MX Player. Besides shooting outside Maharashtra, the company is looking at creating bio-bubbles like has been done for the IPL.

However, some experts feel platforms will have to eventually acquire content from outside.

“The rate at which local originals are being brought out will not be the same in the next six months. As quantity takes a backseat, platforms may look at international shows for fresh offerings or at older local content that may have been archived or left unsold,” Mehul Gupta, co-founder and CEO at SoCheers, an independent digital agency said. Bardapurkar, for instance, agreed there are about 60-70 Marathi language films that have not been able to release in theatres and will consider OTT as an option.

Rohit Jain, managing director, Lionsgate South Asia and networks- emerging markets Asia said the company acquires content from different parts of the world and has a line-up of around 50-60 titles from global studios to mitigate the current situation.

“The latest entry in our content line up is new-age contemporary Indian language movies that we have acquired, beginning with Hindi and Telugu, soon to be followed with Tamil and other languages,” said Jain. Production of some originals has been delayed while a few are being shot in the southern states, he said.

Yet others could benefit from shooting in other places, such as ZEE5’s cross-border brand Zindagi that curates Pakistani, Turkish and Korean content.

“The situation (in Pakistan) is not as dire as what we are going through currently so there aren’t many curbs and restrictions per se. We need to be more careful and sensitive when shooting in another country to not take the slightest chance of putting anyone at risk. Work is happening, albeit slowly and cautiously,” said Shailja Kejriwal, chief operations officer-special projects, Zee Entertainment Enterprises. The company has shows like Dhoop Ki DeewarMann Jogi and Abdullahpur Ka Devdas slated to release between June and December. Live Mint

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