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Streaming services embrace inclusive content to reach wider audience

Shows embracing this shift, by featuring familiar faces and relatable everyday narratives, are dominating the viewership charts and drawing maximum attention, they added.

Initially, OTT platforms primarily catered to early adopters, or people in the 18-34 age group, preferring mature and adult themes, diverging from the conventional fare found on linear TV, which typically had a one-size-fits-all approach.

With a maturing OTT audience base, and a rising number of 35-plus viewers embracing platforms, a significant transformation is underway.

Streaming services are now increasingly shifting towards a TV-plus model, beyond exclusivity to edginess and catering to a broader range of preferences. This evolution reflects the changing demographics and diverse tastes of an expanding audience base, they added.

According to insights from media consulting firm Ormax, during January-August 2023, Hindi web series such as Farzi, Asur 2 and The Night Manager, generated a lot of excitement, consistently topping the rating charts. The shows share some key characteristics: either featuring popular actors or showcasing heartwarming narratives rooted in Indian culture, and presented the stories in traditional cinematic style.

OTT executives and content creators said the rapid growth in viewership, which includes a more mature demographic, is the driving force behind this shift towards inclusive themes and storytelling. To remain competitive, streaming services are recognizing the importance of not excluding any segment of their diverse audience base. As a result, the industry is witnessing a strategic shift in content with universal appeal, aiming to provide something for everyone.

“OTT platforms had initially gained popularity among the younger audiences with their diverse content library, as well as easy accessibility. However, they have strategically expanded market share by curating an expansive and diverse content portfolio catering to a wide range of preferences. Following this strategy, OTT platforms successfully reached not only family audiences but also niche markets,” Nimisha Pandey, chief content officer for Hindi originals at ZEE5, said.

According to a report from Ormax, 12.21 million viewers of Hindi general entertainment channels tuned into streaming content for the first time during the lockdown. The pandemic significantly expanded the medium’s audience base, and with JioCinema’s entry this year, the viewership is expected to shift from the top 10 cities to the next tier, it said.

“In the last two years, platforms have reached out to more gender and age groups, and recognised the need to cater to mass audiences, which is essentially driven by the need to expand their subscriber base,” Mautik Tolia, director Bodhitree Multimedia, known for shows like Class, said.

More viewers getting on OTT platforms is definitely a factor, said Gunjan Arya, chief executive officer at OML Entertainment, which has backed web originals like One Mic Stand.

“More customers mean their preferences will reflect in themes and stories. Unlike earlier, when theatrical films were the only opportunity to reach out to the masses, OTT is an equally large medium to reach wide audiences now,” Arya said.

One way to expand the audience base is by exploring different cultural worlds, said Samar Khan, chief executive officer of Juggernaut Productions, the content creation hub owned by IN10 Media Network. Like Kohrra (Netflix) which was set in the heartland of Punjab or Dahaad (Prime Video) in Rajasthan, Juggernaut’s latest show Jaanbaaz Hindustan Ke was shot across Kerala and the North East to bring in authentic nuances.

“The idea is to become more inclusive, be it from a cultural or gender lens, and OTT gives us that canvas. Otherwise, the stories will be limited to south Delhi or Bombay,” Khan explained.

In the initial days of OTT, when the floodgates had just opened for content creators to work without scrutiny or censorship, there was some pushing of the envelope, said Vaibhav Modi, founder-director at Victor Tango Entertainment. “Now everyone has data and can figure out their next steps to become viable. There is benefit in being inclusive because everyone has realised that long-term value lies on creating sustainable and lower common denominator stories that can deliver,” he added. LiveMint

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