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Web shows struggle to find OTT buyers

Several small-time producers who had created independent web series for streaming services are struggling to find buyers as subscriptions plateau and platforms spend less on content. Unlike feature films, web shows cannot be released in theatres either.

Streaming platforms typically commission long-format web series and subsequently spend on production; however, the explosive demand for web content during the pandemic attracted many newcomers, who planned and produced web shows that they could pitch to streaming platforms later. Around 30-40 such small to mid-scale titles made at a cost of ₹7-8 crore each are unable to find buyers, industry executives said.

“A much-needed cost rationalization has definitely happened across platforms. The appetite was really high during the lockdown, and productions were stalled, so platforms had to pick up ready content even if they weren’t happy with the quality in some cases. But now, there is no space for average fare, and every platform has its pipeline, so there is no shortage. It may seem like bad news for some, but it just means that mediocrity will no longer survive. Great content will always find takers,” said Nimisha Pandey, chief content officer of Hindi originals at ZEE5. She added that she receives pitches for ready shows regularly.

A senior executive at a content studio said the model of creating and shooting web series first and then pitching to streaming platforms can only work in rare cases, like that of Aditya Birla-owned production house Applause Entertainment. “It’s a real crisis for the others who don’t have similar clout. Also, content creation is a very unorganized business, so a lot of investors are often duped into producing shows that don’t see the light of the day,” the executive said on condition of anonymity. It is equally common for producers to negotiate with multiple platforms for the best price and eventually settle on a smaller platform for a lower price after the top ones say no, the executive added. Several shows are sold for no profits if not outright loss.

Media and entertainment industry experts said the number of web shows commissioned or launched by streaming platforms has come down, along with budgets for the same, while the TV-plus model—shows running into 50-100 episodes released in a staggered manner—has gained ground, where larger volume is expected. “Platforms are no longer experimenting too much with genres and want to stick to templates that have done well in the past,” said Karan Taurani, an analyst at Elara Capital Ltd. The downturn will definitely impact production houses whose growth rates would slow down,” he added.

“With stricter government regulation and AVoD (advertising-based video on demand) models coming in, content has to be more palatable, and premium shows now make up a smaller percentage of overall budgets. The appetite has certainly gone down, and that over-the-top (OTTs ) streaming platforms are no longer overspending has been the writing on the wall for a while now,” said Siddharth Anand Kumar, senior vice-president of films and events at Saregama India Ltd, which owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films.

The company, Kumar added, recognized this shift and has decided to pivot to regional language cinema that can be released in theatres. LiveMint

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