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What’s fuelling India’s growing appetite for short form content

Short format content has been making waves in the entertainment industry across the globe. It’s largely owing to the audience’s inclination to consume complete storytelling in a shorter duration as compared to an over 90 minutes feature film. Defined as creative storytelling with any run-time less than 40 minutes, short films allow greater creative freedom to artists and storytellers. In India, the audience for short films has been growing steadily over the past few years and more recently all major content creators and curators have jumped on the short films wagon to keep audiences engaged with the new content format.

The “sudden appetite” for short-form content isn’t sudden at all. For the last 10 years, an entire generation in the US and Europe has grown up watching hours and hours of short content per day on YouTube. What is “sudden” is the demand for the high-quality video that is short, available on curated platforms that lets them choose by swiping or liking and which provides wholesome entertainment and is shareable in nature.

Internationally, especially in Latin America and Asia, the sudden rise of short-form video has a slightly different origin. It’s linked to the growth of smartphones, availability of affordable data and the near-ubiquity of data streaming. More than half the world’s population owns very few TVs but is approaching ownership of over 3 billion smartphones (Source: Statista’s 2020 data)—the primary method of consuming video entertainment in this region.

In India, the migration from broadcast TV to on-demand– and from big-screen to mobile—started a decade ago. The COVID-19 lockdowns moved it to the next level. According to the latest FICCI report, Digital is fuelling an unprecedented growth in content creation and consumption in almost every Indian language, creating new economic opportunities for both the media and entertainment industry and creative professionals across the country. The audience’s way of consuming stories is changing. As audiences are getting used to watching shorts, filmmakers in India are increasingly attracted to this form, as observed in the five Indian short films that were in the race for nominations at The Academy Awards 2021 including—Bittu, Shameless, Saving Chintu and Natkhat in the Live Action Short Category and Tailing Pond in Documentary Short Subject category. There has been a kind of internationalisation of filmmaking in India.

India’s diversity and scale continue to fuel the pursuit of unique content, whether it is international cinema or the unique short film format that crisply delivers gripping stories. With the demand seen coming not just from metros but tier 1 and 2 cities. The audience also enjoys watching stories narrated in their languages which sets familiarity allowing everyone to celebrate their local culture. The existence of diverse regional cinema in India has nurtured the growth of short films in several of the more popular local languages including Bengali, Marathi, Punjabi, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. The Hindi language short film Chutney still remains one of the most viewed shorts on YouTube with over 132 Million views.

As economic models go, short films as a format are more suitable for SVOD viewing and pricing the service just right is essential to the success of the service, especially considering the spending sensibilities of the price-sensitive Indian market. For ex, ShortsTV, which is the global home of short-form content entered the Indian market in 2018, priced between Rs 70-99 across its availability as linear TV service on all major DTH platforms and on-demand service on Airtel Xstream App. Other more traditional media players including some of the key OTT players are integrating short-form content into their long-form offerings, while yet others are relying on short-form off-shoots to populate their online presence and, finally, some are experimenting with ad-based models.

Short films have also found audiences in theatrical releases, screened in blocks. Since 2006, ShortsTV has exclusively released the year’s Oscar-nominated Short Films in cinemas across the US and Canada, South America, Europe, India, Australia and South Africa. Last year, in India alone Oscar Nominated Short Films, were released in 100 theatres whereas this year saw the virtual screening through one of the leading PPV players BookMyShow Stream.

Short films are growing in demand as the emerging streaming platforms have come with a new, growing online audience and an appetite for different types of content. 2021 is going to be a fertile ground for the growth and expansion of short films in India. There will be new spaces where short films can be seen and embraced by content-curious Indian audiences. CNBCTV18

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