On digital platforms, content is king

The advent of video streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and ZEE5, and their willingness to make long-term investments and create a varied (and bigger) catalogue promises to alter the country’s entertainment landscape.

The relentless focus on storytelling in these platforms seems to be having a ripple effect on mainstream cinema as well. With audiences having access to more quality content, many in the mainstream film industry say that storytellers, irrespective of the medium, will now be held to a much higher standard. In short, well-told stories are back in the limelight, pushing stars to the background.

Speaking of how Amazon Prime Video has calibrated its strategy by studying audience preferences, Vijay Subramaniam, Amazon Prime Video India director and head, content, said: “Customers were engaging with three kinds of content —films, everyday soaps on television and news/current affairs. We also understood that audience wanted cinematic-level finite fiction, apart from the latest movies that they want to consume at their own convenience.”

Prime Video recently forayed into Tamil with its web series Vella Raja, produced by S.R. Prabhu’s Dream Warrior Pictures. Recently, Netflix produced a hit show, Sacred Games, and ZEE5 has been engaging well-known talent across India.

Big names still a draw

Does that mean digital platforms have bypassed the star system with unique content? Suriya Narayanan, south content head, ZEE5, said the audience still looked out for big names, but digital platforms were firmly driven by content. “We do have recognisable names such as Karthik Subbaraj presenting a show titled Kallachirippu and known actors like Kalaiarasan doing Kalavu and actor Prasanna acting in Thiravam, directed by Aravind Krishna. But the platform is predominantly content-driven. Actors who are willing to experiment with different mediums are definitely open to working in the digital space,” said Mr. Narayanan.

Mr. Subramaniam said it was important to develop a show that the audience would want to watch. “If we have a compelling story, then it is relatively easier to engage the creative fraternity and get the right talent to feature in it. We had Madhavan in Breathe season 1 and Abhishek Bachchan will be doing Breathe 2.”

Karan Chaudhry, COO and president, The Viral Fever, added: “OTT platforms have to spend time to understand audience preferences and then invest in quality content over a sustained period of time to build their brand image.”

However, traditional players — distributors and exhibitors — think that digital platforms may not be able to compete with cinema made for the masses. Many say that unlike Hollywood, it is going to take a while for the biggest stars in the South to feature in a digital-only fiction series. G. Dhananjayan, producer, said the biggest of stars, who earn fat salaries and are tied up continuously with projects, may not be up for such experimentation. “It is still an experimental platform. Why would big stars, who are extremely busy and have a number of movies lined up, do a web series?” he asks.

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