Coronavirus Outbreak: With shows moved up in the calendar, OTT platforms are milking the most of lockdown
The lockdown in place because of the coronavirus outbreak has given a fillip to the OTT industry across the globe.
OTT content has surged to new highs during the COVID-19 lockdown that began on 24 March. As reported across the US, Netflix subscription numbers witnessed a 47 percent rise since the lockdown started. As per their earnings statement, their global subscriptions have gone up by a significant 25 percent approximately.
In India, Netflix has added demand and subscribers, even as it cuts down 25 percent of bandwidth to save data usage. Netflix had a sustained advertising campaign here that encouraged people to stay home and chill. It feels a bit too real today.
Netflix is not alone in witnessing growth, although its success worldwide has been the most talked about. Amazon Prime Video has also witnessed a significant rise in viewership interest. When we reached out to the company, they refused to comment on subscription or viewership as part of global policy. But a visible rise in advertising of original Indian content from the platform on both TV channels and digital platforms shows that the time to capitalise on audience interest is now.
Prime Video has just released the thriller Paatal Lok, part of their extensive Indian Originals slate for this year. Minor adjustments have been made to Bandish Bandits, the next Indian Original show to drop on this platform, although post production and editing are on track for most shows. At a quicker pace then before, original Indian content, made in Hindi, have become big drivers for OTT Platforms in the post-lockdown scenario.
Interestingly, the benefits of lockdown go beyond established brands in this space. Voot Select, an OTT platform from Viacom 18 that has launched with a small but impressive inventory, has seen a huge surge in viewers with Asur. A crime thriller set in Varanasi, it stars Arshad Warsi, Barun Sobti, and Anupriya Goenka among others. Co-writer Niren Bhatt explains, “People in metros had stopped going to office, and had begun working from home a few days before the lockdown came into effect. Voot told us that interest in the series had already begun to rise then. It’s a relatively new platform, and Asur doing well has gotten people to stay on and watch their other shows too.”
Showrunners and directors are now restricted from speaking about their upcoming series or films for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video India. Announcement calendars and slotted press releases have something to do with this. Increased demand means shows are being pushed up too. Sources confirm that Hasmukh, the crime comedy series starring Vir Das, was also moved up on Netflix.
Sources also confirm that editing or wrapping up of post-production of most shows has been told to stay on track, as have been those that are currently writing content. As reported in their global earnings release, the company has over 200 shows and films being completed remotely across the world. Dubbing challenges have emerged for all OTT platforms, as languages like Italian and Mandarin have become relatively inaccessible owing to lockdowns.
Given their increasing presence and brand recall in India, Netflix has contributed significantly to daily wage labourers' welfare, and also offered four-week steady pay for below-the-line workers committed to stalled shoots and projects.
The sentiment amongst makers, who are working for these OTT giants or are in process of engaging with them professionally, is not euphoric. Instead, they are staying the course to maintain normalcy.
Bombay Begums is a promising upcoming Netflix series by Alankrita Shrivastava, yet to be announced. Reportedly staring Pooja Bhatt, Rahul Bose, Plabita Borthakur, and Shahana Goswami among others, it is among the many Indian Originals Netflix will heavily advertise to gain a foothold in the Hindi viewership belt.
Refusing to comment on the show directly, Shrivastava offered a glimpse in the mindset of a showrunner working remotely. She is developing stories while completing her ongoing commitments. “These are such strange times, and the pressure to be productive in the middle of a pandemic also feels unnatural. I have been finding it really hard to work during this period because my mind is so preoccupied with anxiety. All I want to do is stare at the ocean, drink coffee, and doom surf."
"Nevertheless, I am editing my series through virtual editing suite software. It's slow, and not like working with my editor in close proximity but we've both gotten used to it. And it's kind of comforting because I have something to do all day, and it forces one to think about other things. Also, since I am alone and so is my editor, it's like hanging out together all day virtually. I am also prepping for another show that I am directing a few episodes of. So there is some script work on that, and some prep meetings. And that is fun too. So I'm trying to make it through this crisis just like everybody else on the planet I guess.”
Lockdown has the sharpest impact on shooting content. As Amit Sial, star of web shows like Mirzapur and Inside Edge, mulls, “Even if one were to manage a shoot with a tight crew that observes protections like masks and sanitisers, how would actors shoot with one? How do they keep a distance? Shooting is not possible in these circumstances. Meanwhile, reading scripts and pre production is continuing.”
In a post-lockdown era, fear of contagion will deter many from flocking to movie theatres. This means that the surge in OTT might be here to stay. This also offers OTT platforms in the massive Indian market an enviable position in commanding the kind of content they want to make or produce.
Disney+ launched in India on Hotstar with Angrezi Medium, a film affected by the COVID-19 storm. In the near future, OTT platforms might become the preferred destination of high-budget, lavishly produced content in both film and long-format forms. The question is will that necessarily translate to quality content? Or will the viewer be simply spoilt for choice?
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