How streaming platforms like Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime have changed the way we consume content this decade
The past three years have increasingly belonged to streaming content in this country. These days, conversations at cafes are more likely to revolve around the shows that people are bingeing on rather than that big holiday release in theatres. It’s a cultural shift that’s defining an entire industry’s outlook to how content is produced and disseminated, and what’s happened in 2019 will most likely define the course of events over the next five years.
According to KPMG’s 2019 Media and Entertainment report, India’s subscription revenues on OTT platforms are estimated to have tripled this year, two-thirds of which came from direct subscriptions while the rest came from Telco partnerships. Advertising led revenues on these streaming platforms during the year showed a healthy 60% increase as well. If anything, this vindicates the huge investments OTT platforms have been making over the past couple of years into original ‘desi’ content across languages, genres and show formats. This, coupled with the boom in the number of streaming platforms has meant a sudden deluge of Indian content, not all of which has necessarily been of the highest quality.
The big three: Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon Prime
Hotstar, with the highest number of users in India (150 Mn+), started out a few years back piggybacking on Star’s vast catalogue of TV shows and access to live sports. The platform has toyed in the past with original web content but went about it trying to leverage their reach across both web and television. On Air With AIB was one such experiment that failed to live up to its potential, purely because of how restrictive television is as a medium. This year, though, they’ve broken free and hit the ground running with a bunch of original shows, created solely for the streaming platform.
Interestingly, Hotstar’s content strategy of adapting already successful content from other parts of the globe has been a successful one, and has found favour both with users and critics. Criminal Justice, based on the eponymous BBC show from 2008 and made famous by HBO’s award winning adaptation, The Night Of, was a welcome change from the cheesy crime drama Indian television has been dishing out for decades. The ten-episode series got rave reviews and had great social media buzz when it dropped in April. Hostages, which released a month later is based on an Israeli show of the same name and Out of Love is based on BBC show, Doctor Foster. The Indian adaptation of The Office has now had two successful seasons on Hotstar, proving that good writing can always be contextualised and localised to produce great content.
The other platform to have received more critical success than ever before in 2019, was Amazon Prime Video.
After a sketchy couple of years with their foray into desi comedic content, Amazon seems to have found their feet in 2019 with Made in Heaven and The Family Man, shows that broke new ground though they were set in familiar landscapes. Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s Made in Heaven broke away from multiple television stereotypes with their story of two wedding planners in Delhi, and gave us a messed up female protagonist very unlike anything we’ve seen before. The Family Man brought us a middle class spy with middle class problems and none of the clichés associated with espionage. Amazon also dropped sophomore seasons of Inside Edge and Comicstaan, both shows that have come back stronger and better written.
It’s Netflix, though, that seems to have dropped the ball in 2019 after leading the charge on desi originals.
While the previous year saw some absolute gems across formats and genres like Sacred Games, Ghoul, Lust Stories and Love Per Square Foot, this year has seen different fortunes for the streaming giant. Their dystopian drama Leila was unlike anything seen by this country before and promised so much with comparisons being drawn to The Handmaid’s Tale. Great source material though, doesn’t always translate to great content. The show was sloppy and disappointing and got a lukewarm reception before it faded into oblivion. Sacred Games, which promised so much in its first season, had a follow-up season that was bigger in every sense, with a larger canvas and more characters. The bar had been set high, the audience was ripe and ready but the grand finale was nothing more than a damp squib, leaving most fans disappointed. Bard of Blood, which was Netflix’s big foray into Indian spy action drama, was forgettable at best, and paled in comparison to Amazon’s The Family Man which dropped around the same time.
A couple of Netflix’s lesser-hyped shows though met with some critical success. Sujoy Ghosh’s horror drama, Typewriter received praise from critics while the third season of Little Things expanded its landscape and found a wider audience. It was Richie Mehta’s Delhi Crime though, that received rave reviews and a host of awards but remains Netflix’s only real success of the year.
Interestingly, Netflix’s only ‘original’ Indian film of the year that is worth a mention is also a cop drama. Soni, which takes us into the world of female cops in Delhi, however, is a tough watch and has limited appeal predictably finding very few takers. The rest of Netflix’s Original film slate for 2019 had varying degrees of popular appeal but didn’t set any social media discussion boards on fire. Films like Chopsticks, Upstarts and House Arrest dropped, and dropped off the radar without a trace. Even their most hyped film release of the year, Drive (Dharma Productions) ended up being lampooned by viewers and critics alike.
Other streaming platforms like Zee5 and Alt Balaji have produced shows like Kaafir and Broken but Beautiful, which have found buzz but these are few and far between in an industry that’s inundated with ideas but still hasn’t quite mastered the execution. If the year gone by is anything to go by, the online content space is only going to get more competitive. When Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings announced earlier this year that they’d invest $400 million on Indian content over 2019-20, he mirrored the thoughts of executives across the 40 odd streaming platforms currently playing in this market: Winning India needs more and more original Indian content.
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Updated Date: Jan 02, 2020 15:56:22 IST