Online streaming services: Hits, misses and strategies of 2018

2018 saw programmes across all genres on online streaming services.  The business is still at a nascent stage in India. 2019 shall see the fulfilment of many promises that have been already made

Biswadeep Ghosh

It is, perhaps, an irony that the modern-day urban viewer continues to be passionate about television shows and films in spite of racing against the clock, far more aware and selective than his predecessor, this person is a seeker of diversity and quality in new offerings.

Indian as well as international OTT (over-the-top) platforms are correctly convinced that the nation with its billion-plus population has a huge untapped market. Expansion of subscriber base being a key factor for survival, these platforms sought to capitalise on their USPs and also experiment with ideas and genres in 2018.

Aggressive programming was the hallmark of the year. That’s understandable, since subscribers pay to access premium content. Subscription plans are based on the platform’s understanding of a reasonable fee for watching films and television shows that are simultaneously available on conventional mediums and exclusive programmes that are only available on OTT platforms. Everybody tried to make relevant content, leading to a problem of plenty for those who paid to access the services of a few platforms.

2018, in other words, was a year of high drama insofar as content generation was concerned. Quality international fiction programmes released periodically on Netflix and Amazon, in particular, led to an ever-lengthening list of offerings, Big-budget new films like Sanju and Padmaavat were released online a few months after they hit the marquee. That was fabulous news for viewers seeking to watch these films once again, and also for those who didn’t see them in the theatres.

To make but what to make is a big question every maker of creative programmes must answer. Strategising to identify the right subject kept the planners busy. Interesting original shows got made, none as engaging as the gritty gangster drama Sacred Games based on Vikram Chandra’s 900-page novel directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane. Widely publicised in all forms of media and starring Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the well-made drama series with fine production values set the benchmark for programming.

With the search for more eyeballs taking centre stage, innovation came into play. Comicstaan, an Amazon show in which top Indian stand-up comedians came together to judge new talent, was an exciting idea marred by patchy execution

While censorship of content on online platforms and self-censorship hijacked headlines towards the end of the year, there is little doubt that creators were able to work in an environment of relative freedom. A lot of what was produced was rather ordinary. Mirzapur, an Amazon gangster drama, had an overdose of unnecessarily used four-letter words and mindless violence, which manifested the fallout of complacent over-indulgence. Breathe, a crime drama web series also on Amazon, was its well-made exact opposite.

Programming on the whole across channels produced other notable results, too. Netflix produced Lust Stories, an anthology of four short stories dealing with female sexuality. Driven by intrepid ideas and handled with restraint and sensitivity, appreciation for the anthology was an indication that many contemporary viewers are desperate for films and shows that look around the stereotype.

With the search for more eyeballs taking centre stage, innovation came into play. Comicstaan, an Amazon show in which top Indian stand-up comedians came together to judge new talent, was an exciting idea marred by patchy execution. The creation of such a programme was, however, was a purposeful step in the right direction that will inspire better successors in the long run.

Other platforms played their USP cards and stayed on course. Star India’s Hotstar, a big player, scored heavily by streaming the Vivo Indian Premier League (IPL). SonyLiv, which had the exclusive rights for streaming the FIFA World Cup, found many more subscribers. Programming in multiple regional languages was one of the major reasons why Voot and Zee5 retained their relevance in the business. That Zee5 produced the publicised series Karenjit Kaur-The Untold Story of Sunny Leone did not hurt the platform either.

An interesting case is that of ALT Balaji, which had produced the much appreciated Bose: Dead or Alive starring Rajkummar Rao as Subhash Chandra Bose. Their strategy of engaging viewers with a sophisticated version of a routine Balaji soap produced a drama like The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family. A few other ALTBalaji shows revealed its strategy of catering to the frontbenchers among subscribers of OTT platforms.

2018 produced programmes across all genres. The viewer was spoilt for choice, which is a good development because the business is still at a nascent stage in India. 2019 shall see the fulfilment of many promises that have been already made. As the year comes to an end, the show goes on.

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