Anirban Roy ChoudhuryPublished: 27 Jun 2019, 12:00 AM
Interviews

"When it comes to unscripted content, TV has set a very high bar, so we need to be differentiated": Prime Video's Vijay Subramaniam

The streaming service will release the second season of Comicstaan on July 12, 2019.

On July 10, 2017, Seattle-headquartered e-commerce giant Amazon started its Prime Video Originals journey in India with 'Inside Edge'. Exactly two years later the subscription-based streaming service is set to launch its first return of an Original. Comedy talent hunt show 'Comicstaan', which was launched a year back, is set to have its second season streaming from July 12, 2019, onwards. Contestants from across the country will be mentored by the top established comedians in their humorous battle of verses. The show, produced by Only Much Louder, will have eight episodes - four of which will be made available on day one while the remaining will hit the service once a week after.

"When it comes to unscripted content, TV has set a very high bar, so we need to be differentiated": Prime Video's Vijay Subramaniam

L-R: Sourav Mehta (season 1 contestant, host of the press conference), Abish Mathew, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Dhruv Sheth - Managing Partner, OML, Kreeti Gogia - Project Head - OML, Neeti Palta, Sumukhi Suresh, Vijay Subramaniam - Director and Head, Content, Amazon Prime Video India, Kaneez Surka and Prashasti Singh (season 1 contestant, host of the press conference) at the trailer launch of Amazon Original Series Comicstaan season 2
Click on the image to enlarge

"When it comes to unscripted content, TV has set a very high bar, so we need to be differentiated": Prime Video's Vijay Subramaniam

L-R: Kaneez Surka, Sourav Mehta (season 1 contestant, host of the press conference), Abish Mathew, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Dhruv Sheth - Managing Partner, OML, Kreeti Gogia - Project Head - OML, Neeti Palta, Sumukhi Suresh, Vijay Subramaniam - Director and Head, Content, Amazon Prime Video India and Prashasti Singh (season 1 contestant, host of the press conference) at the trailer launch of Amazon Original Series Comicstaan season 2
Click on the image to enlarge

So, how does the platform decide which show should return with a second season, the difference between scripted and unscripted content and the means to reach regional audiences? We spoke to Vijay Subramaniam, director and head, content, Amazon Prime Video India and here is what he had to say:-

Edited Excerpts

How was the response to the first season of Comicstaan?

Customers loved the fact that they were learning about comedy as they were being entertained so, it was more like a full 'Thali' instead of just 'Dal Roti'. 'Comicstaan' Season 1 remains one of the most widely watched shows on our service even one year after its launch. One thing that happened to comedy is after we launched 'Comicstaan' we saw a 25 per cent increase in the consumption of comedy on the service. It introduced standup comedy to a lot of customers.

What was the profile of audiences who watched Season 1?

Before launching the show we thought young-adults were going to champion the consumption, but families watched it together and enjoyed it. Of course, the younger cohorts were pretty significant; but to be honest, when we were planning the show, we did not expect this kind of a response from the older adults as we thought the humour was not relatable to them. To give an anecdote, people have come to me and said - I saw my son watching it and I sat with him to watch and got hooked.

Prime Video is creating both scripted and unscripted shows; how are the two different from the creator's perspective?

When it comes to unscripted content, we recognise that television has set a very high bar when it comes to certain genres and themes like dance and music (the talent hunts). There are TV shows that are very well put together and really enjoyable. We are very clear when it comes to unscripted content - we need to provide customers with entertainment need gaps that nobody else is able to provide and Comicstaan is one such example. We have also learned with 'Remix' - a show about song production - that television does a very good job with Music reality shows. So it is very hard to differentiate in that sphere. Hence we are looking at that space very differently.

How much do you depend on data while deciding which show to commission or license?

It is a confluence of art and science. We are still learning, so we apply a lot of our learning in everything we do and it relates to all our content - licensed and our own. That process is a rapidly growing piece for us; but we would also like to mention that what we learned in our first year, was very quickly overshadowed by what we learned in the second, since this is a high-growth environment, adding several customers every month. One such data-driven learning that I can share is what we got to know about comedy. Customers were saying 'give us more comedy of a different kind' so, in the next couple of months, we will announce a couple of formats that will complement what we already have.

While you segment and identify your key markets when creating a show, do you see an overlap?

'Four More Shots Please' is a great example, while we made it thinking younger women would champion the show, men absolutely loved it. The same goes for movies. Here's an interesting anecdote - a friend's grandmother (about 85-years) was talking about how the Fire TV stick and Alexa remote made it easier for his grandparents as they were not comfortable typing. I asked her what she watched recently and she said, "Gully Boy and I thoroughly enjoyed it." She is a typical Tam-Bram-Pati, I look at her with fascination... and that's the point, there is a serious overlap and we are nowhere close to compartmentalising.

With so much content streaming within the platform itself, how do you plan to address the discovery challenge?

I believe good content will always get discovered, that is something I tell all our creators and collaborators - try to make it the best version of the show that you are making and it will always get its audience. Then you have the algorithm which keeps getting smarter as customers watch and that plays a huge role in helping you fuel tastes and preferences. Another thing that we have observed is that films are a great path to discovery and that is why we are very particular about getting the latest and the greatest.

How do you decide which show should return with a new season?

We will only commit to a second season when we know that the first has done well for us. We are extremely fortunate that all of our shows that we released have done well and so, they are going into second seasons. Comicstaan is the first returning season for us; later this year we will have 'Inside Edge Season 2'. We have just wrapped production of 'Breathe', 'Four More Shots Please' is in production and 'Mirzapur' Season 2 is in production as well.

What is your strategy to tap into the regional markets?

Hyperlocal is what Amazon has always believed in and Prime Video is a genuine reflection of that. We recognise that customers come from the length and breadth of the country and it is important to be able to reflect their tastes and preferences in entertainment and deliver. If you look at our language expansion, we launched with Hindi, Tamil and Telugu then got into Marathi and Bengali. In the last six months, we have expanded that by adding, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, and Gujarati. That itself is an indication of how we think about our customers in each of these communities.

All our Originals are dubbed in Tamil and Telugu because we recognise that those two communities might prefer to watch content in their own native language. We started developing shows in Tamil and Telugu as well. So we are very focussed on making sure that every region's tastes and preferences are well-represented and, as always, we start with films as that teaches us a lot - what kind of genres people prefer and the kind of stories they would like to watch.

It is harder to learn all that films teach us just by launching five shows. If you look at our selection today, you will find that the best and the latest films are available on the service.