Ashwini Gangal

"The dependence of OTT on Bollywood has reduced": Ormax Media's Shailesh Kapoor

In conversation with Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of media consultancy Ormax Media.

At the recently concluded vdonxt Week, an afaqs! conference about the business of online video, I spoke to Ormax Media's Shailesh Kapoor, a modern day soothsayer, whose job it is to predict whether a given piece of video content will have the desired impact on its intended audience.

His team comprises 27 professionals.

Over 20 minutes, he fielded five questions from me and one from the audience. Watch the full session on video below or read on for highlights.

Edited excerpts.

Ormax is in the business of content testing. You give the makers of content an advocacy score – a numeric word of mouth score that reflects the percentage of people who like something enough to recommend it to others. What kind of content is getting a high score of late and what’s not working?

What’s changed in the last two years is that there’s a lot more variety in the top list, that is, shows that cross (a score of) 70 (out of 100). Previously, everything was either a suspense thriller, a dark drama or an underbelly type of show; now there are many more genres.

What’s not doing well is 80 per cent of the stuff… the long-tail is really long, including me-too versions of the bigger shows…

Give examples of shows that got a particularly high advocacy score…

Scam 1992 (SonyLIV), Special Ops (Disney+ Hotstar), Paatal Lok (Amazon Prime Video), Panchayat (Amazon Prime Video), Gullak (SonyLIV), Mirzapur Season 2 (Amazon Prime Video).

You and I chat about the online video space at regular intervals – In 2018 you told me how the OTT universe in India was running on borrowed sensibilities, in May last year you spoke about how the thriller genre had mutated into a gory/dark type and a more palatable/cinematic type. What’s the overarching content trend in 2021?

The dependence on Bollywood – big ‘sellable’ faces, big ‘film’ production houses, big directors – has reduced. Content is finding its way without them.

Previously, production houses would think big platforms like Netflix and Amazon were more likely to buy a show from them if stars were attached it. So to make a show more marketable to big platforms, star cast mattered. But over time everyone has become more comfortable with the idea that this is not a medium where star cast is that important; the concept and story are more important. That is opening up a lot of things. Scam (SonyLIV) is a good example of this.

Also, platforms that are not global and don’t have deep pockets are benefitting from this.

To a large extent, testing of OTT content is done to help the makers decide where to release it – online or in cinemas. Given the current situation with theatres, what are the markers that guide this decision?

Down South cinemas have been doing fine, especially when big films have come out. But in general, a (recent trend) that’s been accelerated by the lockdown is that smaller films have become smaller and bigger films have become bigger. The audience is now able to distinguish between a film they can watch online and one they would prefer going to the theatre for.

"Smaller films have become smaller and bigger films have become bigger."

The equity that actors like Rajkummar Rao and Nawazuddin Siddiqui have been building for themselves will come in handy now from an OTT perspective. But they may face a bit of a challenge bringing audiences to theatres to watch films in which they play the lead.

Shailesh Kapoor
Shailesh Kapoor

Unlike in the case of movies and TV, testing for OTT content is not done to fix the flaws but to figure out the marketing plan and positioning of a show. Share an anecdote of one such process…

Both types of testing have started for OTT, actually – people are beginning to test scripts and concepts as well. Some OTT platforms are now testing at a pre-shoot stage, which is how testing for movies and TV shows has been.

Sometimes for OTT shows, the research and testing becomes like a brief to the makers – for example, it helps them decide whether a show should be promoted as, say, a thriller versus an emotional drama… the way they’ll cut the trailer will depend on the route being taken. Testing helps package a show well – trailer choices, poster choices, even the name of the show...

Testing also helps platforms decide which shows to put their marketing muscle behind – for example, it helps platforms/producers take decisions about whether a show must get a big outdoor push or a silent launch.

"Some OTT platforms are now testing at a pre-shoot stage."

When it comes to content discovery, there’s advocacy, which is the human input, and then there’s the algorithm, which is the machine’s recommendation. In a warped way, are the two in conflict at some level?

Yes, I won’t say conflict, but they can compete with each other.

The algorithm works at the platform level. There’s no ‘overall’ (cross platform) algorithm.

The algorithm comes into play only for heavy, loyal users of an app, not for new subscribers. To expand the viewer/subscriber base, something OTT platforms are looking to do in India, we need advocacy.

23 million (2.3 crore) people from the GEC viewer pool started watching webseries for the first time during the 2020 lockdown.

Some people have started watching OTT content on large screens with their families, as opposed to alone on their phones. Is viewing behaviour still entirely a function of the medium or has online video content started becoming one entity?

The number of people watching OTT content with family is small. It’s a very metro thing.

As (content) reaches the interiors and goes to smaller towns, in (local) languages, mobile consumption of content will increase. OTT grew from the premise of solo consumption and that’s how it will continue to grow...

Also, there’s a difference between watching with family and watching shows that everyone in the family can watch. We need to have more content that different members of the family can relate to – they can then watch it on their own devices, at their own convenience.

"There’s a difference between watching with family and watching shows that everyone in the family can watch."

Collective viewing is still a very ‘TV thing’ in this country.

Also Read: The OTT Censorship Scare: What’s In Store in 2021?

Also Read: "OTT content has become too intense; we need visually bright shows": Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO, Ormax Media

Also Read: “We now have two thriller genres on OTT”: Shailesh Kapoor, Ormax

This interview was conducted via Zoom on March 5, 2021, and was part of vdonxt Week, a conference organised by afaqs! during March 1-5, 2021. Conference sponsors: Presenting partner – Voot. Associate partners – PubMatic, Zee5, Vidooly. Insights partner – Nepa.

Poster Credit: Mirzapur, Amazon Prime Video.