How’s Amazon’s Paatal Lok different from Disney+ Hotstar’s Special Ops? Ormax’s Shailesh Kapoor on genre diversity and nuances in the thriller zone.
People are binge watching OTT content like there’s no tomorrow – and for the first time, that line may have more than just figurative truth to it. Okay, that may be a stretch, but even so, it seems like the right time to speak to the man who looks at this space closely and studies trends therein. Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of media consultancy Ormax Media, is in the business of testing content (movies, TV shows, webseries) for its potential popularity and giving the makers an ‘advocacy score’.
Typically, his team tests an average of four to five pieces of content, across mediums, a week. Of course, for the last three months all testing has been on hold; the process involves showing around two to three episodes to an offline audience.
The last time I sat down with Kapoor was in September 2018, around the time the OTT universe was starting to explode, binge-ing was being normalised, viewers were beginning to crib about the problem of plenty, and early trends in the space were emerging. It was a time when the shows being made reflected the combined sense of liberation the medium affords both the makers and their audience. Today, 20 months later, what has changed?
Well, for one, platforms still don’t share data. Kapoor’s opinions are based on the research and analysis done by his team. In the course of our tele-chat, he named several shows across platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, etc.
Over the last 18-20 months, a lot has changed in the world of OTT…
The general – I don’t know if I should call it ‘scale’ – the quality of shows has improved. There’ll always be mediocre shows, but let’s just say around mid-2019 onwards – maybe Delhi Crime onwards – the best has become better. The best of 2019-20 is much stronger than the best of 2017-18.
Better in what way?
In terms of the writing, direction, production, and even the people associated with these shows, including actors.
Does the OTT space still represent the tastes of those making the shows more than the preferences of those watching them?
This holds true to a much lesser degree today than it did two years ago.
Also, now we’re seeing more of a balance and diversity of genres.
How so? The space is still dominated by the dark thriller, is it not?
But there’s been a big shift. While a thriller on OTT is still very different from a thriller on TV or in films, within the thriller genre on OTT, we are now seeing two types…
Describe these two buckets…
There’s the dark, intense, slightly disturbing, possibly politically polarising kind of show like a Paatal Lok or an Asur, which appeals more to those who’ve already watched a lot of international content on OTT, have been consuming this space for few years. They’re no longer in awe of, say, edgy scenes, and are matter of fact about profanity and such… they’ve been exposed to this kind of stuff in shows like Sacred Games, for instance. Though this is a strong, solid audience segment, it’s limited, and platforms can’t cater only to them.
Which is why we now have a second type of thriller – the ‘easier’, more escapist spy thriller kind of show, like Special Ops and The Family Man (both have a very high advocacy score of 81, per Ormax). This kind of thriller is not as grim and gritty, it’s a bit ‘filmy’, comes with a larger-than-life, cinematic treatment, is not difficult to watch from a violence point of view, and may even have some humour thrown in. These shows are shot in more colourful, Bollywood-like way. The audience for these two types may overlap, but both have ‘unique’ members too.
In fact, this second type is the kind of show through which many people are trying out OTT for the first time now. In the lockdown, with no new, original content on TV, they’re transitioning to OTT through this kind of – I wouldn’t say ‘mainstream’ – but more 'accessible' content on OTT. The viewer base is getting larger, but whether this core TV audience sticks around on OTT after TV resumes production of fresh content remains to be seen.
"In the lockdown, with no new, original content on TV, they’re transitioning to OTT through this kind of – I wouldn’t say ‘mainstream’ – but more 'accessible' content on OTT."
We also have horror, zombie shows, like Betaal, that are essentially variants of the thriller.
That’s interesting. Beyond thrillers, what genres stand out?
I think the ‘TVF type’ of show has become a genre in itself; Kota Factory has been one such breakout show. This kind of ‘social message comedy’ caters to a segment that’s different from the ones the hard, crime shows do. Like a Panchayat, for instance. It’s like the mass end of OTT, if you will – like the Raju Hirani stuff in movies (3 Idiots). Like Lakhon Mein Ek, except funnier. Hostel Daze is there too, but it’s more of a slice-of-life comedy.
Then there is the escapist, voyeuristic content like Four More Shots Please! or Inside Edge. These shows are lighter, visually brighter and while not all are high on advocacy, they have a definite audience of their own. This kind of sharp, demographic targeting is new in the OTT space.
"We now have the second type of thriller – it's ‘easier’ to watch, more escapist, a bit ‘filmy’, and is shot in a cinematic, colourful, Bollywood-like way."
And does the OTT medium have its own sensibilities now or does it still run on those borrowed from the shadows of Bollywood?
It is beginning to get its own sensibility, but I don’t think it is uniquely Indian; it’s more of a global sensibility, more like what TV used to be in the USA – multiple tracks and complex character arcs... it’s more than just telling a story and doing some gimmicks, which is how a lot of it may have started. Compared to films, you can dive deeper into the psyche of a character in an OTT show. Writers of shows are keeping this in mind now; they want to tell stories in a format that's very different from films.
Our movies (song and dance, interval, etc.) and TV shows (joint family dramas, etc.) are both uniquely Indian. In OTT this remains to be addressed. Our stories may be Indian, but the storytelling is not.
With theatres in the lurch, how do we segregate the pool of ‘video content’ today – cable TV, catch-up TV on OTT, movies on OTT, YouTube content…
Content wise, the distinction between webseries and films is greater today.
But some ‘webseries films’ as people have started calling them – it makes no sense to me! – are in a 'confused' sort of zone, like for example Maska (movie on Netflix, starring Manisha Koirala). That nomenclature or branding is not yet sorted. These are not films with a theatrical feel. People watch these movies like do a webseries.
Another change is, for the first time, audiences have started using the term ‘OTT’; it has become part of the common lexicon… previously they said ‘webseries’ or simply ‘Netflix’. See, webseries is a content word, OTT is a platform word.
Is the lockdown binger, with more time to spare, a lot more forgiving of average content than say her pre-lockdown self with barely two hours a day to spare might have been?
Yes, but they don’t know it yet.
Also, because the pace of life has slowed down for many, people are more open to slower shows. Previously, they wanted racier shows.
Note - Last year, Ormax released a report on 'nine types of OTT viewers in India'. Read it here: