While the infusion of global taste is always good, the absence of a sensibility that’s uniquely Indian can limit the long-term growth of the web series category in India.
Aided by the Coronavirus pandemic in no small measure, 2020 has turned out to be a watershed year for the streaming business in India. While sports and catch-up television continue to play an important role in driving SVOD and AVOD growth respectively, the most significant change has come in the form of explosion of good-quality original series (popularly known in India as web series) over the last year-and-a-half.
Till date, 16 Indian web series have passed the Ormax Advocacy Score benchmark of 65 per cent. This score is a measure of audience response to content. Sixty-five per cent is a threshold that a show must pass for it to be classified as being “loved” by those who have watched it.
Out of these 16 shows, as many as nine were launched within the last 12 months itself. Which means that the contribution of the last year in terms of quality of content is 30 per cent higher than that of the entire 2014-19 period put together.
While higher penetration of streaming platforms can increase the audience base, stronger advocacy levels are as a result of more content being produced, and higher operating levels of quality too. On both these fronts, the Indian streaming industry is in a very good space.
But a closer look at this show list is revelatory. Six of the 16 shows are produced by TVF, and are in the light-hearted space, albeit with positive messaging and life lessons built into many of them. But if we go beyond TVF, each of the remaining 10 belong to a singular genre: Thriller!
The story, the setting and the treatment may vary, but the sameness of the super genre is too evident to be missed. No comedies, no love stories, no human dramas that rely more on emotions than on action and thrills… it seems that the streaming content creators, with the exception of TVF, have decided to venture into a very narrowly-defined zone.
While some of these thrillers have a distinctive feel (‘Special Ops’ stands out for its Bollywood-like treatment), most are ‘westernised’ in their presentation, relying on dark visual spaces, complex and non-linear plots, liberal use of blood, gore and profanities, political backdrops, and other such ‘realistic’ elements. Many of these shows are adaptations of foreign shows, and that adds to the western style of presentation too.
While the infusion of global taste is always good, the absence of a sensibility that’s uniquely Indian can limit the long-term growth of the web series category in India. Most such thrillers rely on in-the-face visuals and shock value, limiting their audience base primarily to the 18-30 age group.
Many older audiences, who have grown up on a very traditional diet of mainstream Indian television, find such content irrelevant, if not downright disgusting. The lockdown has initiated many of them into streaming, but the content available is not necessarily of their own taste.
It’s evident that there is some kind of a Netflix admiration at play here. The danger lies in that becoming the only lens through which the bulk of original content is created by streaming platforms.
At some stage, and hopefully not in the distant future, makers need to find an Indian sensibility for streaming content in the country. Because streaming audience is no longer a niche. It’s a growing, throbbing mass of Indians, who have a taste created via mainstream television and films over the years.
2021-22 will be a test of how streaming giants can bring this Indian factor into play, not just in language, but in their choice of stories, and in the style and treatment of storytelling.
(The author is the founder and CEO of Ormax Media.)