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Netflix’s Monika Shergill on understanding audiences, stories and the storytelling journey

In a chat with Business Standard’s Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, Netflix’s vice president of content talks about the art of storytelling and its challenges.

'In Conversation: Made in India, Watched by the World India' was just hosted by the Asia Video Industry Association. It is a platform where world-class creative talent, superb creative vision and a treasure trove of stories come together to decode storytelling.

Thanks to the onset of Internet access and globalisation, there are many opportunities – like high-quality stories from local creators that represent the rich diversity that India has to offer. In this session, we explored how storytelling has changed for Netflix India over the last year. What is in the pipeline, and how is Netflix planning to keep India entertained?

Monika Shergill, VP, content, Netflix India, spoke with Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, consulting editor, Business Standard, about this and more.

Kohli-Khandekar began the session by quizzing Shergill about the process behind the content and how it comes together. Shergill said that to make good content, it is important to be – intuitive about the audience, compassionate towards creators and passionate about the end product that the audience sees.

Shergill added that Netflix has different storytelling formats, such as documentaries, original films, scripted series, etc. It also partners with studios globally. It licences titles from these studios and brings them onto its platform.

“The storytelling process starts with intuition and passion – of the creators and the executives bringing it to life. It’s also important to understand what the audiences want to watch. Everybody doesn’t want to watch similar genre and Netflix, as a platform, is designed for diversity. On Netflix, you can see what is trending, what other people are watching – the audience experience is designed keeping intuition in mind.”

Shergill went on to add that measurement metrics help to decide the scale at which a story should be told, but (they) don’t decide which stories the creators choose to tell on the platform. When asked if the audience in India has changed over the last five years and what her big India learnings are, she said that the initial years, as a service in India, primarily focused on international content.

Then came shows like Sacred Games and Delhi Crime. “The journey has been all about understanding what the Indian audiences want to watch and pivoting every time we see trends on what people like more or less. In India, the type of storytelling from broadcast to OTT storytelling is very different. Maybe a few years later, the two might converge. But as of now, I can tell the Indian audience really wants to experiment. If you see the top 10 row, 90 per cent of trending stories are Indian stories, and we have a highly local taste for content.”

She also pointed out that at the same time, Spanish and Korean dramas, Turkish stories, Japanese anime and Hollywood films are all doing extremely well. The popular American sitcom Friends has been trending in the Top 10 list for a long time. Shergill admits that sometimes, as a joke, people will try to guess which spot it (Friends) will show up at, on the Top 10 list.

“That’s the power that stories have – to bring people together. That’s my learning as a storyteller in the last 25 years – for a story to have the ability to travel far and wide, it must have a connect with the audiences. People want to see other people’s struggles and understand what they’re going through. We want to stay local, yet international in our storytelling.”

Shergill also said that it is important to evaluate the ability of a story to travel, and how international audiences will be perceptive of the stories being told. She said that stories like AK vs AK, Ludo, Paggalait, Girl on the Train, and shows like the Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives have travelled well with international audiences because people enjoy the complexity of the storytelling and the level of emotion being portrayed.

You can watch the full session below:

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