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The challenges and opportunities for OTTs in the crisis economy

What's going on with the OTT landscape?

On day 3 of E-FICCI FRAMES, a panel discussed how the OTT platforms have seen their subscriber base surge amid the lockdown. However, they face several challenges in the mid-term and long-term period such as consistent content supply, reduced viewing, and policymakers.

Moderator: Vikram Chandra, Founder – Editorji Technologies

Panellists:

Gaurav Banerjee, President, Hindi & English Entertainment - Star India

Gowree Gokhale - Partner - Nishith Desai Associates

Satya Raghavan, Director, YouTube Content Partnerships, India

Gourav Rakshit, Chief Operating Officer – Viacom18

Gaurav Gandhi, Director & Country General Manager - Amazon Prime Video

Monika Shergill, Vice President - Content – Netflix

Chandra opened the discussion talking about how the OTTs have such a surge in viewership and then asked the panellists on their views on what does it mean for the landscape.

Banerjee spoke first and while he acknowledged the rise in viewership, he was worried about how people assumed OTTs as, "niche content," and its influence on content choices. He remarked that India's 500 million smartphone users wanted diverse and quality content and it's the responsibility of the creative community to lead this charge and to, "... make an ambitious play where there's no difference when it comes to scaling, between what is being created for OTT today and what is created tomorrow on television".

He pointed towards the success of the South Korean movie 'Parasite' at the Oscars. "... The way it (parasite) has entertained audiences across the globe is an opportunity for our content creators... and that's where all of us with more focused effort could take the next set of strides," said Bannerjee.

Gandhi then took over and spoke about how our habits have shifted amid the lockdown and increased consumption of streaming services is one such example. He said, "Streaming is doing to this category what multiplexes did to the single screens."

His second point was about the low density of movie screens in a country that loves watching them. "India always has over 2000 movies made every year but has around 9,500 movie screens..." and then he added that now people get to watch these movies shortly after their theatrical releases and nowadays, directly on OTT platforms.

Gandhi also spoke about content discovery and said more and more Indians are watching foreign shows and movies which, in turn, is raising the bar for content creators in India and for OTT platforms to maintain a consistent supply of content.

Netflix's Shergill, however, disagreed with Banerjee on his 'niche' point. She believed streaming gives you both opportunities – family entertainment and entertainment for specific audiences... "It is important for both to co-exist and for streaming services to bring both creative freedom and excellence."

She also mentioned how in the top 10 row of the Netflix app, people are watching the German series Dark, Money Heist, world cinema, Indian cinema and series... the lockdown prompted people to gravitate towards these content offerings and now borderless streaming platforms can make connections with people using stories from around the world.

Shergill then spoke about the other side of the pandemic and remarked, "viewership will go down" but if habits were to be seen, India has now got a taste of premium storytelling.

Voot's Rakshit made an important point when he said nothing could have ever prepared us for this. But, he was pleased with the industry's resilience and how it grew during the lockdown. He revealed the challenge it (Voot) faced because it wasn't prepared for the level of consumption and for a certain period, it didn't have much content to show. Rakshit also remarked that it is a new time for OTT platforms as the leaders because all this while they had TV beside them.

While all the OTT players spoke about the increased viewership and future, YouTube's Raghavan revealed that the last few years taught them, "YouTube is not just for entertainment but for information and learning..." So during the pandemic, it doubled down to help users with the right kind of information and content that can help them.

What we've learned is how important it is to speak the language of the consumer so I say, "The language of YouTube is your mother tongue." Regardless of which part of the country you come from, you will find content here in the language you desire.. "... important to understand how we can become a part of our consumer's lives.."

And adding to a different touch to this panel was Gowree Gokhale, a lawyer. She spoke about the new kind of deals she's getting to see in the OTT sapce and an increased interest in documentaries as well as opportunities for new talent. She also mentioned the need to check whether people will start making similar niche content or plurality will continue... and Gokhale also made interesting revelations about policy and regulation.

One, she busted the myths that OTTs are not regulated because they have to follow the content laws of the country... If the content is inappropriate then what? The industry and government are working together and the message is that you don't necessarily need to control everything, you need to create a platform which people trust; where a parent can say yes my children are protected with the right rating signs and boundaries... that's where the focus is.