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The impact of laughter on OTTs

Comedy has been the key area of entertainment on digital video in India.

Only recently, politician and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor made a presence on Amazon Prime Video's flagship stand-up comedy offering - One Mic Stand. Tharoor's wasn't just another act and was actually a milestone in terms of the journey of stand-up comedy content on digital platforms in India. One of the sessions at afaqs!' vdonxt asia 2020 was 'Streaming Laughter' - a panel discussion around the importance of comic content across OTT platforms. The session was led by afaqs!' Anirban Roy Choudhury and included comedian Ashish Shakya (OML), OML's Gunjan Arya and Sapan Verma, showrunner of One Mic Stand (also OML).

(L-R) Anirban Roy Choudhury, Gunjan Arya, Ashish Shakya and Sapan Verma
(L-R) Anirban Roy Choudhury, Gunjan Arya, Ashish Shakya and Sapan Verma

Choudhury started the session by mentioning Tharoor's act and asking the panel what the industry expects from comedy as a genre. Ashish Shakya set the ball rolling by saying, "We are just getting started. The fact that there are so many platforms out there that are looking for bingeable content is an opportunity we haven't had before. The fact that even before the OTTs came in, a lot of creators came up via self created videos on platforms like YouTube which democratised it."

Speaking on the changing scenario and the involvement of OTT platforms, Gunjan Arya said, "Ultimately, reach is the Holy Grail. When AIB partnered with Snapdeal, it was an opportunity to reach the right audiences. And now with OTT, it is an opportunity to reach those audiences. Obviously, comedy was seen as low hanging fruit. That's something that OML saw as an opportunity and so did the others."

Speaking on the evolution of audiences, Verma opined, "There was a time when I would make a sketch and send to the AIB person for feedback. I would be asked to limit it to under five minutes since beyond that, audiences tune off. That has changed too. Today, the length doesn't matter. People will consume it if it's good. A Comicstaan or a One Mic Stand wouldn't have happened five or seven years ago."

Speaking on the urban-rural cum English-regional movement on comedy and the influx of new talent, Arya said, "There is a big audience outside English comedy. The initial wave of audience which had access to YouTube, etc were predominantly those who thought in English. With the access of Jio, we are discovering a lot more content creators out there. In fact, we are doing Comicstaan in Tamil now, which is due for release this year."

Further down the conversation, speaking on the uniqueness of the Indian market, Arya said that markets like Lebanon and Thailand are just opening up just like India did and comedy is just picking up pace.

Speaking on the differences in Indian and global audiences, Shakya said, "Indian audiences by and large have gotten better than what they were in 2010. The kind of material that we see today in India is on par with the global best. But NRIs haven't evolved much."

Putting forth his views on the differences in preparing for shows on YouTube vs OTT, Verma said, "It is more like live show vs digital shows. Live audiences know what to expect but for digital, we have to worry about what's offensive and have to conduct a lot of fact checks, etc. OTT also needs a lot of preparation."

Asked about measurement metrics, Verma added that much of the perception of success is based on the reactions and buzz on social media.

Shakya mentioned that the process is entirely blind and mentioned the example of Hotstar and On Air with AIB. He said, "They ran us through various metrics at the end of seasons, etc."