Over the last decade or so, India has been setting the stage for a complete and speedy takeover of streaming content. With a population of 1.3 billion people, we are a big potential market for almost any new industry. Here’s a quick breakdown.
The numbers don’t lie
Smartphone penetration in the country is climbing steadily and is expected to hit 859 million people by 2022, according to a study by ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industries of India) and PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). And to top it all off, the prices of data connectivity are falling while speeding increases.
For the OTT (over-the-top) industry, it’s all good news. Streaming content is easy, fast, and empowering, and every member of the family now has the freedom to watch their own shows. For independent content creators in India, this is a boon.
The big fish in the OTT pond
According to a survey conducted by Counterpoint Technology in 2019, Hotstar has the highest traction in the Indian market, thanks to its extensive bouquet of sports and regional content. However, close on its heels is Amazon Prime Video and SonyLiv. Netflix, with a more eclectic mix of content, is fourth. Of these, only Amazon Prime Video and Netflix offer ad-free content.
The immense potential for made-for-digital content
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has announced that the company will be spending INR 300 Cr on creating original content in India. Amazon Prime Video is planning to double its budgets for original Indian content. Hotstar has recently earmarked INR 120 Cr to make regional shows in seven languages for the Indian subcontinent.
With the popularity of the made-for-Netflix show, Sacred Games, original content made in India received a major boost. The first season aired in 2018 and was released to 191 countries. In 2019, the much-awaited second and final season was released.
What do content creators say?
In a recent interview with a major publication, writer-director of Sacred Games, Vikramaditya Motwane said that making the show was liberating because Netflix caters to an audience that likes to be challenged, which gave him a chance to create content that is smarter and more complex.
Samir Sarkar, CEO and producer at Magic Hour Films has produced four independent feature films in four different Indian languages. And that’s just over the last three years. “These films are primarily aimed for acquisitions by OTT platforms, he says. The clear focus has worked for him.
His critically acclaimed and awarded Bengali film Jonaki has done the international festival circuit and is now streaming on Netflix. His Tamil feature Nasir, an Indo-Dutch co-production, recently had its world premiere at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam 2020 and was nominated for the prestigious Tiger Awards. It is now up for sale to an OTT platform.
Samir adds, “As an independent film producer of world cinema, we create content that we are passionate about, often on restricted budgets. OTT platforms become our preferred source of showcasing our product to audiences from across the globe. For a commercial release, a film needs to have a mass audience appeal and a reasonable budget allocated for its marketing. When sharing a film through an OTT platform these factors are discounted, allowing the film to also reach its niche audiences”.
Rajiv Whabi, an independent film producer, agrees. “Content on OTT platforms is able to find its global audience more quickly and efficiently than ever before”, he says. Mainly producing international content, Rajiv’s most recent English feature film If Something Happens, is an official adaptation of a 1964 story written by bestselling American crime writer Lawrence Block. The film is available on Amazon Prime Video in India and globally. Another one of Rajiv’s earlier film as Producer, The Yellow Wallpaper, directed and written by Stuart Hackshaw, was distributed on international digital platforms to great reviews.
According to Rajiv, “Unlike theatrical releases, streaming platforms aren’t limited to features only. There’s space for more, like episodic series, docudramas, short films, anthologies, travel and talk shows, stand-up comedy, and of course, mainstream features too.” Apart from his feature production, Rajiv had also produced Until Midnight, directed by Pratik Patel, a single location short film that was acquired for streaming by ShortsTV, the world’s largest short film distributor.
“Though most OTT platforms may be highly selective in line with their curation criteria, independent producers in the digital era have access to seamless distribution options. This means they can prioritize focus where it’s most needed… which is to create quality content,” says Rajiv Whabi, who currently has another digital feature and series in development.
With all OTT platforms prioritising their offering of original content, we’re hoping to see a large repertoire of exceptional new content with fresh voices and faces.