OTT has taken away the stigma of small films: Ekta Kapoor

Whether it is subscription-based, advertising or video-on-demand, Indian audiences are likely to see streaming platforms as less of an investment than traditional entertainment mediums, the joint managing director of Balaji Telefilms writes

Published: Jan 11, 2022 03:55:56 PM IST
Updated: Jan 11, 2022 04:13:45 PM IST

OTT platforms are getting more popular with the increased use of smartphones and affordable internet services
Image: Indranil Mukherjee/ AFP

If social circumstances, opinions and individual tastes have constantly changed over the years, then it is only natural for the entertainment industry to adapt and acclimatise to the changing direction in content.

There was a time when people would gather to watch television at someone’s house. Cable was considered as a boon and the sole means to access quality television programming during such times. Then came an era when people would spend money to experience the magic of cinema in the theatres with their families. Finally, we now find ourselves in the digital age, where everything we desire can gratify us with an instant and effortless click of a button.

Traditional and old-school means of entertainment have had to make way for short-form videos, streaming platforms, video-on-demand portals and even those that appear on our phone’s lock screen.

While many argue that the influx of these unconventional entertainment platforms threatens the existence of traditional media, I do not see it that way. I believe that the charm of the big screen is intact. Do people still choose to enjoy that experience? Yes! Is that the only experiential offering they would choose? No! With time comes change, and adapting with it is what any sharp entrepreneur would do. When a big wave comes at you, you do not fight it; you ride it.

Technology continues to get more cutting edge with each passing day. And if we are being honest, it has saved a lot of us from going insane during the Covid-19 lockdown. The challenging situation [of the pandemic] reiterated how technology has disrupted the traditional [entertainment] model of taking content to the consumer and the extent of influence it had on the masses. Instead, real stories of real people and relatable characters have taken centre stage.

Over-the-top [OTT] platforms are getting more popular with changing lifestyles of people and the increased use of smartphones with affordable internet services. The war between streaming apps and movie theatres has both advantages and disadvantages. Watching a movie in a theatre is a beautiful cinematic experience, whereas OTT platforms let you have a good time in the comfort of your home. Both of them offer great content and viewer experience.

I forayed into the streaming world in 2017 with AltBalaji because I believed that television and films would not do justice to certain stories. The OTT platform allowed me to tell stories the way they were meant to be told and deliver them straight to the audiences I wanted. It allowed me to introduce promising new talents who were warmly welcomed and accepted in these stories. It was an arena with multiple entry points, where the judgement is much less as the digital world is synonymous with experimentation and novelty.

In the digital world, anyone can become a hero and every story has a taker. At the core, I have always loved Indian culture and all that the country represents, so my aim was to reach out to metro users, as well as those in Tier II and III regions. I also understand that it is impossible to cannibalise a market or to have a monopolistic attitude. Still, my priority has always been to manage both top and bottom line with equal weightage.

The OTT platform has also taken away the stigma of small films and has presented me with a new opportunity wherein I do not have to make all my films for a theatrical release anymore.

OTT, which was once deemed urban-centric, has grown popular across geographies and demographics
Image: Money Sharma/ AFP

While the emergence of new-age technology has shaken the old trees, it has also opened up many new opportunities to distribute and make money. Whether it is subscription-based, advertising or transactional video on demand, Indian audiences are likely to see the OTT platform as less of an investment than they would look at the traditional medium. A minimal amount that costs as much as a tub of popcorn at theatres rewards them with a plethora of versatile content. So who would not be tempted? So, where does that leave creators, producers and new-age talent? In the land of opportunity and individual exploration!

Streaming platforms provide directors with a varied range of storytelling opportunities, a platform for budding talent, and a plethora of choices for audiences as they consume content in several languages. Filmmakers and producers are also forced to smartly budget and think out of the box to have a successful and fruitful OTT release.

With internet penetration and smartphone proliferation in Tier II and III towns, regional content is booming. Hence, we prioritise content for those regions where subjects are different and rooted in the local milieu. With this, OTT has undoubtedly opened a vast opportunity for niche storytellers and segmented audiences.

On the OTT platform, there are no heroes and ‘content is king’. There are no huge stars in OTTs worldwide, and only great content can reach people all around the world. The appeal of OTTs is that anyone can come from anywhere and gain instant popularity with just one show or feature as long as it resonates with the audience.

Content, both in creation and consumption, is constantly evolving, and is giving filmmakers, performers and technical experts access to a much broader and diversified talent pool. Due to the remarkable variety and versatility of content for all age groups, OTT, which was once deemed urban-centric, has grown popular across geographies and demographics.

Love it or hate it, the undeniable truth is that OTT platforms are an essential element of the entertainment ecosystem that are not just here to stay, but also to call for innovation, creativity and a deep understanding of ever-changing consumer needs.
The writer is joint managing director of Balaji Telefilms Limited

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(This story appears in the 14 January, 2022 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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