This week Bollywood producer and director Karan Johar announced that his show Koffee with Karan is moving to Disney + Hotstar. After six seasons on television, the move to an OTT platform is not surprising given that many other TV shows have followed the same route. Why has the move to OTT become so popular in the last few years?
The Covid pandemic has taught the entertainment industry many lessons amongst them that the Indian audience has also evolved and storytelling needs to change. International OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have been making big money globally with shows like Money Heist, Fleabag, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Bridgerton and The Squid Game, but with the demand for new content going up exponentially and production of new shows not happening at the same pace, OTT platforms are looking to bring on board popular TV shows that can keep the audience hooked.
As we know, the biggest advantage with OTT is that people can watch content on the go thanks to smartphones and it is accessible at any point in time – without a TV set and cable. And today, every individual in a family has a smartphone compared to one television set in the house. So yes, it is understandable why producers are looking to move to OTT platforms.
Some feel that TV shows moving to OTT mean that they can get edgier and there’s more freedom on what they want to portray. I am not sure about this argument given that we have seen numerous shows end up in controversies over some aspects they have depicted on the show. To a large extent though, there is more freedom on OTT – for instance, we have seen more LGBTQ relationships portrayed on screen in Indian shows which is not thinkable for a mainstream TV audience. Even in terms of violent content, there are restrictions on TV as compared to OTT. On OTT, you can have niche shows for a select audience as well as mainstream shows and that works well as those who subscribe to it have a wide range of content to choose from at any point. Thus, today we have OTT price wars due to intense competition and platforms constantly trying new strategies to increase their subscription base.
The challenge in India – and opportunity as well according to me – is our cultural and linguistic diversity which gives room for many OTT players across languages. Again, the need for fresh content every week or month is key to grow subscriptions and be successful. Naturally, many local language players have taken to streaming TV content on their OTT apps as well to keep up with demand. But the key to success is fresh, new content and content that is not available on other platforms. Which is why big OTT players with deep pockets focus on tent pole releases and get shows like Koffee with Karan exclusively on their platforms.
OTT players – local language especially – have also diversified their content game to include TV formats like game shows, reality shows, comedy shows, talk shows and so on. These have a much quicker turnaround time than a web series or a film and there’s an existing audience as well for such shows. Does this mean television is dying? No. It means that TV will have to co-exist with OTT. However, there will be consolidation of OTT players in the years to come and there may not be 100 players but just 10 eventually.
Renowned talk show host and billionaire, Oprah Winfrey, moved away from a TV network after decades, and launched her own television network and streaming service which are successful today. Two key lessons for success she talks about are ‘don’t be afraid to try something new’ and ‘be authentic’. These can be lessons not just OTT players and creators but for us as individuals too.