“Unclear government guidelines create uncertainty for businesses”
You finish four years at Applause in August. How would you describe his background?
We relaunched Applause Entertainment in August 2017 as a part of the Aditya Birla group, with the goal of creating content for the emerging video streaming market, commonly referred to as OTT (over-the-top) streaming. It was set up in the mold of a traditional film studio, investing in the creation of high-end drama series from early writing and development through to final production and finished tape. The idea was to present a self-financed finished product to platforms and license it. We have produced and released 25 series so far, including some second seasons such as 1992 scam, Criminal justice, The city of Dreams, Undekhi, Watch out for malhotras and Hostages, among others, which have been broadcast on Disney + Hotstar, Amazon Prime, SonyLIV, Netflix and MX Player. We have invested around â¹400 crore in content creation, and that number is expected to increase 8-10 times over the next 5-7 years.
What has been the impact of the pandemic on content?
It was twofold. First, the complete shutdown of all first and second wave productions. Second, delays in physical production due to strict protocols followed on set once blockages are lifted. Of course, the safety of actors and teams is paramount, but stoppages and delays create logistical problems and have a negative effect on delivery times, completion dates and budgets. On the bright side, the pandemic and the lockdown have introduced a giant new audience to the streaming world, and OTT content has seen an increase in adoption and consumption. This has created a huge demand for premium series, films, documentaries and a much more open-minded acceptance of different genres and languages ââof national and international content. We’ve also given the green light to our first list of films and documentaries, many of which are already in production.
Do Web Shows Cost More Than TV Shows? How Much is Investment in OTT Content in India?
It’s an unfair comparison – like apples and oranges. A typical season of a web series has about 10 episodes of 30 to 45 minutes each. A daily soap opera takes place over a year, 250 episodes of 30 minutes each. The creative nuances, production logistics and economics of the two are radically different. The Web Series, or Cinematic TV as we like to call it, is closer to an extended movie, both in terms of ambition and storytelling style. The cost of these series varies according to the scale of production and the overall distribution they present. Not all shows require big budgets. Excluding local films and international series / film acquisitions, I would risk assuming that direct spending on local originals would be around â¹3000 crore per year, and growing.
As a programming veteran, what do you think of the IT rules (interim guidelines and code of ethics for digital media), 2021?
There has always been some sort of regulation that guides content creation. The increasing spread of social media and OTT platforms has also resulted in new regulations designed to handle a rapidly changing industry and environment. Essentially, any regulation often reflects changes in societal standards and behavior. It forces us to elevate the quality of our writing and storytelling, striving to entertain, enrich and empower a changing audience. I believe that it is the job of the creative industry to respect the values ââand belief systems of the company, and also to hold a mirror to that same company.
But isn’t the intention to censor the content?
More than just censorship, a major concern that stems from unclear guidelines is the resulting commercial uncertainty. The creation of audiovisual content (movies, series, etc.) is extremely expensive and moving goals in terms of what is and what is not acceptable could result in a cautious approach to ideas and funding, which does not is not good for the creative industry.
Do you see any changes at Applause in terms of the type of shows you’re going to do now?
Not really. I don’t think prejudices and personal beliefs should get in the way of good storytelling. At Applause, we try to tell stories as authentically and impartially as possible. It is up to the audience to understand the text and the subtext, and to derive emotions, memories and lessons from it.
What is the way forward to preserve creative freedom?
If we are to develop the content and media sector and we want to make India a global soft power through media and entertainment, this will have to come through a revolution in cultural exports. But it cannot be done with a simple one dimensional lensâ¦ it has to be rich and varied just like our history, our heritage and our culture. I think this variety in storytelling is the key to keeping creative freedom alive.
As the OTT industry in India matures, do you see any changes in the tastes of the public?
Indian audiences experience premium multi-season premium drama series in cinematic quality for the first time. The market potential is huge, both in terms of size and appetite. Like everywhere in the world, the popular genres here are crime, thriller, comedy, romance, drama, young adult, and big time. Newer genres such as documentaries and animation are also increasingly accepted. Audiences are hungry for any kind of content, as long as it lives up to increasing quality standards and offers good value for money.
Is India still an âETâ market supporting both linear TV and streaming platforms?
I think this will remain an âANDâ market for a while. The cable cut has happened in the West due to the exorbitant cost of cable TV, the relatively lower cost of streamers, and the changed behavior of audiences, especially young adults. In India, it is quite the opposite. India has one of the cheapest cable TV services in the world, a service that, for as little as $ 3 a month, offers a wide variety of entertainment, sports, music, movies and entertainment. ‘news. Thus, the impulse to cut the cord is less. But streaming platforms are attracting new audiences, delivering exciting new content, and most importantly, introducing audiences to non-linear schedules, features like “resume viewing” and “you may also like”, and enable an experience. “anytime, anywhere”. For a value-driven, mobile-first market like India, with cheap data access, streaming is the future.
What will be the long-term impact of the pandemic on cinemas and digital live movie releases?
The pandemic has severely damaged the theater industry, but not fatally. Hopefully once the cinemas reopen, audiences will come back in droves. Human beings are social creatures and the habit of going to the movies is deeply rooted in us. The recent post-pandemic theatrical successes in the United States are a source of joy. That being said, the pandemic has put commercial Bollywood cinema in direct contrast to premium film drama series made for OTT. But aside from artistic comparisons, shutting down cinemas has also killed an important source of revenue for the film industry, which cannot be matched by satellite TV and streaming rights. The long-term implication of closed theaters could be a shrinkage of the entire film industry, even as Direct-To-Platform films grow and develop as a new genre of storytelling.
What will also change are the economics that determine attendance now that consumers are accustomed to the home viewing experience. They’ll be more picky when it comes to paying for a theatrical experience, and that will require us as filmmakers to raise the bar for big-screen entertainment dramatically.
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