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OTT platforms need more passion projects, experimental content, original voices

Good scripts will stand out.

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MUMBAI: 2018 saw various OTT players in India gain massive popularity. There are more than 30 sites serving hours and hours of original as well as syndicated content, in various languages, genres, and tastes. During the third edition of Indiantelevision.com’s The Content Hub, sponsored by MX Player, representatives from some of the top OTT platforms in the country the need of good and meaningful content and the kind of programs that can work in this dynamic world.

Part of the panel were Addatimes Pvt Ltd managing director Rajiv Mehra, The Viral Fever (TVF) global head of business and content Rahul Sarangi, Viacom 18 EVP and head content Monika Shergill, MX Player chief content officer Gautam Talwar and One Digital Entertainment COO and co-founder Gurpreet Singh. The panel was moderated by industry veteran and Hungama Digital Media Entertainment executive producer Sanjeev Lamba.

The panel unanimously agreed on the fact that the greatest need of time is to procure and create high-quality original content that resonates with the audience. They stated that all the logistics; be it production or budgets, come only after people who can create and write quality content.

Shergill said, “The competition to find good creators and partners to tell great stories is actually, by far, the single biggest challenge that we face because I feel that as a market, we kind of missed out on the golden age of content creation. While the world was producing a lot of mature content, we were leaning towards only soap opera kind of stories.”

Sarangi chipped in with some fine examples of the work that TVF has created, “To see what kind of content people watch, we pulled out a few episodes of ‘Yeh Meri Family’ from YouTube and then put it on Netflix. The show became the second-most trending content in India and has a completion rate of 70 per cent. Because the writing was so strong, people came and watched it again and again. Similarly, with ‘Pitchers’, it wasn’t a grand show shot on high production budgets like ‘Sacred Games’. But it became the highest rated show on IMDB, just because of good writing.”

He added, “I think the biggest thing we need to do right now is to invest in good writers. Also, we need to give them the time and pay them well. Groom the talent! Writers are going to be the prime thing that we need.”

Moderating the panel, Lamba put another pertinent question forward asking what sort of content OTT platforms are willing to back. To this, the panel hailed the need of bringing original voices to the paradigm that are not just fresh but can also add on to the type of content that is already working on the web.

Talwar mentioned that being the newest kid on the block, MX Player is currently trying to understand what the viewing pattern of the audience is. He said, “We have licenced quite a lot of content from people who have a high experience in actually creating successful web series, including TVF, Pocket Aces, and ALTBalaji. We have put this content online and now we are using a lot of data to understand what actually works in the space.”

He continued, “Essentially, we are looking for content that is going to appeal to 18-30-old males, largely from North India. But it is genre-agnostic because I believe, people today watch everything. We are looking out for authentic stories from heartland India as they work well with the metro audience as well.”

Mehra also agreed that the audience today loves watching all sort of content, be it long form or short form. He mentioned the need to experiment with the duration of the content and tell stories that the audience can connect to.

While Shergill vouched for the need for passion projects and experimental content, Sarangi shared that they are looking for stories that touch the hearts of people. He stated that TVF will not indulge in violence or sexually explicit content, at least for a few more years.

The panel also discussed the much-debated topic of IP rights. Shergill noted, “IP is something that is very important because this content is meant for posterity. You are believing in someone’s idea and paying to the last stream. So, the skin of the game for any platform is to have IP rights with them. But having said that, I also feel that when we know what kind of content creators we are speaking about, then there may be certain different models to work. But when you are working with teams of creators, and backing their idea, IP is the only asset you are creating and you should have the right to it.”

Sarangi mentioned that as a company they do not sell their IP rights despite having worked with several OTT platforms. He said, “The reason behind this is that it is not only about production cost. It is also because of the time and effort put in by the creative team. We thereby do mostly an output kind of a deal or a licencing avenue. Also, we can do this at this point in time because we can guarantee a hit rate.”

However, Singh shared a different angle and said, “IP has become a very crude word. Most people don’t even know what the value of an IP is. People are just fighting for it right now but they don’t even know what they are going to do of it after two or three years. So, I think if you are being compensated for the value, you must sell the rights to the platform.”

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