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Amazon strikes the balance between bingeing and episodic with 'Breathe'

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MUMBAI: Edgy and fresh, web content has made its mark in India, breaking free from staid television formats and rules. No time frames, no censorship issues, and women don’t turn into snakes. The west has been bingeing on shows on the internet for long, whereas India has just woken up to the concept recently, thanks to better connectivity and high-resolution video streaming. But, has launching all the episodes, together, caught on as a trend? The answer is both yes and no.

One of the most talked about series under binge watching section is Amazon Prime Video’s first India original Inside Edge. The Bollywood-cricket web series garnered a tremendous buzz before and after its launch. The most amusing thing is the staggering figure of Rs 40 crore spent by Amazon on the show, speculated as half of it for marketing and the rest for production.

Amazon Prime Video India director content Vijay Subramaniam said, “When we launched a little over a year ago, we realised there is a clear expectation and desire from our customers to have access to gripping storytelling, high-quality and compelling content. With the customer being at the center of everything we do, we are committed to bringing the best of content for our audiences, supported by immensely talented content creators matched by the most innovative ways to bring them to our audiences.”

However, Amazon Prime, while releasing its second India original, Breathe, experimented with a new strategy where half the series can be binge-watched and for the rest, you have to wait a week for every new release. The first four episodes of the series were out on 26 January and the remaining four will release every Friday until 23 February. Being a thriller, the strategy is to leave viewers in suspense at a certain point.

The marketing budget to promote Breathe is around Rs 20 crore. Amazon rolled out a robust, 360-degree campaign across India including highly engaging TVCs, print, digital, cinema, mobile, outdoor campaigns and activations for Breathe. Subramaniam called it a ‘path-breaking digital content in India’. Amazon is tight-lipped about the marketing plan for the last episode.

Interestingly, India beats the rest of the world in binge watching a series. 71 per cent Indians in 2017 watched more entertainment in a public place than year 2016, according to the study released by Netflix. It was one of the first platforms to start the concept of releasing all episodes at one time for binge watching and others like ALTBalaji, VB on the Web, Voot, SonyLiv etc, followed suit.

Binge watching has found popularity because Indians are alien to the idea of waiting a whole week for the next episode. They are ready to gulp their favourite series back to back, a trend that rose from the daily saas-bahu serials on TV too. Some OTT players allow paid subscribers to binge watch and unpaid ones have to wait a week. Viu released Spotlight 2 for binge watching, whereas all other series are released on weekly basis.

SurveyMonkey found that 52 per cent Indians binge watch most at cafes and restaurants, and 37 per cent in waiting in line. Indians binge watch in parks, on the way to work, while shopping and at the gym. The study says that Indians took three days to devour an entire TV series on average, while the global average is four days.

But the weekly episodic trend is also catching up. Since 2011, YouTube has worked with regional studios to help them get a wider distribution. In 2014, content creators from Mumbai including The Viral Fever (TVF) and AIB were making waves on YouTube and gaining traction while releasing episodes on weekly basis. TVF is said to be the pioneer of Indian web series and still release episodes on a weekly basis on their app TVF Play.

Despite the fact that binge watching or releasing all episodes at one go attracts more audiences, Amazon took a risk with Breathe. Although, releasing shows in parts have the chances and risk to lose the viewership but weekly releases enable the audiences to keep guessing. Which side will platforms sway in the near future will be an interesting scene to look out for.

Also Read :

Amazon Prime Video announces a new original series, Skulls and Roses

Regional OTT content more than just catch-up TV    

2017: The year OTTs went regional in India

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