"Lockdown exposed audience to streaming services, cultivating new behaviour": Netflix's Monika Shergill

In the long run, she says, the impact in terms of additions may not be that much.

Monika Shergill

International streaming giants have revealed their audacious plans for India already. Before setting an ambitious goal for India what Netflix has done is expanding the team here with experts who have knowledge of the local market. Monika Shergill, the creative mind who has been associated with leading local names in the television industry, like Viacom18 and Star India, is now with the international streaming service. One year into her new role, she has been focusing on churning out interesting stories for the country. Although Shergill was appointed as director of the series, she is now handling the Indian content slate for the platform as VP content. 

In a freewheeling virtual fireside chat with Indiantelevision.com founder, CEO and editor in chief Anil Wanvari, Shergill shared how the last four months fared for it, the content strategy, plans for other genres like animated content in India and the nature of the new set of audiences coming to the platform. 

Edited excerpts:

Your role has been redefined. Could you tell more about this?

I joined a year ago. I joined as director of series, now I handle India content slate and I have an absolutely fabulous team and all of us are working together on the great slate that we are planning to roll out. 

How have been the last four months for you and your teams?

Pandemic, in general, has been difficult for everyone. Not just from the lockdown but from so many different aspects. I think it has not been easy for people across the board. Work has been a very important part of keeping engaged and busy. At Netflix particularly, what been important for us is to be able to do some sort of meaningful time where you are working on something which is impacting someone, somewhere making it easier for them during such a difficult phase.

What has kept you busy? Are there any changes you have made post the lockdown in the process of commissioning and development?

Travel has been restricted. So many other things have changed for other industries and entertainment also. For work, specific things I can say, we are fortunate we can work remotely with minimum disruption. Yes, the production has been stalled that’s challenging for a lot of people. But from a preparatory perspective, if I were to say it has been an intense and prolific time for a lot of creators because it gave a pause to everyone to look at ideas, write and pitch. For Netflix, it has been an intense time from meeting creators, pitch meetings and writers reaching to us. We have been very busy with everything post which we announced and we are rolling out now. A lot of people have been gainfully engaged and turning out high-quality work. 

Are there going to be changes in functions?

First and foremost, the safety and security of the crew are really important. While we all are itching to go to production, I think it is really important for us to ensure safety. As you know streaming projects are very large scale projects and a lot of people are involved. Generally, production is a high-touch environment. So, it’s important to have the right protocols. At Netflix, we have global best practices and we are also working with local government, producers’ body and all of our projects teams. Whenever we go into production, it will be with the highest standards, keeping all of these things in mind but meanwhile, we are writing, doing prep, casting, etc. I think it’s the same for all the streaming platforms.

For Netflix, we are fortunate to be a global service where we have a tremendous pipe of content. We are really ahead of the curve in terms of that. Production has opened up in several countries. Even in the last four months, Netflix has been constantly bringing out new content every day from across the world. For us being a full-scale service and content coming out of everywhere and being available to you at your convenience at your language of choice is something we really work hard.

Who are the new sets of audiences on the service?

It’s actually not restricted to a particular area. I won’t say it is from tier III cities. Netflix is a different kind of service but yes it is from metros, mini-metros and age-group agnostic. In Netflix, it’s about accounts. So, what we know is that a certain account has signed up with us and we have different profiles. There are family accounts, couples watching and the individual. As a service, we have a very diverse set of members. What we know is what content they are watching and that is most important to us. That is how we are able to recommend to them what should they watch.

There has been a rapid surge of OTT consumption during this time. But as TV shows are coming back, will that affect streaming viewership?

Honestly, TV consumption was not even down before. The way the old epics performed, even on GECs. A lot of the channels were playing epic, old successful shows. The viewership was not peaking but it was good. From a steamer perspective, there was a huge burst of people who joined at the beginning of the lockdown. We also know these are temporary numbers, temporary surge. The big uptake, in the long run, is temporary. I feel what has happened, what is different, what the last four months have done is actually a whole lot of new audiences have experienced what streaming content is like, what the experience is, access to premium content is like. Perhaps numbers will go down but in terms of experiencing new service but it is a cultivated behaviour which will prevail.

OTT platforms have been acquiring movies lately but that pipe will also dry if productions don’t resume. How will the platforms churn out content?

Actually from our perspective, the way we are positioned both in India and globally, we have a slate for the next few months. Globally, productions have opened up in many places. We are also many quarters ahead in terms of getting our content ready. I don’t see us in trouble unless things take a turn for the worse and don’t improve for several countries. Then we probably may have a challenge towards the second half of next year. But I am hoping that does not happen for the sake of everyone because there are so many livelihoods involved. And I am also hoping all of us are figuring out solutions; there are medical solutions to the situation, there are other innovative solutions that we may bring in production. I am hoping we are able to get back to production soonest and safely.

Regional services like ZEE5 have large content. Services like Netflix have a global mix of content but the width of slate is also important in local languages. What do you think about that?

I agree with you that ZEE5 has a lot of local content but actually for us at Netflix, even also from an Indian perspective, we have been releasing at least three new content pieces, a mix of series, new films between licensed and originals. The way people consume Netflix enjoy Netflix is a mix of what they watch from global and Indian slate. Netflix is far from slim from both perspectives.

Do you have plans for animated content in India?

We are always looking for breakthrough ideas and interesting stories. If you look at our slate also, animation is on our radar. We have a very talented vertical in-house for family and kids entertainment. They are making a lot of animated content. Our internal animators are working with creators in India.

What is Netflix doing in regional spaces?

We are very excited about the different language content we have at our service right now. As we are moving along, it’s going to be more and more robust. It’s a very important focus area for Netflix. 

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