OTT platforms gear up to resume production

Full-fledged production will take some time yet


KOLKATA: The Covid2019 crisis struck India in March and the entertainment industry came to a standstill. While TV production resumed in July, shooting for film and original content remained on pause for a lot longer. The industry, which lost six months of valuable production time, is slowly limping back to sets and studios.

More people may have switched to over-the-top (OTT) platforms during the pandemic, but on the flip side, it has inflated the audience’s appetite for content. These streaming services have maintained a steady click of new releases so far but the constrain of shooting large scale projects is a major concern.

Experts predicted that the pandemic would affect the pipeline of long-format premium originals till the first half of FY22. Although most major players have resumed filming, no one is certain how soon full-fledged production will be back on track.

Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos said during the recent ET Global Business Summit Unwired 3.0 that getting back to production safely tops the organisation’s list of priorities. This, however, has been particularly challenging in India, he said.

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Not surprising, considering the country is leading the highest number of daily positive cases; this problem is further compounded by the strict rules and guidelines imposed by the Maharashtra government on film production. But Netflix fans, fear not; more than ten Netflix India productions are scheduled to start in November.

Desi OTTs 

The homegrown players are also stepping up their efforts to keep the content flow alive. MX Player already has one show on the floor and will be pushing a few more projects into production by end of October, chief content officer Gautam Talwar said.

“Given the pandemic, audiences are spending more time online and OTT platforms including ours have seen a sharp increase in engagement, emerging as the preferred choice for content consumption. To cater to this rising demand, we’ve launched over 27 shows from March until now. We still have a couple of shows in the pipeline that we have shot which are currently in post-production; you should see those releasing over the next quarter,” Talwar added.

ALTBalaji has also resumed filming some of its shows with minimum staff and in restricted places with appropriate permissions. ALTBalaji CEO and Balaji Telefilms group COO Nachiket Pantvaidya assured that they are diligently following all the requisite standard operating procedures.

“We recently launched ten episodes of Bebaakee on ALTBalaji. Shooting is ongoing for the show and we will release more episodes soon. October onwards, audience will see a host of shows, including Mumbhai, Bicchoo Ka Khel, Dark 7 White, LSD, Who’s Your Daddy Season 2, Kahin to Milega to name a few,” Pantvaidya stated.

Amid regional players, Bengali OTT Hoichoi started production back in August since West Bengal initiated Unlock prior to most other states. Hoichoi co-founder Vishnu Mohta revealed that the platform has already completed shooting for seven projects. Two of the post-pandemic shows are already streaming on Hoichoi while others will be gradually made available to users.

Despite production challenges, hope remains

Even as India’s Covid2019 tally is flirting with the 70 lakh-mark, stakeholders in every segment of the industry remain hopeful while adjusting to the new normal. Hoichoi’s Mohta said they are trying to restrict the shoots as much as possible to indoor locations, and make sure to sanitize the entire set very carefully before starting work. Despite all the constraints, things are looking up; it has become easier to get schedules and dates of famous actors and directors, he divulged.

ALTBalaji’s Pantvaidya admitted that since production has to abide by a number of precautionary measures, the work is going slower than before. Nevertheless, with shooting gradually resuming, he is optimistic that viewers will have a handful of shows to look forward to in the coming months. 

A leading producer who wished to remain unnamed commented that safety measures and longer timelines are stretching already-limited production budgets.

Pantvaidya expressed the view that shooting at a full-fledged scale is still going to take some time due to the current situation. He said that the platform’s focus is making sure everything works out smoothly, with the safety of cast and crew being top priority. 

“We’ve all started by putting our best foot forward – keeping in mind precautionary measures and complying with social distancing norms etc. To my mind, full-fledged production as of right now looks like it will only start by January 2021, when multiple shows can be put on the floor, hopefully without too much worry,” MX Player’s Talwar said.

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