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OTT players see interactive content as the future of fiction programming

Infrastructural issues will soon be overcome.

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MUMBAI: Over the top (OTT) platforms have thrown the doors open to experimenting with new content formats. Interactivity around fiction programming is proving itself as the new area of interest for OTT platforms. Following the lead of Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, other players including prominent Indian streaming platforms, intend to take a dip. Despite higher production cost and technological complexities, players are not shying away from the format due to the high consumer engagement.

PwC India entertainment, media and sports sector partner Raman Kalra thinks that high production cost should not stop experimentation. According to him, it is important is to get the right content created and then being able to monetise it with the right audience. He also added that enough opportunities are opening in the market. Elara Capital vice president Karan Taurani also said that although it is an extensive proposition, it will attract eyeballs.

Indian OTT platforms are also looking at this particular format along with international players. In a recent interview with Indiantelevision.com, VOOT AVOD business head Akash Banerji hinted at the introduction of interactive opportunities for consumers around fiction content. According to him, this is an area that could unlock huge value. Banerji stated that this was one of the things that they had been discussing for some time and something interesting would be coming up.

“I think one thing that we would like doing this year is probably getting interactivity built into the content as well,” MX Player chief content officer Gautam Talwar said while talking about the platform’s content strategy during an interview.

Netflix entered into the interactive content format with children’s shows. Later, The Reed Hastings-led streaming platform premiered its first ever interactive show Black Mirror: Bandersnatch for adults at the end of 2018. At FICCI Frames 2019, Netflix product vice president Todd Yellin spoke about the success of the show in India as well as adding that the platform wants to “double down” its investment in the genre. He also added that shows won’t necessarily be science fiction or dark. Moreover, the platform has already released one more show in this format, You Vs. Wild starring Bear Grylls.

The 2019 FICCI-EY report stated, “We believe that the interactivity that Netflix has implemented using fiction content is the direction that other OTT players shall also take across various languages. Interactive storylines can bring high interest levels and repeat value for the same content for their viewers.”

Even tech giant YouTube has plans to venture into interactive shows and live specials. Like the traditional format, the interactive content from YouTube would also allow viewers to make their own choices throughout the show and eventually conclude an ending of their choice. While the projects will exist under a new unit dedicated to such content, YouTube’s former unscripted programming head Ben Relles will supervise the unit. YouTube’s original programming head Susanne Daniels also said, as reported by Bloomberg, that the platform now has new tools and opportunities to create and tell multilayered and interactive stories.

Despite the popularity of interactive shows, the infrastructural issues in many parts of India pose a question to the format’s reach. But experts believe the issues will be resolved soon. Kalra added that there are already pockets where someone can conveniently interact with the content without worrying about speed or buffering. 

Taurani also thinks infrastructure is not going to affect the emerging popularity of interactive content in the country. Although there are network congestion issues right now due to cheap pricing of data, the problems are expected to be solved in the next year especially with the entry of Jio FTTH. However, both agreed that this format, with the potential of attracting more users, is going to be the next big trend on OTT platforms.

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