Content Hub 2021: Viacom18 Studios' Ajit Andhare talks about creating cinematic experience on OTT

The top executive got into a virtual fireside chat on the second day of the event.


New Delhi: As theatres remain shut all through the pandemic, audiences were left with no option, but to turn to the OTT platforms for entertainment. The transition compelled major studios, and production companies to take a relook at their strategies and gear up for the big digital revolution that began transforming the world of content.

For Viacom18 Studios, the transition to digital began much earlier, and it helped the film studio to brace the impact of the pandemic. “It was a conflicting and contrasting experience for us. As the big screen went dark and gloomy, things got exciting on the OTT front. Since, we had already set up our digital content brand – Tipping Point, we were well-poised to tackle this period,” says Viacom18 Studios, COO, Ajit Andhare at the fifth edition of The Content Hub 2021 on Thursday.

The three-day mega event being organised by Indiantelevision.com began virtually on 28 July, bringing content makers from the world of television, films and OTT on one platform to delve upon the evolving media and entertainment industry. Film critic and radio presenter Stutee Ghosh got into an engaging fireside chat with Andhare about the process of creating cinematic experience for OTT.

As theatres remained shut, the studio began enhancing its output through Tipping Point, which included ‘Ray’- a four-part anthology series based on stories of filmmaker Satyajit Ray for Netflix. Much before, the studio had worked on ‘Jamtara’- a story about a small district in Jharkhand – the phishing capital.

According to Andhare, the selection of stories was never dictated by a set formula, but purely led by instincts – something that he adheres to even today. “As a studio, we have never been volume driven. It’s hard to get good storytelling that way. Stories that excite us have stayed with us for several years, before we began working on them,” says the studio’s top executive.

As a strategy, Tipping Point began with its focus on originals, however, as the demand for content skyrocketed, it led the brand towards new territories and it started working on bringing adaptations on screen, from across the world.

“But the approach has always been to look out for distinct ideas, and stories. We don’t want to get caught in a certain formula or method. All our films reflect that, and that’s what people are expecting on the digital front too. That’s the value we want to bring to our brand - to do something that has not been done before. Ray is a great example,” shares Andhare.

Digital is the top choice of medium for different, and eclectic content, that may be too risky to be taken to the big screen for theatrical business, because of the huge runaway costs involved. The medium has also opened up vast opportunities to tell different stories.

When asked about the lessons learnt over the last year, Andhare says optimistically, “One big learning is that, the basics of great series are absolutely the same. We were awed by US premium drama series, and wonder whether we have that capability. The last few years have showed, that we are not lacking in any way. Look at The Family Man. In terms of craft, we aren’t behind. We just did not have enough opportunities for distribution. We have that hurdle removed by digital now. The intensity and engagement that we are able to produce now is as good as anywhere in the world.”

However, another factor that’s lacking, according to the leading content maker, is ‘scale’. India’s digital platforms are yet to see big output like the iconic series - Game of Thrones, or Outlander. “It’s an exciting area, and so many stories are to be told,” says Andhare emphatically, “The Indian OTT system is yet to wake up. That’s the next level for us. A spectacle is not only for theatres or big screens. If combined with dense storytelling, it can work in digital too. I’m really excited about that opportunity.”

On the finance front, Andhare is quite content with the current business model adopted by the studio, which continues to create original content, and then licenses it out to different platforms.

“For content makers, that is the only model. For years, the Indian content industry has been like a carpenter, called home to put nails whenever required. Unlike other countries, IPs have normally belonged to broadcasters in India. It doesn’t happen elsewhere. The content makers have their own ecosystem. In fact, in the UK, individual creators have their own IPs. We are much behind, but we have begun investing in good content and seeing better investment. This is the only business model which will work, the world over. It is a win-win situation for both studios and platforms,” he adds.

When asked about the future of content, especially movies, the top executive is quick to answer. “Both (theatres and OTT) will continue. It is just a matter of time,” he quips in.

“The question is about value,” he elaborates. “Does theatre have value? Any evidence of recent box office release will tell you that it does. People absolutely love to go to theatres. It’s an out-of-home experience that people will continue to want. It is not about a story, but an experience. So, this value will surge after the pandemic. But, OTT has brought in ease of distribution. Digital is great for driving content, and allowing content creators to experiment.”

Centred on the theme – ‘The New Dynamic’, the three-day event will witness several such insightful sessions with industry stakeholders deliberating on how the new forces are transforming the way content is created and stories are told. It will also delve upon the impact of these changes on the business models for the world of films, TV and OTT.

The fifth edition of Content Hub 2021 is co-presented by IN10 Media Network and ZEE5, and co-powered by Applause Entertainment and   the digital content unit of Viacom18 Studios. PTC Network is the supporting partner.

For more details, visit: https://www.thecontenthub.in/

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