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#Throwback2020: Programming across OTT & television

OTT and television saw the re-emergence of the golden era of family viewing.

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MUMBAI/KOLKATA: Life coach and motivational speaker Tony Robbins once remarked that “we aren’t in an information age, we are in an entertainment age.” The past year has shown that Robbins' observation wasn’t far off the mark. As people were bombarded with information from all sides, most of it unpleasant (what with a global pandemic, wildfires, erupting city blocks and violent racial protests, just to name a few), and with cinemas shuttered and live sports cancelled, they retreated to the only safe space left – their television and mobile screens. In fact, 2020 was also remarkable for another fact; TV and OTT saw unprecedented rise in viewership and time spent on the platforms compared to preceding years.

One of the biggest trends that we saw on OTT and television in 2020 was the re-emergence of the golden era of family viewing. A classic example of this was the reruns of Mahabharat and Ramayan on Doordarshan during the lockdown. IndiaToday touted Mahabharat as the “baap of all masala entertainers” and no wonder, everyone in the family – from grandparents to kids – tuned in to the decades-old show. And as streamers were - for a large part of the year -   were the only ones where fresh content was in supply, audiences signed up for the services in big numbers.

Programming on television

With people confined to their homes, TV took them to places where they could find some respite, whether in the form of a supernatural show, a murder mystery, Mills & boons romance thriller, an endearing fish-out-of-water comedy, or a very old daily soap. Some shows nailed tricky tones; others offered unforgettable concepts.

The pandemic forced general entertainment channels to go for reruns initially as there was no fresh content production for nearly three months. DD emerged the frontrunner, as, besides Mahabharat and Ramayan, it brought many other iconic shows such as Dekh Bhai Dekh and Shriman Shrimati, thereby raking in massive viewership. Private broadcasters took the same route to entertain audiences. Programmes that had been relegated to sister FTA channels, such as Saath Nibhana Saathiya, Kumkum Bhagya and Ye Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, made a comeback on the pay platform and attracted a lot of eyeballs.

Daily soaps dominate

A lot of shows focused on family bonding, women taking charge of the household, and the parent-child relationship. Most of these serials tend to have family drama as the core thread with a love story running through it.

Naagin, Chotti Sardaarni, Barrister Babu and the recently launched Shubharambh delivered - and continue to -  the bounty for Colors. Zee TV’s Kundali Bhagya and Kumkum Bhagya (both produced by Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms) and Guddan Tumse Na Ho Paayega garnered significant eyeballs. Sony TV’s Mere Dad Ki Dulhan, which recently went off air, was centered on the theme of a second chance at love for middle-aged parents.

Audiences across markets opted for a slice of life and family dramas. The overall Hindi GEC (U+R) and the Hindi GEC (U) audiences preferred to watch recently launched shows like Anupama, Imlie, Ghum Hai Kisi ke Pyaar Mein on Star Plus, and Zee TV’s most popular long-running shows Kundali Bhagya and Kumkum Bhagya.

Several experimental shows such as 9 Months Wali Love Story, Kaatelal & Sons also found takers, but there wasn’t much in the way of breakthrough content outside of Anupama. The latter is a regular family drama showcasing the taboo subject of extramarital affairs on Indian television.

Ormax Media partner Keerat Grewal said, "I think the challenge with the category is that experiments with new story ideas are there, but we have not seen any paradigm shift, something that we saw with KBC and Balika Vadhu. Over the last few years non-fiction has had an uptake on HGECs due to the fiction cynicism that’s set in gradually as audiences have been seeing 'more of the same'. This year however non-fiction has struggled as well, with both KBC and Bigg Boss not being able to deliver. Bigg Boss is generally shows an upward trend after a few weeks, once contestant familiarity sets-in."

With production budgets slashed across channels by almost 20-25%, extending this year's Bigg Boss season even with lower than expected ratings, could be a matter commercial feasibility for the channel, she said

Star Plus also managed to get its regional shows successfully remade into Hindi with Anupama and Ghum Hai Kisi Ke Pyaar Mein. This urge to adapt and remake has been picked up by other channels as well.

Non-fiction shows struggled to top the charts

Kaun Banega Crorepati, Bigg Boss, and The Kapil Sharma Show were produced under strict Covid2019 precautions. The drastically smaller production teams innovated on the sets to adhere to protocol and ensure safety of the participants. For instance, there is a restaurant, a shopping mall, a theatre, and a spa inside the Bigg Boss house. In KBC 12, besides the crew, even those who accompany the contestants on the show have socially distanced seating. There was no live audience and the audience poll lifeline was replaced by video-a-friend. The Kapil Sharma Show introduced recorded audience applause, and cut-outs in the background to make the set look lively. The IPL also did the same.

Unlike other years, Bigg Boss - while generating a lot of buzz - has had a relatively subdued season and has not picked up in ratings. The non-fiction show has always been known to pick up from the mid-season where it brings older participants to pump up nostalgia and drama. This year, Colors has decided to extend Bigg Boss 14 till February 2021, with the grand finale scheduled around Valentine's Day. Traditionally, non-fiction shows have always given fiction shows a run for their money.

And while the IPL was a huge production and advertising success, buoying industry sentiment,  the same cannot be said for other marquee non-fiction properties, which compete with it.

 “I think the challenge is that they keep experimenting with new story ideas but we have not seen any paradigm shift, something that we saw with KBC,” noted Grewal.

The year of OTT

2020 was the year of OTT, as people sampled and adopted them in droves. Likewise, the investment in content has also increased manifold. As more people turned to premium online content, the platforms also experimented with the formats of their new shows.

A new genre on the streaming horizon is musical. Amazon Prime Video’s Bandish Bandits gathered buzz with its music-themed plot depicting the clash between two different worlds of music. Although some viewers found the format cliched, the catchy tunes by composers Shankar-Ehsan-Loy made it extremely appealing. MX Player’s music reality show Times of Music was loved for its unique format - it's a crossover between reality and chat show. Bringing the best composers in the Indian film industry together on one stage, the series included recreations of many celebrated songs. Times of Music charmed Indian music lovers at a time when live musical events had come to a halt.

Experimentation and innovation

More than simply offering a library of content, OTT platforms in India are trying to establish a stronger connection with consumers through interactive content. The trend has not picked up for premium originals yet but broadcaster-led streaming platforms are experimenting with the format for their catch-up content. Zee5 launched Zee5 Super Family League where participants could  create their own family by selecting their favourite characters from the network’s popular primetime shows. Voot and SonyLIV also created avenues for immersive experience around tentpole content like Bigg Boss and KBC.

2020 was a series of unusual, new experiments to face the challenges posed by the pandemic. OTTs led the field when it came to producing new shows while sitting at home. Voot devised an innovative content format with locked room murder mystery The Gone Game, shot in cast members' residences. Eros Now also premiered a show made in lockdown – A Viral Wedding. Amazon Prime Video unveiled CU Soon, a film shot entirely during quarantine.

Sequels spell success

For many people, the saving grace of 2020 was their favourite shows returning with new seasons. The hugely popular Mirzapur series generated tons of excitement. Among other much-awaited shows, MX Player’s Aashram, Disney+Hotstar’s Hostages, Amazon Prime Video’s Breathe: Into the Shadows wooed the audience with returning seasons. Other than Indian originals, viewers enjoyed new seasons of international series like Money Heist, Dark and The Mandalorian.

The rise of K-love

Indian audience’s watch list is no longer defined by local content or few American dramas anymore. All things ‘K’ (as in South Korean, not Ekta Kapoor’s defining alphabet) had a major breakthrough in India amid the pandemic. Netflix India witnessed a whopping 370 per cent growth in the viewership of Korean dramas, with The King: Eternal Monarch, Kingdom (S2), It’s Okay to Not Be Okay and Crash Landing on You dominating the trending list for weeks. MX Player also reported considerable growth of Korean drama in its international segment. Interestingly, the K-drama fad is not limited to millennials and gen Z anymore. Other than romances, older audiences also watched other complex genres like Korean historical dramas and thrillers.

OTTs have moved on from male, metro, millennial demographic to an increasing number of female content consumers. As a result, platforms focused on women-centric content representing strong female characters. The shows ranged from comedy to thrillers, romance, and social drama. Pushpavali, Four More Shots Please, Arya, Bulbbul, Masaba Masaba, Churails, Code M were some programmes that appealed to and were loved by women viewers.

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