Saturday, October 19, 2019

Posted at: Apr 21, 2019, 3:15 AM; last updated: Apr 21, 2019, 3:15 AM (IST)

TV moves into digital world

Instead of proving to be a spoiler, the OTT platforms have given a new lease of life to television viewing

Nonika Singh

Not too long ago, many of us were only too eager to write television’s epitaph. In the glory and the rising popularity of web series such as Sacred Games,  Mirzapur and House of Cards, many predicted the imminent death of television. 

But guess what, the idiot box is smarter than everyone expects it to be. It seems to be going nowhere. Instead, it has got an extended lease of life in the very space that was meant to usurp it from living rooms across India. 

So, just as Kesari hit the screens and impressed critics and audiences alike, yet another tribe of history buffs thought the retelling of the Saragarhi battle was infinitely better in the series they watched on Netflix. But what these viewers simply forgot was that 21 Sarfarosh — Saragarhi 1897 was essentially a television series starring Mohit Raina, Balraj Singh Khehra and Mukul Dev. The show, based on the real-life Battle of Saragarhi, fought between Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army and Pashtun Orakzai tribesmen, produced by Contiloe Entertainment, ran from February 12 to May 11, 2018, on Discovery Jeet. A huge hit on television, it has garnered millions of views on the net, too. 

Welcome to the new dynamics of entertainment, where perceived rivals could well be close-knit partners in business and audience share as well.

The urban millennial may be glued to their phones and not television any longer, however, on the six-inches they are not just watching original content of Netflix and Amazon Prime, but also a clutch of television shows. 

So, in case they miss the garrulous chat of Koffee with Karan... no sweat, it is just a click away on Hotstar, which boasts of nearly 75 million subscribers. Filmmaker Vikram Bhatt elucidates, “The war is not between web and television, but ‘view it at your convenience’ vs. ‘appointment viewing’. Digital space allows you to watch whatever you want, whenever you want. More than television content, I foresee the end of scheduled telecast of dramas.”

No doubt, he feels that television missed the bus in catching the pulse of the youth and became more or less a ‘ladies special’. Nevertheless, to those who envisage television and digital mediums as cutthroat competitors, he reminds, “Let us not forget the fact that both entertainment platforms are being owned by the same set of people. If Star Plus’ digital counterpart is Hotstar, Zee TV has Zee5, Sony has SonyLiv and Colors has Voot. The only exceptions are Netflix and Amazon Prime, which are essentially original internet content providers and are primarily international players.” 

Indeed, with more than 117 million streaming subscribers worldwide, Netflix has become one of the fastest growing entertainment providers in existence. The provider is making strong inroads in India as well and looking at a huge subscriber base of 100 million in future, though, as of now, its share in the Indian pie trails behind others.

Yet, at another level, the synergy between television and digital has already begun to firm up. As Bhatt puts it, “Both shops belong to the same set of people and it doesn’t matter to them what you are watching and where.” Producer-director of TV soaps, Rajan Shahi while admitting to the growing presence of web series, also believes, “Broadcasters have very intelligently realised the possibilities and the merger of these two broadcast platforms is already happening.” So, the hitmaker’s immensely popular and the longest-running soap on television, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai is doing well digitally. His latest Yeh Rishtey Hain Pyaar Ke, a spinoff of the Yeh Rishta..., with a fresh look and twist, has been designed with web audiences in mind. No wonder, it is already gaining traction on both platforms. 

Says Shahi, “Web series are telling different kind of stories that can’t be told on television, which is, essentially,  a family-viewing medium. But to suggest that web is sounding the death knell of television is overstating the case.”  Of course, being in the business of entertainment for 26 years, he admits to the mounting pressure created by the pull of web-series and the need to draw back the audiences that have moved away from the small screen. 

He adds, “Gone are the days when producers could create content for television just by following their gut instinct. Today, they have to take into account the reach and marketing strategies. Besides, the all-important question, ‘who is the target audience’, is a clinching factor. As is the fact that in future the rules of entertainment will be governed by ‘consumer first’, factoring in audiences’ wants.”  

Binge watching or delayed gratification... what works best would depend upon individual consumer sensibility. Many would catch the fabled Game of Thrones, episode by episode, and yet others would consume it at one go on the OTT platforms. Either way, the HBO series remains a television programme and a gainer. Put simply, web and television coexist. 

Raj Nayak, former head of Viacom and Colors, hits the nail on the head when he remarks, “In future, content will flow through many pipes, and the same content will reach many more people. Irrespective of the platform, good content will travel through word of mouth and people interested will find a way to watch it.” Agrees Rahul Mittra, a film producer, “Whatever might be the medium, entertainment will hold the key.”

Ravindra Gautam, maker of serials like Bade Achche Lagte Hain and Kasautii Zindagii Kay, reveals that the brief across all channels today is to create TV content that will work digitally, too. “In other words, the slag and slack that had set in television programmes is likely to be replaced by more nail biting and edgy content. Each episode as required on digital space will be tailored as a cliff hanger in order to hook the viewers to watch the next episode.”

Whether ‘content is content’ or there is a sharp dividing line between digital and TV content, there is also a big question about web’s profit-loss balance-sheet. Bhatt, who has made a number of web series, claims, “Right now there is no proven profit model for the web. Sure, some Indian producers are being asked to create web-series and some work is being bought too. But that is looking at it strictly from the producer’s point of view. The medium itself is at an investment stage. It is a deep-pocket game and ultimately the one with the deepest pocket will survive. Besides, for web to truly work one-off example will not work; you need a Sacred Games every week.”  

Since that is unlikely to happen, collaborations are the answer. Rather, as Nayak, states, “Both mediums are likely to grow but not at the cost of each other.” 

A win-win... in the changing landscape of entertainment with right moves and a bit of shake up, television could end up as the real mover and shaker, in the digital space, too.

Web series are telling different kind of stories that can’t be told on television, which is, essentially,  a family-viewing medium. But to suggest that web is sounding the death knell of channels is overstating the case. — Rajan Shahi, Producer-director of TV soaps 


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