This week, Bollywood producer and director Karan Johar announced that his show Koffee with Karan will move to Disney+ Hotstar. After six seasons on TV, the move to an OTT platform is no surprise given that many other TV shows have followed the same path. Why has the move to OTT become so popular in recent years?
The Covid pandemic has taught the entertainment industry many lessons, one of which is that Indian audiences have also evolved and storytelling needs to change. International OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have made a lot of money globally with shows like Money Heist, Fleabag, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Bridgerton and The Squid Game, but with the demand for new content increasing exponentially and the production of new shows not happening at the same pace, OTT platforms seek to integrate popular TV shows that can keep audiences hooked.
As we know, the biggest advantage of OTT is that people can watch content on the go through smartphones and it’s accessible anytime – without a TV or cable. And today, each individual in a family owns a smartphone against only one TV in the house. So yes, we understand why producers are looking to switch to OTT platforms.
Some think TV shows moving to OTT means they can get more edgy and there’s more freedom over what they want to portray. I’m not sure about that argument given that we’ve seen many shows end in controversy over some aspect that they portrayed on the show. To a large extent though, there’s more freedom on OTT – for example, we’ve seen more LGBTQ relationships depicted on screen in Indian shows, which is unthinkable for a mainstream TV audience. Even in terms of violent content, there are restrictions on TV compared to OTT. On OTT you can have niche shows for a select audience as well as mainstream shows and it works well because those who subscribe to it have a wide range of content to choose from at all times. So today we have OTT price wars due to intense competition and platforms constantly trying new strategies to grow their subscription base.
The challenge in India – and also the opportunity in my opinion – is our cultural and linguistic diversity which gives room for many OTT players in all languages. Again, the need for fresh content every week or month is key to growing subscriptions and being successful. Naturally, many local language players have also started streaming TV content on their OTT apps to meet demand. But the key to success is fresh new content and content that is not available on other platforms. That’s why big, deep-pocketed OTT players focus on tentpole releases and get shows like Koffee with Karan exclusively on their platforms.
OTT players – especially in the local language – have also diversified their content set to include television formats such as game shows, reality shows, comedy shows, talk shows, etc. These have a much faster turnaround time than a web series or movie and there is also an existing audience for such shows. Does this mean television is dying? No. This means that TV will have to co-exist with OTT. However, there will be a consolidation of OTT players in the coming years and there may not be 100 players but only 10 eventually.
Renowned talk show host and billionaire Oprah Winfrey walked away from a television network after decades and launched her own successful television network and streaming service today. Two key lessons for success that she talks about are “don’t be afraid to try something new” and “be authentic”. These can be lessons not only for OTT gamers and creators, but also for us as individuals.