Streams to Mainstream: Would OTT kill the TV Star?

Marwa Kazi Mohammed

This Pandemic, we’ve all been hooked to our screens more than ever, making online streaming platforms perhaps the very few industries that had positive spikes. Be it Bangla, English or Hindi content, our prime and preferred source has been OTT platforms. But with that preference, the noticeable differences between Bangladesh and our neighbor India in terms of industry and content became clearer than ever as well. So we sat down with Deepti Singh, producer of the acclaimed JL50, Golden Deer production; and our very own Writer and Director – Ashfaque Nipun. 

The common inclination in both regions is a spike in the number of paid subscribers to various OTT platforms. As much as our inexperienced eyes want to brush this off as a pandemic phenomenon both our Interviewees disagreed.  “Once you go OTT, it’s very hard to come back. The freedom and power of choice in an OTT platform in very liberating for the audience,” Ms. Deepti credited the plethora of options in OTT to its rising popularity, while Mr. Nipun believed that pandemic may have brought the audience but the customer experience will keep them, “Unlike, let’s say Cinema or TV, OTT is a very personal and personalized platform. The audience is true to themselves and the content on OTTs. The contemporary audience is smart enough to stick to that”

India may have a rapidly rising and somewhat structured OTT industry, but the same cannot be said about Bangladesh. We are still miles apart, and we are only tiptoeing towards greater things. Ms. Deepti believes that consumer understanding and investing in proper research is what has made India the number one country in terms of OTT industry rise.

“The OTT industry is progressing a bit randomly in our country. There is no strategy or proper research going into it. Again, there’s a distinct lack of long-term thinking and investment into it. And even a lack of dedication to art. Our problem is that we look for results too soon. We want to generate profit, otherwise, we won’t invest. Even Netflix, which is a household OTT by now, isn’t profitable yet. But we want profit, and we want it quick. That’s the root of the problem,” Mr. Nipun agreed with us.

But despite the apparent bleak picture, it remains unchanged that OTT is here to stay and go a long way. What makes this newcomer so commanding in the established world of TV and cinema? Our research tells us, OTT did what we’ve only been saying since time immemorial- ‘Content is king.’ “OTT has a very generous space to experiment, you know. Yes as a producer we have to worry about whether we make revenue but, the assurance is that we know that good content, no matter how experimental, can also make money thanks to OTT platforms,” Ms. Deepti Stated. It only makes us further explore what makes arthouse/experimental content work in OTT platforms. “If you look at directors like Vikramaditya Motwane or Anurag Kashyap, they aren’t commercially successful directors. They are called alternative directors. Yet when they worked on Sacred Games, it became possibly the most successful series in the Indian industry. And it happened because those who subscribe to OTT platforms are smarter than we give them credit for. They want to and can appreciate well- crafted intelligent content,” Mr. Nipun provided us with a fantastic explanation.

If that’s what works, then why don’t we produce content like that? Yours truly thinks that it is unfortunate that we rely on trends and sensationalization to ‘sell’ content instead of taking the time to craft something beautiful, almost as if we aren’t regarded as audiences smart and sophisticated enough to appreciate such work. But Mr. Nipun had kinder words for the audience, “The audience is smart enough. They cannot be fooled,” He went on, all praises for the Chanchal Chowdhury starrer ‘Taqdeer’, “Take Taqdeer for example. There’s no sensationalization or trend following in it. The story is fresh and it immediately conveys a story that is very Bangladeshi. And it’s a hit. So it isn’t the audience, it’s the creators who need to step it up. Because OTT is the future.”

Mr. Nipun’s remark is definitely backed with proof, as more and more mainstream actors test the waters of OTT. Ms. Deepti sees this trend as inevitable, “Any artist willing to break the mold or experiment with their identity as creative people have the freedom to do so in OTT platforms, which is why you see actors like Saif Ali Khan or Abhishek Bacchan bending rules to become actors from heroes or heroines.” And we’ve seen the same for Chanchal Chowdhury as he seamlessly transitioned from the big screen to digital. But more importantly actors who haven’t been paid their dues in the “mainstream” have started to get their time in the spotlight, be it Divyendu Sharma, Pankaj Tripathi or Jaideep Ahlawat, OTT has been kind to artist unafraid to not be ‘heroes’. Mr. Nipun agreed with us with local examples, “Taqdeer featured a heavy and popular artist like Chanchal Chowdhury. But it wasn’t a one-man show at all, it allowed everyone else to shine as well. If anything it was all about content. And artists who play nice with content all eventually end up mainstream sweethearts.”

We couldn’t help but pry a little for a crumb of upcoming content from Mr. Nipun, and he didn’t disappoint us, “Well, I am working on a few things. But I am most excited about the work I’m doing for Prothom Alo’s upcoming OTT ‘Chorki.’ Of course I would want to make my mark on the booming OTT industry. It’s what’s going to be ‘IT’ tomorrow.”

It was as if Mr. Nipun stole the words out of our mouths, because from our delightful conversations with him and Mr. Deepti, and the contemplation that followed, we can safely say that OTT will be the new mainstream. With mainstream stars huddling to reinvent and big releases taking place on OTT, it is only a matter of time. And if TV and Cinema cannot keep up, then yes, OTT might soon kill the TV star.

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