Tuesday, May 30, 2023

OTT Boom: You Cannot Fool The Audience With Your Stardom!

OTT Boom: You Cannot Fool The Audience With Your Stardom!

As cinema halls remain shuttered, actors like Vidya Balan, Vicky Kaushal, Shefali Shah, Dhairya Karwa, Siddhant Chaturvedi mention how OTT has been a saviour.

OTT Boom! (Representative image)
OTT Boom! (Representative image) Shutterstock

OTT has given new stardom to many actors. Some of the best craftsmen that we have seen in the last few years are from the digital platform. The web has the potential to tell stories that are modern and nuanced as opposed to films that are made for commercial reasons, often catering to the lowest common denominator. And the length of a series allows audiences to attach themselves to a character.

Gone are the days when the word ‘star’ meant only Bollywood. Actors on digital platforms feel the best thing about OTT is that they do not have to perform over a single weekend and their shelf life is long. Word of mouth can develop over a period of time and audiences can keep going back, watching it over and over again. This takes away the pressure to cater to the lowest common denominator by adding songs and unnecessary comic interludes.

The burgeoning online media and entertainment business received a major boost from the Covid-19 pandemic, setting a new growth trajectory for the industry. Audiences adopted a more digitally advanced way of entertainment, something that went beyond the conventional mediums, leading to mass adoption of OTT platforms which resulted in a surge in both viewership and watch-time. This growth in demand for quality content online led to an increased focus on storytelling across languages leading to the creation of extensive and expansive content libraries.
Manish Kalra, Chief Business Officer, ZEE5 India, says, “Accessibility of quality content and the convenience in consumption increased audience appetite for diverse content across markets. Further, complementing the increased adoption of connected devices, we see a trend of living room experience in almost every household, today. This surge in the connected devices ecosystem has made OTT a preferred choice not only for personal but also for family consumption. At ZEE5, we have seen a 3X growth in the viewership on connected devices. While we grew 200%+ this year at the back of an aggressive slate of content line-up and hyper-personalization, we aim to make deeper inroads into Indian homes going into 2022.”

There is an OTT boom, but the pandemic truly hastened the process. With cinema halls opening and closing every now and then and working with only 50 per cent capacity, for all actors and even well-established stars, OTT came as a saviour. As actress Vidya Balan rightly mentioned in an interview with Outlook, OTT is so powerful and relevant that she is grateful for it.

When the pandemic started two years back who would have thought Vidya Balan starring Shakuntala Devi will premiere exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. Amitabh Bachchan’s first film Gulabo Sitabo was also released on OTT.  Tweeting on his digital release, Bachchan mentioned that he is ‘honoured’ to be part of yet ‘another challenge’ in his career as an actor.

Vidya Balan

In an interview with Outlook, actress Vidya Balan, who was last seen in Sherni on Amazon Prime Video said, “Actually, if you see, the percentage of the population in our country that has access to theatres is very small. I believe it is just 3 per cent of the population which is shocking. Whereas everyone has a television and even mobile phones at home. Now you don’t even need to have a laptop or television, you can watch films and series on your mobile. I think it is very revolutionary and it has made entertainment accessible to far more people. The content on digital platforms is diverse which is very exciting. For example, I am so thrilled that ‘Sherni’ was watched by people across 240 countries. It’s a wide audience. We cannot hope for these kinds of numbers when films go to theatres.”

It will be no exaggeration to say that the pandemic-induced lockdown in India only fuelled the growth of the booming OTT video streaming industry, while cinemas remained shuttered. Consumers during the lockdown turned to OTT platforms for entertainment and the habit that got formed during the lockdown has continued for most people.

Actor Nawazuddin says, “OTT has a different reach and it’s huge. Amazon and Netflix have a reach to 190 countries and people all over the world can watch your performance. The original films of OTT are viewed by the whole world. ‘Sacred Games’ made four times more profit than any superhit Bollywood film. There is a much bigger world outside Bollywood. Bollywood is nothing in front of OTT.”

Siddique further says, “Good films never used to get a chance to be screened in big theatres. Even if a film with good content is showing at a theatre, it is run either at 11 am or 4 pm. Who has the time to watch it then? Even if theatres open, actors like us will not benefit in any way. There is a huge monopoly in theatres. Good content films have no place in theatres. OTT has changed the vision of the audience. They have become much more educated when it comes to cinema studies and cinema appreciation.”

Vicky Kaushal-starring Sardar Udham Singh was also released on OTT though it was made for a theatrical release as one could make out from the canvas of the film. Vicky says, “It was made for a theatrical release, but I guess times have changed very rapidly in the past two years where we have all been a big consumer of OTT platforms.”

Vicky Kaushal's Sardar Udham Singh.Vicky Kaushal's Sardar Udham Singh.

There are a lot of pros when a film like Sardar Udham Singh comes out on the OTT platform as director Shoojit Sircar rightly mentioned during the release of the film that ‘Sardar Udham’ is not a Bollywood film, it is an Indian film. Vicky Kaushal adds, “Indian film needs to reach out all across the globe and that is possible only through OTT platform. This film is going to reach out to Indians all over the globe in every part of the world because it is important for them to connect to our history and realise the sacrifices that have gone into attaining freedom for this country. And also, for everyone to remember the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and to remember that such a mistake has happened by mankind. So, we needed a platform that kind of allows us to go and reach the audiences. With a theatrical release, there is always pressure that the film is going to go out of theatres the coming Friday. With OTT the film is timeless even if you don’t feel like watching it today, you can watch it ten days later. That is the kind of freedom OTT platforms give.”

Binge-watching is more fun than appointment viewing, to most people and the web allows you that. Everyone has a phone and data and people are making individual choices about what they are watching. It’s no longer about one TV screen in a house where everyone is forced to watch whatever the general consensus is. Kids are watching their stuff on their phones or tablets while parents hog the TV screen or vice versa. This is making stars out of actors who earlier had smaller roles in big films. It’s truly the age of the actor.

OTT in the present scenario is catching eyeballs at an exponential rate. The watershed moment has marked a historic disruption where the demand for quality content has been through the roof. Manish Kalra explains, “At Zee5, we doubled down on our efforts to provide a hyper-personalised, real, relevant and resonant content to satiate the growing appetite of compelling content in India.”
Regional markets offer a strong potential for industry players in the future. OTT has expanded its reach and has opened new market horizons for content creators. The surge in digital consumption shall stay and escalate with time which is a green signal for industry growth. The focus on engaged viewers is at an all-time high in the streaming landscape and is shifting into a two-way flow of content and experience between viewers and providers.
 From November 2019, Manish Kalra states, “Our active subscribers grew 2.6x, engagement grew 1.3x and our average subscribers grew 3x in 2020. We witnessed traffic from across India, reinforcing our position as the multilingual storyteller for multiple entertainment seekers. We have been able to convert our customer-centric approach into a power-packed content library with premium content for entertainment seekers across the country. Our global monthly active user (MAU) is 9.3 crore and daily active user (DAU) is 90 lakhs as of the second quarter of the fiscal year 2021 to 2022.”

OTT has changed the fate of many actors. It has also changed the way we look at actors. Nobody on this platform is a hero or a heroine. Actress Shefali Shah. who was recently seen in Disney Hot Star Human says, “OTT really changed my career graph. Some of the biggest shows on OTT platforms are women-oriented.  OTT has given us a lot of content and it is very exciting for me that I am a craftsman of this era. And the series format gives you hours to experiment, explore and indulge in the character. With OTT the entire outlook of looking at actors has changed. There is nothing like a lead role. It is not about an age bracket. Each and every character is powerful.”

It took years for Shefali to get the kind of roles that she always wanted to do. She says, “This is the kind of work that I wanted to do and it changed because of Delhi Crime because of the perspective of people towards me. Not that the industry didn’t love my work, but now it has finally started translating into the kind of work I want to do. The offers that come to me now whether it is leads or parallel leads, they are just the kind of acting that I have been yearning for.  ‘Delhi Crime’ changed my career graph. And finally, there are now scripts and roles that have been written keeping me in mind.”

Actress Shefali Shah.Actress Shefali Shah. 

Dhairya Karwa, who was seen in Gehraiyaan with Deepika Padukone says, “This is the first time I will be seen in a lead role and that is the responsibility an actor is looking for or working towards. And that is the kind of responsibility you want as a performer.”

As far as Gehraiyaan releasing on an OTT platform or direct to service platform, Dhairya states, “OTT is a big saviour and we literally survived on it. Here is the platform which is here to stay and which provides entertainment to people from the comfort of their homes. If we can provide the audience quality content from their homes nothing like it and Amazon has a huge audience and so our work also reaches globally. As a performer you want your work to be viewed by the widest audience possible.”


Actors admit that in the last two years they have been able to survive only because of OTT. It has given not only the actors and directors more opportunities but also everybody behind the camera to carry on with their work. Dhairya explains that now no work is limited to a certain territory or a country. Now you can see shows and films from different countries being popular in India and Indian shows being popular in other countries. We have seen Delhi Crime winning the Emmy awards and Sacred games travelling around the world. I feel with the OTT boom it is a great time to be a performer.

Actor Siddhant Chaturvedi says, “With the OTT boom, I think the audiences have really evolved with the exposure. Audiences have been introduced to so much content through OTT that for them it is not about big banners or small banners. The taste of the audience when it comes to cinema viewing is also evolving because of that.”

Siddhant Chaturvedi started his career with OTT. He explains how there was a time when there used to be a huge divide between films and OTT.  But now the divide is fading and what OTT has done now is that it has shifted the power in the audiences’ hands. The audience is now choosing what to watch and what not to watch. Now literally people are watching your work closely and you cannot fool the audience with your stardom.

Satisfaction, that is what is the most important thing for any craftsman. The craftsmanship has increased by many folds and has opened doors for many. When we spoke about films in the past there were a set of people doing the same work, but today OTT has opened up to first time directors, scriptwriters, actors and music composers. Since there are so many firsts, the taste of each and every content on OTT is unique and new.


Deepika Padukone and Ananya Panday. Deepika Padukone and Ananya Panday.

Web being the so-called new age medium offers some relatable content. Siddhant says, “On OTT, there is no boundary when it comes to actors. Everything just fades away when you are on OTT. Equal and equality have always been good when it comes to any way forward.  But with OTT performance pressure is much more because the audiences are not going to engage with you if they don’t like your acting. Now the audience has also become very powerful because if they don’t love your work, they will just go on Twitter and shame you.”

Actor Ananya Pandey still believes that though it is a tough time for everyone, you can never fall out of the experience of watching a film in a theatre.