An in­ter­view with the man who fore­tells the fate of video con­tent across plat­forms Ormax Me­dia’s Shailesh Kapoor. By Ash­wini Gan­gal

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An in­ter­view with the man who fore­tells the fate of video con­tent across plat­forms - Ormax Me­dia’s Shailesh Kapoor

In 2011, when Shah Rukh Khan made Ra.One, he spent hours – late evening to 4:00 am the fol­low­ing morn­ing – with me­dia con­sul­tancy Ormax Me­dia’s founder and CEO Shailesh Kapoor to dis­cuss the po­ten­tial pop­u­lar­ity of the film. Kapoor and team pre­sented the find­ings of their re­search; the film tested well among kids, but not among adults. Kapoor wasn’t too sur­prised when the film didn’t do well at the box of­fice.

Ormax Me­dia was first launched by Kapoor and his part­ner Vispy Doc­tor, back in 1985 as a qual­i­ta­tive re­search out­fit for mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies. In 2008 the firm be­gan test­ing video con­tent, pri­mar­ily TV shows and movies. In 2012 Ormax Me­dia started test­ing OTT shows, though mo­men­tum for this line picked up only in 2016 as more play­ers en­tered the VOD mar­ket. So far, the team has tested scripts and episodes for 23 OTT shows. They also test trail­ers, songs, ti­tles, show taglines, posters, and mar­ket­ing cam­paigns. Last year Ormax Me­dia tested close to 45 film scripts. Some­where in 2015, Ormax Me­dia got into script test­ing - vet­ting of con­tent through au­dio nar­ra­tion.

Kapoor’s clien­tele in­cludes Star In­dia, Vi­a­com, Sony Pic­tures Net­works, ZEEL, Ama­zon Prime Video, Dis­ney, Sun TV, Turner In­ter­na­tional, Times Net­work, Ja­gran Prakashan, Dharma Pro­duc­tions, TVF, AIB, En­de­mol, RSVP and Jun­glee Pic­tures, among oth­ers.

The re­search, a com­bi­na­tion of qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive meth­ods, yields an ‘Ad­vo­cacy Score’, a nu­meric ‘word of mouth’ score, out of 100, which, in a nut­shell, re­flects – ‘What per­cent­age of peo­ple liked the con­tent enough to rec­om­mend it to their friends?’

For movies, the en­tire prod­uct is tested. For TV con­tent, one episode (2025 min­utes) and a 10 minute au­dio nar­ra­tive of how the story will go ahead are tested. For OTT con­tent, the first two episodes (about 90 min­utes) are tested. Edited ex­cerpts.

Video con­tent is con­sumed across three medi­ums. To what ex­tent is view­ing be­hav­iour tied to the medium?

View­ing be­hav­iour is en­tirely a func­tion of the medium - TV ver­sus OTT ver­sus go­ing to the theatre. We’re still not a coun­try/cul­ture where video con­tent has be­come one en­tity. It is still very cat­e­go­ry­seg­re­gated. There is a lot of over­lap be­tween films and OTT in terms of the au­di­ence. There’s less over­lap be­tween GEC au­di­ences with the other two types.

In In­dia, peo­ple don’t watch TV alone. There’s no con­cept of ‘pri­vate TV’ here; TV time is fam­ily time. In Amer­ica, where TV is about in­di­vid­ual view­ing, OTT and TV view­ing are not fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent. But in In­dia, TV view­ing is about fam­ily taste, OTT is about per­sonal taste.

In In­dia, an 18 year old who watches Game of Thrones on OTT would be happy to watch a Naa­gin on TV, with the fam­ily – not grudg­ingly. Sim­i­larly, the 40+ au­di­ence/par­ents would watch Bigg Boss, Kha­tron Ke Khi­ladi on TV be­cause the young­ster in the house wants to. They’re warm­ing up to what their chil­dren are ad­vo­cat­ing; un­til three years back, they were com­pletely dis­mis­sive of such con­tent. If a con­sen­sus can’t be reached for a show, then the young­ster will go watch it on­line.

How have the three types of con­tent evolved over the past decade?

Very dif­fer­ently. Over the last seven to eight years GECs have been in stand­still mode. Af­ter 2010-11, con­tent in­no­va­tion in Hindi GECs

“There’s a need for more vis­ually bright con­tent! For some rea­son you do not have bright shows on OTT, at all. Mass In­dian con­tent is all bright and colour­ful, but we don’t have con­tent that vis­ually, pro­duc­tion-wise, re­sem­bles a DDLJ, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, (on OTT). Ev­ery­thing is dark, sepia toned, night-shot. The rea­son is – film guys are ex­per­i­ment­ing with things on dig­i­tal, be­cause they can’t in films.”

stopped (un­like in Bangla, Tamil, Tel­ugu, Marathi GECs). The only real evo­lu­tion in Hindi GECs is – non­fic­tion has got more ac­cept­abil­ity. But that’s more like a de­fault ad­van­tage given to non-fic­tion be­cause fic­tion has not evolved.

The real change has taken place in films – there’ve been new types of sto­ries that are not in the tra­di­tional ac­tion-ro­mance-com­edy space. Af­ter Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, biopics were made, we now have films like Raazi, Stree do­ing much bet­ter than they would have even one year back. The main traits of the lead char­ac­ters in movies have evolved, es­pe­cially fe­male. But theatre is a ‘niche’ medium be­cause only three to four crore peo­ple go to the­atres for Hindi con­tent.

Is there a be­hav­iour pat­tern that’s com­mon to all three kinds of con­tent?

Over the last five to six years, ex­po­sure to in­ter­na­tional con­tent has gone up in a huge way. This is be­cause of dig­i­tal, and be­cause the Hol­ly­wood the­atri­cal busi­ness in In­dia has more than dou­bled. This in­cludes not just English con­tent, but dubbed films too. To­day, Con­jur­ing is a big­ger fran­chise in In­dia than many Bol­ly­wood films. So when a hor­ror prop­erty now comes out on TV/Net­flix, you have a bench­mark that is in­ter­na­tional. The bench­mark is not a Vikram Bhatt hor­ror film. And I’m not talk­ing about pre­mium au­di­ences. Th­ese are mid­dle class peo­ple in the 15-30 years seg­ment.

Specif­i­cally about OTT con­tent, what are the early trends from a plat­form per­spec­tive?

OTT is too new to have any trends. There has been a lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion so far. And quan­tity. The men­tal­ity is ‘Do 20 things, one will work’. That has been the gen­eral ap­proach. It tells you the process of se­lec­tion is not very sharp. Plat­forms an­nounce 10-20 new shows at a time. Most don’t even get sam­pled. Sa­cred Games may change that mind­set… fo­cus on just one prop­erty, you don’t need quan­tity.

In­ter­est­ing. And what about OTT trends from the viewer’s per­spec­tive?

The au­di­ence is very new here. They’re still dis­cov­er­ing what they’d like to watch in dig­i­tal.

Over the last few years, th­ese shows have got big­ger ‘face value’ be­cause of the stars they fea­ture Saif in (Net­flix’s) Sa­cred Games, Mad­ha­van did (Ama­zon’s) Breathe, and Ram Kapoor who is a ‘tra­di­tional’, known face thanks to TV (he’s on ALTBalaji). You have peo­ple you ‘know’. In Pitch­ers, Per­ma­nent Room­mates (TVF shows) – the ac­tors be­came YouTube stars be­cause of those shows; they were not known.

So this has re­ally helped OTT plat­forms, be­cause there’s a com­fort level new au­di­ences get. It’s good mar­ket­ing and will ex­pand the viewer base. It has helped bring cred­i­bil­ity and le­git­i­macy to the medium, which had a sec­ondary sta­tus be­fore th­ese known faces came on board.

In six to 12 months though, that will no longer be a big sell­ing point, un­less Sal­man, Shah Rukh or Ran­bir do an ‘in­ter­net show’.

What’s your read­ing on the ap­par­ent ap­petite for ‘dif­fi­cult to watch’, ‘cringe con­tent’ on OTT plat­forms, be it vi­o­lent shows like Ghoul or dis­turb­ing dra­mas like Black Mir­ror? They may be great shows, but there’s just some­thing about this new dark genre…

Over the past year or two, the con­tent has be­come more in­tense. On dig­i­tal and in films too, watch­ing edgier con­tent has be­come more ac­cept­able. Ex­po­sure to in­ter­na­tional con­tent, not just Hol­ly­wood, has played a def­i­nite role in cre­at­ing that sen­si­bil­ity.

Also, it is be­cause of solo view­ing. Peo­ple feel lib­er­ated while watch­ing OTT con­tent. Three-four years ago, was any solo view­ing re­ally hap­pen­ing at all? No. As an idea, solo view­ing has been driven largely by OTT plat­forms. Pre­vi­ously, af­ter ‘fam­ily time’ was over, they would lis­ten to the ra­dio or read a book as ‘solo time’ – one or two hours be­fore go­ing to sleep – but not watch con­tent.

On OTT, peo­ple can watch vi­o­lence, sex, abu­sive lan­guage – things which, all their lives, they’ve been told are out of bounds, on TV and in cin­e­mas. For long, con­tent has been sani­tised ev­ery­where. There was no place peo­ple could watch con­tent like this. We’re now ex­posed to Amer­i­can con­tent like Game of Thrones. Even in ‘reg­u­lar’ su­per­hero films peo­ple are now used to see­ing ac­tion of a cer­tain type, the kind we don’t see in In­dian films. Peo­ple look­ing for such con­tent now find it on OTT, which is why they’ve warmed up to th­ese plat­forms so fast.

Then there’s the prob­lem of ‘dark’ look­ing shows, not just metaphor­i­cally…

There’s a need for more vis­ually bright con­tent! For some rea­son you do not have bright shows on OTT, at all. Mass In­dian con­tent is all bright and colour­ful, but we don’t have con­tent that vis­ually, pro­duc­tion­wise, re­sem­bles a DDLJ, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, (on OTT). Ev­ery­thing is dark, sepia toned, night-shot…

Ab­so­lutely, but why?

The rea­son is – film guys are ex­per­i­ment­ing with things on dig­i­tal, be­cause they can’t in films.

The mo­ment you get film mak­ers onto OTT, they will want to scale it up, give a ‘cer­tain’ feel to it. Sim­ple sto­ries with very few char­ac­ters, of the kind that are be­ing shown in movies to­day (say, a Shubh Man­gal Saavd­han) are, in­ter­est­ingly, not be­ing made for OTT.

But tra­di­tional In­dian au­di­ences do not like watch­ing dark-look­ing con­tent, even if it is funny (not dark con­cep­tu­ally). If it’s not vis­ually rich, you are im­me­di­ately re­duc­ing the mass po­ten­tial of con­tent. But will a Zoya Akhtar, or an Anurag Kashyap make a Per­ma­nent Room­mates? No, it’ll be too sim­ple for them.

If OTT gets more vis­ually bright and light stuff, then one can still ex­pect ‘the In­dian fam­ily’ to watch it in­stead of TV at 8:00 pm. Hot­star tried Sarab­hai, but that’s still a fran­chise. Where are the orig­i­nal shows that use lights at the pro­duc­tion level? Maybe that’ll hap­pen if a Raju Hi­rani or a Ro­hit Shetty made in­ter­net con­tent…

So what’s the big­gest con­cern here?

Af­ter a point, peo­ple will get tired of same­ness. OTT right now doesn’t have this prob­lem be­cause ev­ery­thing is new. But af­ter a point, a dark gang­ster show – which for some rea­son ev­ery­body is do­ing – will not cut it. In­ter­net con­tent needs a larger va­ri­ety of gen­res. Now there is hor­ror and gang­ster type con­tent. We need ro­mance, com­edy (fic­tion; the ex­ist­ing lot is non-fic­tion like Comic­staan). Genre ex­plo­ration on OTT is seems skewed to the tastes of the peo­ple mak­ing the shows, rather than to the tastes of the au­di­ence.

The prob­lem with this kind of edgy con­tent is, it can be mis­un­der­stood as mean­ing - ‘Peo­ple want to see bizarre stuff’. But In­dia is not a very bizarre mar­ket; peo­ple just want to be en­ter­tained. When­ever you try to do stuff that is way off, it’s not palat­able for the medium or the TG. So the tricky part is – the mar­riage be­tween be­ing dif­fer­ent and yet rel­e­vant.

What are the chal­lenges in test­ing OTT con­tent?

The way films have a clear ‘first day open­ing’ bench­mark of suc­cess (in the first day, a film has to open to Rs 50 lakh – that’s the crit­i­cal mass of peo­ple that then go out and talk about it), OTT doesn’t have any de­fined rules yet. Like the first day for TV, can it be the first month for OTT? Maybe. Plat­forms don’t share num­bers, so in the ab­sence of any other data, the main kind of test­ing

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