OTT content marketplace has not matured at all: R Balki

Filmmaker & screenwriter Balki, who was the Jury Chair for e4m Play 2021 Metal Announcements, had a conversation with Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, e4m & BW Businessworld

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: May 18, 2021 11:39 AM
r balki

Over the top (OTT) platforms have been spending truckloads of money on creating original digital content that appeals to new-age audiences. While the volume of original OTT content is increasing, the OTT content marketplace is yet to mature, R Balki, the leading filmmaker, screenwriter, and former group chairman of Lowe Lintas, said at the e4m Play Streaming Media Conference 2021 held on Wednesday.

Balki, who was the Jury Chair for e4m Play 2021 Metal Announcements, had a free and frank conversation with Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor in Chief, exchange4media Group & BW Businessworld.

The conversation started with Dr. Batra asking Balki if the OTT content marketplace has matured and is there a formula for creating successful content for the digital medium. "The OTT content marketplace has not matured at all. It's a long way as they have just begun and there have just been few wonderful shows which exhibit fantastic writing, some great originality which is sometimes missing from films," Balki responded.

He noted that the kind of content that works on OTT is very different from the kind of content that works for films. Elaborating further, he said that a person is able to absorb a message in a 30-second ad however the same message will not be effective enough when it is part of a film.

Speaking about the audience behaviour for different kinds of content, Balki said that the consumer attention span on digital might be short but at the same time people are watching a lot of long-form content. "In an era when we say attention span is short, we are watching longer and longer formats. Sometimes we binge for eight to nine hours and we never get tired because we are in love with certain characters."

Balki, who is best known for directing films like Cheeni Kum, Paa, and Pad Man, believes there is no specific formula for creating a successful piece of content. "It just needs to be engaging....there is no peculiar formula and I don't think we should have a formula about what kind of stuff works because everybody tends to follow the same formula. If one gangster kind of thing works or one rural underworld kind of thing works everyone starts following the same. Similarly, if one kind of progressive expression of relationship works everybody starts following that," he added.

According to him, OTT as a platform is hungry for a lot of originality. The platform, he said, is conducive for great writing. "This is a platform waiting for originality to happen, waiting for great writing to happen, and if you look across the world, some of the best writing is on the platform. Some of the greatest writers who have done a lot of work are on the platform. I feel this is the time of writers," he averred.

Queried if he has a preference for a particular screen, Balki said that the creators and writers should be comfortable with all kinds of screens as the story is at the heart of the creative business and not the screen.

"Today we are comfortable creating content for any screen. It's not the screen but the kind of story that you want to tell. So it's not as if the scale is reserved for the big screen. I don't believe in that myth because the biggest scale 'Game of Thrones' was done for OTT and not for the big screen. I don't think that is a kind of a barrier. I also don't believe that a smaller, intimate story is great for OTT and not on the screen and I also don't believe that the screen will be for event films and things like that," he explained.

Taking the argument further, Balki feels that multiple screens and content genres will have a healthy co-existence. "I think there is going to be a lot of co-existence that is going to happen. We have one more screen to create for and we are happy with that. I don't have any romantic notions about this and I am here to write the script and I don't care about which screen it's coming on," he noted.

With the second Covid-19 wave heaping untold misery across the country, Balki said that this is the time to take a pause and reflect on the larger purpose of life and human existence. "This is the time to pause, take a break, look at a larger issue of life... I think we will be able to shoot soon if we are a little patient and don't get desperate about it," Balki said candidly.

Despite shoots not happening and fresh content supply getting hit, Balki feels that there is so much to watch on OTT that if an average user starts watching all the content it will not be possible to cover all the great shows of the world in one's lifetime. "We should wait for a month or so and not rush through this," Balki said.

Towards the end of the conversation Dr. Batra asked Balki about his content preferences, he responded by saying that Netflix India's anthology film 'Ajeeb Daastaans' and American crime drama series The Sopranos are some of the shows that he liked.

"From India, I watched anthology Ajeeb Daastaans'. I particularly liked the third one with Konkona and it was done by Neeraj Ghaywan. It is one of the most beautifully done stories and one of the greatest performances I have seen. I wish it was a full film and I could watch it for two hours. Otherwise, I am on the Sopranos binge. It's a fantastic show and it's one of the greatest shows that have been made," he stated.

Queried about the work that he is currently engaged in, Balki informed that he is not working on anything right now. "I had worked on a new script. It's a thriller that I am doing which hopefully whenever it opens we will be able to shoot," he stated.

In his closing remarks, Balki said that the OTT platforms have played a key role in keeping people indoors during the pandemic. "Content is helping people to stay at home. You do have something to watch for you to stay at home. No amount of preaching by any politician or ads will do what the OTT platforms have done in keeping people indoors. That is the biggest service that OTT has done," he said.

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