OTT content production hits roadblock due to shooting ban

Experts mull the best way forward for the OTT industry in terms of content strategy if productions impediments continue due to the Covid pandemic

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: May 19, 2021 8:41 AM  | 7 min read

With original content production coming to a grinding halt, over the top (OTT) platforms are having a tough time serving fresh content to their users. For now, the OTT platforms have managed to release new shows thanks to the availability of fresh content in their bank. Another set of shows that are in the editing stage will soon join the existing content line-up.

However, the OTT platforms will have to struggle for original content if the shooting ban and the lockdown stretch longer. To circumvent the impact of the shooting ban, the OTT platforms will have to rely a lot on acquired content. Fresh international content will become very important for platforms to keep their users engaged. High-impact properties like direct-to-digital movie premieres will also help in gaining new customers while retaining the existing ones.

Kurate Digital Consulting senior partner Uday Sodhi said that the OTT platforms will be scrambling for content sooner or later. "Even if they have something in the pipeline, even if it opens up, the pipeline will again get choked. For two months there were no shoots. That will certainly have an impact whether it happens immediately or after two months there will be a significant impact on production and on output," he stated.

OTT platforms, he said, are going to look at international releases to supplement their content line-up. "Any ready content will be acquired by the OTT platforms. We will see a lot of adaptation content or dubbing or subtitling of content and some international releases coming at this point in time."

He also noted that different platforms will get impacted differently. "Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, and Netflix have a very good flow of international content coming in especially the international ones. So their pipeline will not get impacted. If TV content dries then broadcaster-owned OTT platforms will have a problem."

According to Sodhi, OTT platforms will have to reallocate some of the original content budgets to tide through the content crunch. "During this period, OTT should go after big-budget films, South Indian films, Indian languages films, and do mega launches. Money that you were putting in shows will need to be redeployed and figure out how to retain subscribers."

A senior executive from a leading OTT platform said that they had a backup plan ready as they were anticipating lockdown to be enforced in light of the growing infection rates. "We did a lot of planning during the open period that we got recently. The pipeline was pretty humongous. Shooting ban will have an impact if it lasts for a longer period of time. Right now, people have managed but the quality has come down if you look at recent show launches. OTT platforms had to compromise on the quality of content due to the lockdown. There was no movement whatsoever and people were cautious even while it was open plus they were trying to finish off their old projects," the executive said.

The source mentioned that the OTT platforms had identified a lot of safe locations inside as well as outside India. "A lot of content was being shot in Goa. A lot of content was getting shot even outside of India particularly in the neighbouring countries."

The OTT industry is in a wait-and-watch mode because the second wave had wreaked havoc by impacting far more people than the first wave. "It's an industry-level problem and it can be managed if everyone is safe and sound. The hedging of risk has been by way of expanding into other territories and acquiring more content from outside. If the second wave lasts another three to six months then we will be in trouble. Whatever content we have in the bank is getting released. If Covid-19 could breach the IPL bio-bubble then where is the guarantee to protect the shoots?"

The head of the India arm of a global content studio said that OTT content shoots are few and far between. The production houses are looking at various solutions like bio-bubbles and coming up with scripts that suit shooting in a controlled environment. OTT platforms will have to remain content with fewer original shows in the next year.

"Very few shoots are happening right now. People are talking about bio-bubbles and all that. It is possible but it is easier said than done. It can be done with daily soaps because it's a limited universe that you play in. With OTT, that becomes tough because you need a lot of real locations. Everyone is trying to write stories that fit into this controlled environment shoot culture, but it's not easy. In the end, when everyone wants to have the attention span and binge-watching must happen from an audience perspective it's not that easy to do," the executive said.

He further stated that the OTT platforms will get delivery of some shows that were greenlighted earlier. However, the production houses are worried that the content pipeline will face delays due to an imminent third Covid19 wave.

"Some of the older content that was produced is now getting delivered but at the end if there is a third wave and whenever that happens we are potentially looking at another lockdown. It's a bleak outlook because at the end of the day we all understand that the shoot has to stop for the safety of our teams. We are planning bio-bubbles and all of those things for the next few months. A lot of vaccination needs to happen and all the producers are ready to pay for their teams. The problem is the availability of the vaccine," the executive noted.

Queried as to how OTT platforms will manage the content crunch, the executive said that some content will get delivered while the reliance on acquired content will increase. "Some of the shows are in the editing stage. Some of the shows have very little shoot left so it will get completed as soon as things open up. There is a lot of ready content available. A lot of films that were made are being showcased in episodic format."

Saregama India Vice President Films & Events Siddharth Anand Kumar noted that the company's content production division Yoodlee Films has got orders for two web shows and three feature films. However, executing and delivering these projects is proving to be a humongous task due to the second wave. He also said that the price of ready content will go up.

"Last time, the pandemic was not as strong so these things came into play because in our estimation the pandemic was not as strong. We were able to start shooting very quickly. Last year, we shot four movies, and unfortunately, these Covid-19 protocols come and hit the budget for an additional 10%. This affected margins. We now have two series and three feature film orders so we were able to do very well but now it comes to execution this year which is looking hard," he noted.

"The second covid-19 wave is looking very different from the last one since it is affecting younger people, it is a lot more virulent and there has been a vast demand-supply gap in the market. So this year I am more worried about the impact it will have on productivity and our ability to deliver. The flip side of this is that we might see the prices of ready content go up and I have 2-3 ready movies, which we finished over the last year. We might be able to get better deals on those but those are marginal upsides."

Bodhi Tree Multimedia CEO Mautik Tolia said that web series and movies have been the hardest hit compared to television shows. "Most of the shows that are moving outside Mumbai are mostly television shows since web series and movies are difficult to shoot in one location. Web series and movies will face bigger problems because it is difficult to contain them. You have multiple locations. Most of these places have curfews in place post 6 pm and if you have a night shoot what do you do? So that's a question mark. So there are a lot more constraints when it comes to web shows and movies compared to what we can do on television. Web shows are being shot but comparatively lesser in numbers because of these constraints.

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