‘OTT platforms a boon for women-centric content’

From YouTube to Netflix to Amazon Prime, Alt Balaji, ZEE5 and regional OTT platforms like Hoichoi, all have been focusing on content led by a woman cast

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Published: Mar 8, 2019 9:11 AM  | 6 min read

It has been a rather good year for women-oriented Videos on Demand on OTT platforms and most have been able to break gender stereotypes. 
The platform in the last one year has produced and promoted more women-centric content than what mainstream cinema has done in the last five years.

Starting from YouTube to Netflix to Amazon Prime, Alt Balaji, ZEE5 and even regional OTT platforms like Hoichoi, all have been concentrating on a content line-up that is led by a woman cast. Shows like ‘Karenjit Kaur’, ‘Lust Stories’, ‘Four More Shots Please’ and many others have seen record viewership in the last one year.

According to OTT players, this kind of content is purely demand driven. “Our audience is seeking good engaging content - stories that have strong women characters as lead protagonists. In the recent past, strong women-centric roles in films have tasted success in the entertainment industry - critically as also commercially. We have a rich repertoire of originals like ‘Karenjit Kaur’, ‘Kaali’, ‘Date With Saie’, ‘Cabaret’, ‘Saari Raat’, among others with female protagonists which have done exceptionally well in grabbing audience attention across languages,” said Manish Aggarwal, Business Head, ZEE5 India.

Interestingly, it is not just the women who prefer watching shows where the lady is the hero of the story. “70 per cent of users are men and 30 per cent women, and for our hit original series ‘Hello’ where two women played the lead roles, 85 per cent of our entire subscriber list were tuned in to watch it. This clearly shows that the audience has also come of age and enjoy women-led shows,” said Vishnu Mohta Co-founder of Hoichoi.

A new show called ‘Aste Ladies’ is being launched on the platform to celebrate the spirit of Woman’s Day.

The medium sure has an upper hand compared to mainstream cinema. In 2017, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ and in 2018 ‘Padmaavat’ went through much trouble before being released.

According to a research paper by IBM Research, India, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Delhi and Delhi Technological University (DTU) that analysed 4,000 Bollywood films, the women in Bollywood are always associated with a successful man and are not portrayed as independent while males are portrayed to be successful. 

The report says: “The males in Bollywood are generally introduced with a profession like as a famous singer, an honest police officer, a successful scientist and so on while females are either introduced using physical appearance like beautiful, simple looking or in relation to another (male) character (daughter, sister of).”

OTT, however, is completely free of such bias. When it comes to OTT platforms, the paradigm shift in the kind of content is not just about having a cast that is lead by women. Content driven by women in leading roles are also no more about family drama or the usual saas-bahu repertoire.

“Thank God the platform has no censorship. It allows the story-teller to exercise his creative freedom,” said Sayani Gupta, one of the protagonists of Amazon Prime’s recent original show ‘Four More Shots Please’. 

“For OTT, everyone from actors to storytellers is streamlined. One gets to use the medium to create content and introduce a kind of narrative that Indian television and cinema hasn’t seen before. While Bollywood actresses are definitely doing films that have them in the lead, it is still a niche segment in the film industry. Plus the added pressure of box office collections often makes the director play safe and go by what the traditions have been over the ages. OTT is free of any such biases and both the story-teller and the actor get to explore as much as they want to and the script requires them to,” Gupta added.

The whole idea of creative independence is also keeping the actors happy. According to Mithila Palkar, who is a popular face on OTT platforms and is seen on shows like ‘Girl in the City’ and ‘Little Things’, OTT is an inclusive medium. “The beauty of the platform is the freedom and transparency it offers. Often all of us sit with the director and thrash out how a particular character would shape up. This is the best time for the industry as the opportunities are also growing and the audience is also maturing to see stories where women are the heroes,” she said.

Encouraged by the success of shows like this, most OTT platforms have a content line in sync with the trend. “We strongly believe that viewers are looking for fresh, edgy and relatable content. We also have a line-up of Originals across languages for the next year with female leads. This Women’s Day, we are sharing the story of India’s first stuntwoman – Reshma Pathan in a biopic titled ‘The Sholay Girl’. On the same day, we are launching ‘Mrs. Subbalakshmi’ in Telugu with Lakshmi Manchu in the lead and ‘Lovely Mrs. Mookherjee’,” said Aggarwal.

Voot had a great run with their woman-centric show 'It’s Not That Simple' that portrayed the various shades of a powerful woman, essayed by Swara Bhaskar.

Monika Shergill –  Head-Content, Viacom18 Digital Ventures (Voot) said, “Our new Voot Original took the current gender conflict head on with a powerful female character and four alpha males each with their ambitions, truths and choices. No one is entirely right or fully wrong and the answers are as complex in a gender debate as the questions. Voot has always told nuanced, thought-provoking stories and 'It’s Not That Simple' will force you to have a point of view.”

According to film trade analysts, the whole trend of having women in the lead is a win-win situation for both the audience and the OTT players. “We all know that the audiences have multiple avenues of watching content these days. With umpteen OTT platforms now the trend has started to have customised content for a specific TG or for a specific occasion. So this Women’s Day, it’s a double bonanza for OTT platforms and viewers as well. New series, originals are being marketed and launched targeting females and eyeing their pie of revenue share as audiences. This also provides brand marketers to have specific targeting of their products,” said film trade analyst Girish Johar.

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