OTT: Streaming Now: Southern Content In The Sun Moment
Photos by Soorarai Pottru, with Suriya and Aparna BalamuraliAAround Diwali 2020, one of the busiest times for the Indian entertainment industry, Google search results revealed that there were more queries for Tamil star Suriya’s Prime Video release. Soorarai Pottru (research interest of 100) than the planned releases of Rajkumar Rao-starrer’s Bollywood film Chhalaang on the same platform (research interest of 17) and Anurag Basu Ludo on Netflix (50 search interest).
When the Covid-19 pandemic put the shared cinema experience on hold, online streaming stepped in, saving people from boredom, and creators and producers of content from bankruptcy. Although original content – movies and shows – has been on the OTT lists for some time now, the pandemic has increased viewers’ appetites for varied content. Southern films, in particular, experience a sort of moment in the sun.
OTTs also realized that while original content was a key factor in attracting new subscribers, regional content was going to be a key factor in driving subscriber growth and keeping them engaged even beyond the pandemic.
Prime Video’s numbers are a clear indication that the local is going global. In the last 15 months since the launch of their direct service offerings last year, films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada have seen viewers in more than 4,000 towns and villages, giving these releases a base of. pan-Indian viewing. In addition, according to their internal figures, globally these films are watched in around 170 countries, with international viewers accounting for 15-20% of the total audience for these films in the local language.
âThe pandemic has accelerated and amplified the continuing evolution of consumer behavior, blurring the lines between local and global content. So today you will find people from Punjab celebrating Malayalam movie like Joji; or audiences around the world celebrating Soorarai Pottru at the Melbourne Indian Film Festival or the Shanghai International Film Festival, âsaid an Amazon Prime Video spokesperson.
Dileesh Pothan Joji’s Malayalam film
In a conversation with Forbes India Earlier in 2021, Vijay Subramaniam, former director and head of content at Prime Video, also said their direct-to-service regional films received 50% of their views from outside the home state in 2020.
And Amazon Prime Video continues to build an impressive list of films in Indian regional languages. Their acquired titles include films such as Goodbye and Malik with Fahadh Faasil, Drishyam 2 with Mohanlal in Malayalam, Sarpatta Parambarai which is headed by Pa Ranjith, Soorarai Pottru with Suriya in the lead role in Tamil, V directed by Nani in Telugu and Keerthy Suresh penguin in Tamil and Telugu. It took them a while, but rectifying the decision to acquire Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen after it became a cult hit on the Malayalam OTT Neestream platform turned out to be a good thing, too. Prime Video also features the Putham Pudhu Kaalai movie anthology and reality shows such as Comicstaan ââSemma Comedy Pa and LOL: Enga Siri Paapom.
It’s the same story with other OTT players. Deep-pocketed giants like Netflix, Disney + Hotstar, and SonyLiv are also entering and discovering the Southern landscape.
Netflix has currently acquired titles such as Super Deluxe with Vijay Sethupathi, Samantha Ruth Prabhu and Fahadh Faasil, and Oh! Baby with Samantha. In addition, there are Netflix originals such as Jagame Thandhiram with Dhanush and film anthologies such as Navarasa, Paava Kadhaigal, and Pitta Kathalu. Disney + Hotstar’s library currently includes acquired films such as Vada Chennai, Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, Premam, and Aaranya Kaandam. They also released two original Tamil web series – November Story with Tamannah in the lead role and Live Telecast with Kajal Aggarwal – almost four years after the release of their first Tamil web series As I’m Suffering From. Kadhal by director Balaji Mohan.
Stills from Navarasa, a Netflix anthology in Tamil
Image: Jaikumar Vairavan / Netflix
âThe Top 10 line on Netflix is ââa good indicator of what people in India and around the world enjoy,â said Pratiksha Rao, Director, Films and Licensing, Netflix India. Their anthology of Tamil films Navarasa, led by Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan, she said, was in the Top 10 in 10 countries, including India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Likewise, in its first week only, the Dhanush-starrer Jagame Thandhiram attracted an equal share of audiences from outside India as it did inside the country.
âThe film has been subtitled and dubbed into several Indian languages ââas well as English, Spanish, French and Portuguese, allowing wider access to our members around the world. Jagame Thandhiram has been in the Top 10 in 12 countries outside of India and has been No. 1 in seven countries including India, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. In the past year, Nayattu by Martin Prakkat, Andhaghaaram by V Vignarajan, Cinema de Praveen Kandregula Bandi and Mandonne Ashwin Mandela were also in the Top 10 in India.
It’s show time
SS Rajamouli Baahubali became a pan-Indian blockbuster in 2015 thanks to the spectacle and fantasy it offered. Potboilers allowed viewers to explore more regional content in the languages ââof South India. But when it comes to web series the process is different and manufacturers as well as OTT platforms are on a learning curve with platforms starting with commissioning rather than acquiring contents.
A photo from the Telugu anthology Pitta Kathalu, streaming on Netflix
âCreating shows is a little different from movies because there is a certain process to go through. Since you have episodes, you have more writers, you have more directors, âsays Apoorva Mehta, CEO of Dharma Productions, who played a crucial role in the pan-Indian distribution of the film. Baahubali franchise. Making a movie, he says, is no different whether it’s a low-budget movie or a big-budget movie, or whether it’s destined for theatrical or OTT release.
âUltimately, history has to resonate with you. It must be a story you want to be told to you. If he ticks those boxes, all is well. But for a show, you have to learn. It’s slightly different because you have multiple directors and writers, you can have multiple editors, you have a showrunner. So you work on a few of them and you understand the process, âhe says.
This is probably why the OTT giants are considering ordering titles rather than acquiring them. âCreative talent is extremely pro (professional) in filmmaking. The series is a little different profession. That’s why, if you’ve seen most of the good content that came out of it, a lot of it is anthologies, which are put together short films. For big content, I think Hotstar recently ditched November Story. There have been other science fiction shows [genre] that worked well, âsaid Ashish Golwalkar, Content Manager for SonyLIV and Sony Entertainment Television at Sony Pictures Networks.
He adds that right now the Tamil, Telugu and even Malayalam geographies are on a learning curve and are only starting to understand the nuances. âMost of these shows are commissioned. You can’t acquire because unlike Hindi, where producers invest their money and produce it and then license to us, like Applause (Entertainment), currently there are no such producers in regional content.
He adds that once the market opens up and the demand for content increases, there will be producers who produce ready-to-eat content, âand then we can acquire. But currently we have ordered 100 percent of the content we have â.
According to him, it is only a matter of time before they master the trade. âIf we start ordering good shows, there will be a learning curve and I think we will have good days for content,â he says.
Whether it’s movies or series, the decision-makers of the major OTT platforms are increasingly betting on the diversity of cultures and languages ââto be able to win the subscriber, and eventually, the race for income, and build their lists. Consequently. According to a recent FICCI-EY report, the share of regional language consumption on OTT platforms will exceed 50% of total time spent by 2025 compared to 30% in 2019 and overtake Hindi, which will be 45%.
Prime Video has put together a list of languages, starting with the Malayalam thriller Bhramam with Prithviraj Sukumaran in the lead. Tamil family drama Udanpirappe, a story of family reunion with Jyothika and Sasikumar is also in the works.
Disney + Hotstar pipeline includes telugu crime drama Gharshana with Naveen Chandra, Sarath Kumar and Jagapathi Babu. In Tamil, the family drama directed by Sathyaraj My Perfect Husband is due out this year. While SonyLiv has commissioned Tamil Stalkers, an online hacking series to be produced by Arivazhagan Venkatachalam. Balaji Mohan from Mandela fame is also working on an untitled project for the platform.
âWe (the OTT platforms) are all just on the starting line in this digital race for content. Over the next two years, regional content creation is going to explode, âGolwalkar says, adding,â What you currently see in Hindi is only 10% of the potential content. In regional languages, this race has not even started. Viewers savor regional content. There is room for everyone, not just us, Hotstar or Netflix. We are still far from being encumbered.
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(This story appears in the October 22, 2021 issue of Forbes India. You can purchase our tablet version at Magzter.com. To visit our archives, click here.)