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NEW DELHI : As the year of digital disruption, 2020 has seen plenty of new faces take over home screens and command significant shares of both viewership and engagement time. Popular faces on the internet -- including those on web shows, YouTube and social media -- have not only upped their fee, but also expanded their area of work. This marks a shift in consumer mindset that seems to have embraced the new, relatable faces over larger-than-life film star who were missing in action most of this year both in cinema theatres and social media.

Social media influencers have tripled their pay rates, commanding anything between 3-5 lakh per Instagram post. They have also signed on new opportunities and platform: satirist and social media star Saloni Gaur, for instance, was snapped up by broadcaster Sony Pictures Networks for as show on its streaming service SonyLIV. YouTubers Dolly Singh and Prajakta Kohli were seen in web shows while comedian CarryMinati and Pratik Gandhi of Scam 1992 fame have already signed feature films.

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Experimental, niche narratives on the web, free from box office pressures offer varied opportunities to this young internet talent with substantial following. Some are getting brand endorsement deals too. Stand-up comic Zakir Khan has been hired by Mother Dairy, Mobile Premier League brought YouTube star Amit Bhadana on board, giving a further fillip to small-town entertainers.

Prashant Sharma, chief marketing officer at NOFILTR Group, a social media label that incubates young talent said growth on the digital medium has accelerated by at least two years thanks to the pandemic. “An average person was spending an hour on Instagram per day, which has gone up to three to four now, prompting them to follow more people, fast-tracking the number of people creating content and the opportunities for brands to monetize," Sharma said. With traditional advertising options like billboards making no sense in the protracted lockdown, companies tapped into the influencer base.

“There were so many content creators that nobody knew about earlier. But this year, people just had so much time on hand (during the lockdown) that the only thing they could really do was watch all this stuff. So, in that sense, the trend may have started earlier but it just got bigger than ever before in 2020," said Saloni Gaur currently helming a variety show called Uncommon Sense for SonyLIV. The definition of a star in India extended beyond Bollywood a few years ago when YouTubers like Bhuvam Bam came to the fore, she said.

There’s an evolution in mindsets too with web being considered as big as the theatrical medium today, said Rohit Saraf, lead in Netflix series Mismatched, who was also seen in comedy drama Ludo that was originally planned for theatres. “With everyone taking to the Internet, the idea is that one can do what one believes in and they will find some audience for it," Saraf said.

Tripti Dimri, lead of Netflix’s other original Bulbbul said films expect box office returns and makers therefore think twice before casting newcomers. Web content focuses on the script and talent. “Authentic, entertaining stories are brought to life by the right combination of creators, cast and writers and the rising popularity of a new generation of stars is a good indicator of our films and series breaking out around the world," Srishti Arya, director, international original film, Netflix India said.

Streaming services are willing to showcase the craft and talent of credible showrunners, actors and writers and not just of those with pedigree or body of work. Digital medium has helped content creators explore diverse formats and genres and delve deep into character building, added Ashish Golwalkar, head-content SET and digital business.

Referring to brands offering bigger roles to digital stars, Karthik Nagarajan, chief content officer at media agency Wavemaker India said brands are simply making data-driven decisions based on consumer truths, going where creators and eyeballs are.

Varun Saxena, founder, Bolo Indya added that brands have started to trust and turn to short video digital stars, especially categories such as consumer durables, consumer goods, lifestyle, fashion, electronics and jewellery brands. “Influencers have definitely used up a lot of brand collaborations that could have gone to mainline celebrities who unfortunately had no buzz around them. So instead of pooling in to get one person on board, several brands spread their investments over multiple people," Sharma pointed out.

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