Home / Industry / Media /  Popular actors double fees as viewership on streaming sites surges

NEW DELHI : Surging viewership of streaming platforms during the two years of the pandemic helped double the income of actors playing big roles in web shows and take up the wage bills to 50% of production costs at streaming services from less than 10% pre-pandemic, industry experts said.

While the total cost of producing originals has risen over the same period, actors have been the biggest gainers—foreign streaming firms such as Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar are happy to shell out big bucks to engaged faces now popular on web shows.

Some of the biggest names headlining web series can make up to 10-15 crore per season even though there is no box office barometer to gauge their success. The next rung of web stars make 5-8 crore.

The quality of content and the freedom of format has led to film actors prioritizing streaming projects, said Vidyuth Bandhary, studio head at Dice Media, known for shows like Little Things.

“Many actors have today achieved immeasurable success on OTT platforms. The fee dynamics of the OTT sector and film industry are very similar in the sense that after a successful project, if there is a demand for the actor or technician then the fees increased multi-fold," said Bandhary.

Popular actors like Radhika Apte, Pankaj Tripathi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Pratik Gandhi are in constant demand at streaming shows and difficult to get now, said Akshay Bardapurkar, founder of OTT platform Planet Marathi. Some streaming services commission projects basis their availability, he said.

Anushka Shah, founder, Civic Studios, a production house said there is an abundance of projects in the market which means the demand for actors as well as technical crew has gone up. The increase is not uniform and it depends on the actor's value for OTT projects, certain actors fit current content trends better and are more valued as a result.

“The main reason is that the demand for key talent resources is more than the supply and, hence, the increase in their fees. It means that quality will be at a premium. And getting the same quality from the same professionals will now cost more. So platforms will have to recalibrate their requirements on each show for sure," Gautam Talwar, chief content officer, MX Player said.

Gunjan Arya, CEO, OML Entertainment, known for shows like Comicstaan, said streaming platforms like to get first dibs on an actor or even production house that is known for something specific. Platforms make these decisions based on viewership trends and the belief that getting these people on board will help keep the audience on their platform longer or convert them into paying subscribers, she explained.

“Getting an established and popular face for a web show would cost more because the aspiration is to get maximum eyeballs that such an actor guarantees and that further helps with marketing and promotions as well. Everyone is entitled to their piece of monetary benefits once a successful show gets commissioned for subsequent seasons, that may have originally been made with lower budget and would have hired lesser-known actors and technicians," said Kanupriya Iyer, head of business affairs and senior producer at Locomotive Global Media, a production house.

She said the proliferation of streaming services has also led to fee escalation.

Depending on the calibre of the star and the repertoire of work, OTTs don’t mind paying for talent, said Shruti Deora, head, partnerships at digital agency White Rivers Media. “Stars have always been the selling point for films on all mediums—big screens and OTTs," she added.

Lead actors and writers of popular series have been the biggest beneficiaries, said Ashima Avasthi, head, Zee Studios Originals. “Actors who were categorized as ‘character-actors’ have come into the limelight because OTT is not dependent on the star system. However, while it has opened doors, there is still a tendency to lean on the talent whose digital work has done well and that is where it gets into a trap," said Avasthi.

If the same set of actors, writers and technicians are used repeatedly, they will certainly take advantage of the fact. “And that’s when you see a certain set of talent have doubled or even tripled their fees in just a span of two to three years," Avasthi said. Content producers need to be cautious of not narrowing down their choice and playing it safe. “It will not just make the projects unviable because of extremely high fees but soon, the audience may start rejecting them because of lack of newness," she pointed out.

Sharan Saikumar, co-founder and creative director at content studio Arré said it is an unsustainable model given the sheer number of years involved in the making of series like these. “However other kind of stories are being created on a tighter budget. Character driven-stories, controlled locations are the way to tell these. We are already seeing a shift in this kind of content on AVoD and that is clearly a strategy going forward," Saikumar said.

Video production and streaming companies need to be very cautious and selective while commissioning projects, agreed Ashu Behl, senior vice-president, content, Pocket FM, audio streaming app, who foresees more synergies between audio streaming platforms and video OTTs. "Based on our late-stage discussions with some production houses, we have

understood that such collaborations help them launch their projects faster and with an existing fanbase," Behl said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lata Jha

Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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