Smaller producers eye safer bets amid OTT cost-cutting

OTT platforms are going through a period of cost-rationalization amid impending consolidations and global factors affecting profitability. (Stock Image)
OTT platforms are going through a period of cost-rationalization amid impending consolidations and global factors affecting profitability. (Stock Image)


  • Video streaming platforms are reducing investments on premium shows and opting for safer choices with proven track records amid a period of cost-rationalization.

NEW DELHI : Smaller over-the-top content (OTT) creators are grappling with challenges due to cost-cutting measures across India’s OTT ecosystem, amid impending consolidations among streaming giants, besides global factors affecting profitability.

Streaming platforms, which were expected to help non-mainstream producers thrive following the democratization of the medium, are reducing investments on premium shows, and opting for safer choices with proven track records.

Amid the ongoing Zee-Sony merger and uncertainties surrounding the sale of Disney’s assets in India, the focus on content commissioning has slowed. Only Netflix and Amazon Prime Video continue to be aggressive in acquiring new titles. 

“Once any market constricts, a lot of people are stuck holding projects, especially given that it takes a minimum of two years to conceive and finally sell a title. There has been a massive dip in the bullishness that was present in the sector two years ago. A lot of independent cinema, too, has nowhere to go and many, who might not be marquee producers, are seeing projects stalled, or not being sold," said Siddharth Anand Kumar, senior vice- president, films and events at Saregama India Ltd, which owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films.

Amid this phase of impending mergers and possible consolidation within the industry, there is a freeze on a lot of decision making, Kumar added.

To put it simply, it’s not an opportune time for independent or new creators. “Because investments have reduced, all platforms are looking to talk to people, who are bankable and can create instant impact, as they are comfortable in working with organised structures with credibility," a senior producer said seeking anonymity.

A considerable portion of the annual budgets has been assigned to the latest installments of well-established franchises, currently in their third or fourth seasons. Additionally, these platforms are procuring large-scale movies after their theatrical release, leaving no room for too many new titles. “There is definitely a value advantage which comes with big names," he said.

This is a period of cost rationalization for all platforms, said Saugata Mukherjee, head of content, SonyLIV. “We’ve always been fiscally prudent and done even our tentpole shows with a certain amount of caution. We’ve adopted a fairly stable way of planning ahead and it’s never wise for costs to be ridiculously high. You have to look at the reach of any content and who is going to pay for it."

It was only a matter of time before platforms realized they didn’t need so many shows, and with the fading of the initial euphoria, streaming services will now focus on discovering the right stories, he said.

To be sure, experts are quick to point out that while many small, independent producers are not being able to find buyers for projects, a few tried collaborating with bigger names. For instance, Saregama, the oldest music label in India, recently acquired a majority stake in Pocket Aces that operates popular YouTube channels such as Filter Copy and Dice, while Disney+ Hotstar tied up with multi-lingual storytelling platform Pratilipi.

Moreover, there is scope for smaller names to take advantage of the increasing need for projects in the AVoD (advertising video-on-demand) space that platforms are exploring.

“The nature and scale of AVoD is very different and it opens up opportunities for independent producers to churn out stories that may not be expensive. The challenge for creators now is to come up with ideas that are not commonplace," Barin Mukherjee, co-founder and CEO at Digital Refresh Network, a content solutions company, said.

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