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NEW DELHI: With the second wave of covid 19 having disrupted shooting and production of web shows, video streaming services will likely to face a content crunch in the September quarter, said multiple platform owners and content creators.

There have been fewer new shows or originals being launched as there's limited content ready for showcasing. Streaming services have also acquired fewer Hindi films this year compared to last year and web producers are renegotiating prices to account for escalation in budgets. These factors combined pose a serious challenge to VoD (video-on-demand) services. With people facing financial constraints, both subscription and advertising growth could slow down this year.

April and May were a complete washout and even though shoots have been allowed to resume, producers are working under severe restrictions. “There will be a definite impact of this three to four-month halt on everyone and the pinch will only be felt by September or October because really, none of us has been able to shoot," said Gautam Talwar, chief content officer, MX Player. The platform has now restarted shooting in Punjab and Hyderabad and has plans for Uttar Pradesh.

Mumbai is to yet resume outdoor or night shoots, given the restrictions in Maharashtra. Karthik Nagarajan, chief content officer at media agency Wavemaker India, said the second wave has thrown everyone’s calendars into a tizzy and delayed projects are fighting for space with those scheduled for the third and fourth quarter.

Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India that owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films, said plans and timelines for all platforms have definitely been altered, with pipeline of new content likely to get affected. Though most services, especially foreign players, have exhaustive libraries of local and international programming, he said.

“Many of us producers are renegotiating prices to account for the escalation in budgets, due to safety and hygiene protocols," said Kumar whose company will begin shooting an OTT film and a web show soon. He added that the other big change on OTT, slowing down of new launches this year, has come from the limited acquisition of Hindi films, many of which did not get good ratings from audiences and critics last year.

Karan Taurani, research analyst at Elara Capital Ltd, said platforms have realised it makes more sense to pay 50% less to acquire films that have already gone to theatres than splurge on direct-to-digital releases.

“There has been a reversal in OTT viewership (as things have normalised) globally but in India, where the growth is coming from smartphone and Internet penetration, the impact will be lower," Taurani said, adding that consumption may only grow around 10% this year compared with the 20-30% rise in 2020.

With more services adding to competition, Vibhu Agarwal, CEO and founder, Ullu, said users may increasingly look at switching between services to maximise value and experience, as a result of which monthly subscription packages will come into focus. Ullu has restarted shoots in Kashmir, Khajuraho, Bhopal and Lucknow, finished two in Gujarat and has plans for Kolkata and Maharashtra.

A Netflix spokesperson said the platform plans its slate far out in advance and will release original Indian stories across different formats and genres every month, apart from which members will have access to a line-up of licensed films as well as stories from around the world such as the new season of Spanish series Money Heist.

Amazon Prime Video and Disney+Hotstar did not respond to Mint's queries.

ALTBalaji, meanwhile, has managed to complete a bunch of delayed shoots indoors following stringent protocol and safety measures, to create over 20 shows in the middle of the pandemic, said Divya Dixit, senior vice-president, revenue and marketing for the service.

Sanjeev Lamba, executive producer, Hungama Originals, Hungama Digital Media said the year 2020 saw a lot of people, including those in their 60s and 70s, getting introduced to OTT content, leading to a bump in numbers that will settle down but the growth will remain robust. “The unpredictability (of shoots with respect to state-wise restrictions) is certainly a challenge but we’re confident of coming back on track," said Lamba whose company is looking at shoots in Bhopal, Hyderabad and Chennai, having finished portions of a show in Himachal Pradesh which needs to now shoot at night in Mumbai.

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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