Home / Industry / Media /  Streaming services turn to non-fiction shows for wider reach

NEW DELHI : With the success of Bigg Boss and Shark Tank on Voot and SonyLiv, respectively, a growing number of streaming services are tapping the non-fiction genre to widen their audience base. They are drawing viewers through original non-fiction shows as well as by onboarding reality shows appearing on TV channels on to digital platforms. 

Sony’s Shark Tank India and Viacom18’s Bigg Boss notched impressive viewership online, aided by exhaustive marketing campaigns.

ALTBalaji and MX Player have, more recently, come up with Kangana Ranaut’s Lock Upp that’s garnering significant viewership. Viacom18 itself has a new comedy game show The Khatra Khatra Show that will premiere on its OTT platform Voot ahead of television. Netflix, which created a special Kapil Sharma show, is betting on reality to launch a dating show IRL: In Real Love, this year. 

Media industry experts said non-fiction could see newer formats on streaming platforms and marquee properties could draw audiences sitting on the fence to subscribe to these services. 

“With the rise of streaming services, audiences today have the opportunity to enjoy undeniably authentic and diverse stories across formats from around the world. Our non-fiction content offers an opportunity for viewers to experience and examine new cultures and ideas," a Netflix spokesperson said, and added that in India, the service is innovating with formats across comedy, reality and documentaries. 

About 76% of the platform’s Indian subscribers watched a documentary title between the September quarter of 2020 and the June quarter of 2021 and they also watched over 50% more Netflix original documentary content on average over the same period in 2018. Reality show Indian Matchmaking has featured on the top 10 list of countries such as the US, India and the UAE. 

Netflix has lined up Indian Predator, a documentary series on Indian serial killers, and the second season of Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives this year. 

Earlier in March, Sony Pictures Television said it is looking to introduce some international show formats, building on the success of Shark Tank India. 

Agreeing that there is huge scope for non-fiction on OTT, Karan Bedi, chief executive officer, MX Media, said, “In general, most innovation in content is happening on OTT as more audiences move there". OTT services now have a potential market of 650 million, thanks to 4G smartphones, he said.

For reality shows as a genre, OTT provides an opportunity to create several interactive features where audiences can feel they are part of the show in terms of being able to influence outcomes as well as having access to many more content formats like live streams, Bedi said.

After the success of Lock Upp, MX Player will launch more non-fiction shows. The Kangana Ranaut show Lock Upp had managed 15 million views within 48 hours of release, according to MX Player and ALTBalaji. According to a report by media consulting firm Ormax, the SonyLiv app has a separate Shark Tank tab, a tell-tale sign of the show’s digital success. Besides, it has kept social media abuzz with memes, reviews and ancillary content by popular YouTubers like Tanmay Bhat and Rohan Joshi. According to an earlier Mint report, Bigg Boss OTT had recorded 1.5-2 million viewers each week with particular traction in the 15-30 age group.

In a sense, the foundation of OTT in India was built through non-fiction, when Hotstar brought the IPL (Indian Premier League) to people’s phones, said Chinmay Karandikar, group planning manager,

dentsuMB. “Reality shows in earlier years, were about academics, relationships, dancing or singing. However, the popularity of Shark Tank showed that what holds true for fiction, also holds true for non-fiction. People are more receptive and eager to explore newer themes and topics in the content they consume," he said.

Calling reality shows a cultural phenomenon, Karandikar said, “The future of reality shows will also tap into areas of life that have so far been overlooked in the mainstream. The generation of reality hits might very well emerge from a long tail that covers previously unthinkable concepts and ideas."

New formats include dating shows, stand-up comedy specials besides documentaries. Balkrishna Hari Singh, founder and CEO, Frenzi – a single-window search and recommendation app for streaming content, said edgy, uncensored or peripheral content will find appeal on OTT such as dating shows.

Reality shows are very high on production cost which means OTT platforms should either get rates that help them recover the cost or the show should bring in that many new users like cricket does, said Shekhar Banerjee, chief client officer and office head – West, Wavemaker India. “So, in the near future, big format shows are likely to get simulcasted on TV and OTT with some added features and exclusivity for digital audiences."


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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