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NEW DELHI: After product placements in films and TV shows, branded content has made its way to video streaming platforms. The growing trend of branded storytelling incorporates products and brands within narratives of shows in genres ranging from food and fitness to travel, by and large on homegrown streaming platforms.

Earlier this year, Disney+Hotstar premiered Spirit of Scotland hosted by actor Kunal Kapoor created by media agency Wavemaker for liquor firm Pernod Ricard that explores the country and its history of scotch.

Although Amazon Prime Video, too had partnered with packaged snacking brand Too Yumm! for its sports drama thriller Inside Edge 2, it was more of brand placement in the narrative.

ZEE5 has collaborated with brands like Dabur, Colgate and Pedigree while food and beverage maker PepsiCo came up with a celebrity cooking show called Kitchen, Khanna & Konversations! with celebrity chef Vikas Khanna for Quaker Oats on Hotstar. VOOT has a show called Cheat Week in partnership with the Singapore Tourism Board.

Brands say the collaboration with OTTs makes sense because of their penetration which increased during the lockdown, especially at a time when cord-cutting is becoming increasingly common. (Cord-cutting refers to the act of viewers cancelling their payTV subscriptions to cable or DTH platforms in favour of content available on the Internet.)

On their part, streaming platforms say branded content helps them create a smooth bridge between advertisers and viewers. “Branded storytelling makes for immersive communication without the interruption of ads. Especially with the non-fiction genre, there is great value for interesting stories," said Gourav Rakshit, chief operating officer, Viacom18 Digital Ventures.

Branded content helps viewers and advertisers meet in a frictionless environment, added Rajeev Dhal, chief revenue officer at ZEE5 India.

“The truth is people are always looking for ways to skip advertisements but this blurs the line between content and communication," he said. For larger brands, awareness is not a challenge, engagement is and the ones with some purpose are looking at branded storytelling story right now, Dhal added.

In June, ZEE5 collaborated with Dabur Honey to launch a chat show titled Dabur Honey Hello Fitness where TV actor Karan Wahi got celebrities to share fitness tips.

To be sure, brand integrations have been carried out for years in TV and cinema, Dhal pointed out with methods as simple as product placement or having a hoarding behind a character in a scene.

In its crime thriller Abhay, ZEE5 has also had the lead alight evidently from a Mahindra vehicle several times. Arrangements between brands and OTT platforms can now vary with brands either taking full control and funding the entire show or production cost, upwards of Rs. 50 lakh, or the production cost being taken care of by the brand and the platform co-investing by delivering additional media inventories.

A PepsiCo India spokesperson said the OTT industry has seen a massive boom over the last few years which may be attributed to how data has become the most important currency today. Whether it is content streaming, remote working, e-learning or e-shopping, everyone is relying on data to stay connected.

“Coupled with the increasing mobile penetration in India, OTT platforms have become the one-stop-shop for fulfilling all entertainment needs with convenience. Accordingly, the partnership between brands and OTT platforms has now evolved to encompass more engaging formats such as content integration and branded content," the person said, adding that the first two seasons of Kitchen, Khanna & Konversations together clocked in more than 100 million views on the streaming platform.

In line with its digital-first communication approach, PepsiCo India has also launched Do It Yourself (DIY) Brekkies, a special 60-90 second video series on YouTube which offers viewers a variety of healthy breakfast recipes.

Rapid digital adoption is post-covid-19 reality. According to a report by media consulting firm Ormax, 12.21 million Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) viewers watched original content on streaming for the first time during the lockdown. However, on-demand, paid viewing necessitates greater caution by both platforms and brands.

“There is a fine line between being engaging and in-your-face or non-believable content that goes into the realm of advertising," Rakshit said.

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