Shailesh Kapoor: Online Fiction Content: The Promise, The Challenges

17 Jul,2015

By Shailesh Kapoor


There’s been incessant talk over the last few years about non-linear and on-demand television replacing linear television viewing. By now, there’s enough evidence from across the world to suggest that linear television is not going to become irrelevant anytime soon, at least note for the next decade, even two. It still accounts for more than 85 percent of television content viewing in the developed markets. In India, it’s the only way to watch television for more than 99 percent viewers.


However, percentages may not always tell their story. In 2013, Netflix premiered House Of Cards as its first original series. The conventional, linear television broadcast industry had to sit up and take notice. The Netflix Originals model is scaleable, and has since proven to find its diehard fans.


In India, we got the first real taste of an equivalent, at a much smaller scale though, when The Viral Fever (TVF) launched their fiction series Permanent Roommates late 2014. The five episodes, available on YouTube and TVF’s own platform, clocked more than a million views each. Of course, that the content is free fuelled this reach. But the numbers are remarkable nonetheless.


Encouraged by the success of Permanent Roommates, TVF launched Pitchers earlier this season, a quirky take on the corporate world and start-ups. Both the shows offer content that’s conspicuously absent on mainstream, linear television, which caters to the lowest common denominator of audiences. The characters you see in these two shows demand your attention. It’s not content for everyone’s palate, but it doesn’t aspire to be that either, which is why it can work in a world of its own. We are a big country and niches are available, contrary to what our mass television may sometimes make us believe.


But it’s not been a smooth ride for TVF Originals either. The third episode of Pitchers has been delayed “due to production hassles out of our hands.” I’m not too sure what to make of the “out of our hands” part in this update on the TVF website. The moment you play the game of providing original content, you need to live upto a schedule. One episode a fortnight is not a good idea as it is, but one episode a month is a mini-disaster.


The TVF Originals journey should help other aspirants of original online content learn a thing or two. On the positive side, you can make engaging and finite fiction series in reasonable budgets and not look tacky.


But on the side of caution, you need to be consumer-oriented, like any other good offline business. There’s no harm in aspiring to break the rules of mainstream television production in India – endless episodes being shot the evening before telecast, and at times being uplinked almost in real time for broadcast. Those are problems of linear television. You have an FPC and you have to deliver to it all the time. But the absence of one in non-linear television does not absolve you of your commitment to viewers and their viewing habits.


We want to see more content from TVF. We also want to see other content providers like TVF entering this space. Stand-up comedy, sketch comedy and spoofs are hugely popular, but real growth in any medium comes from fiction content, where storytelling is the hero.


The online medium in India needs more stories of it own. But before that happens, there’s the small issue of the missing Pitchers Episode 3 to be taken care of.

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