Lockdown Myths: Will Entertainment Habits Change Permanently?

22 May,2020


By Shailesh Kapoor


The last two months have seen fundamental shifts in entertainment consumption trends worldwide, including India. The Lockdown has created more demand in terms of viewing minutes, and the absence of original entertainment content on television has led to large-scale disruption. Audience mood and priorities are also different, leading to significant alterations in the genre profile of the content being consumed, e.g. news showing 200% growth in consumption. OTT has found new takers, and some films planned for theatrical release are beginning to release via the OTT route.

These shifts in consumptions have triggered off notions that entertainment consumption in India may have fundamentally changed forever. This is nothing more than a recency bias, whereby too much importance is attached to what’s happened in the immediate past.

The truth is: Habits formed over years, even decades, don’t break in three months. As we open up and life begins to limp back to normalcy, despite a Covid threat looming large, old habits, needs and tastes will return.

Here are four ‘myths’ about the future of entertainment consumption in India, that one should be highly sceptical about believing:


1. Mythology is the next big thing on TV

Mythological content has managed to generate talk value because of the roaring success of Ramayan and Mahabharat on Doordarshan during the lockdown period. But mythology has been big on GECs for many years now. It is a genre with the best success rate, with more than 60% shows being hits (vis-à-vis an industry average of less than 20%). The issue with mythology is that there are only so many relevant stories and characters around which such content can be created. Shows over the last decade have covered this entire gamut. In fact, there have been two, even three, shows on some of them.

Mythology is highly suited for family viewing, and hence, will be highly relevant for years to come. But the search for new ideas is getting progressively difficult. The success of Ramayan and other reruns tells us that the genre has holding power. It’s for content creators to find interesting story opportunities. But to say that mythology is now “in” is fallacious, because mythology was never “out” in the first place. Much like family viewing, which is, bizarrely, being described as a “new trend” on television!


2. Newspaper readers will shift to digital news

Print readership has not been on the ascendancy. But over the last few years of digital penetration going up, the good old newspaper has managed to hold on to its constituency. During the Lockdown, disruption of printing and delivery in the supply chain has led to a temporary break in the habit. But it’s not a happy break for readers who love the feel (and the smell) of newsprint in their hands every morning. This lot is older-skewed, and the habit has been formed over several years. You can expect them to value their newspaper even more now than before.

The larger threat to the print category is the aging of its core reader base. But that’s a long-running concern and a few weeks of lockdown would have done very little to worsen it.


3. Nostalgia will be a big trend in the years ahead

While the above two predicted “trends” can still be debated, I find the one about nostalgia particularly silly. This talk has been fuelled by Doordarshan’s move to bring back its old shows, and even launch a full-fledged channel called DD Retro. Prime Video’s recent show Panchayat was appreciated for its leisurely view at rural life, and was compared to the old style of storytelling we saw on Doordarshan in the late 80s.

But to believe that this will continue to an idea to cherish once we are back to the routines of our lives is outlandish. Pace of life is fundamentally altered right now. Over the last few years, audiences complain about they have progressively lesser time available at hand with each passing year. The Lockdown breaks that pattern, and with the slowing down has come the opportunity to savor the past. But it will take just one day (yes, just a day) of return to the regular life for this mode to switch off. Anything else you hear on this is just wishful.


4. Audience would rather watch films on OTT than visit theatres

This idea is being propagated over the last two weeks, once the announcement that films like Gulabo Sitabo and Shakuntala Devi will skip their theatrical run and release directly on OTT (both on Prime Video). Unprecedented times may call for unprecedented measures, but once better times come, cinema will make a solid comeback. The need to visit theatres is less of a content consumption need and more of a social need. Many film fans, who look at theatres as only a way to watch cinema, miss this point. Much like shopping and eating out, going to the movies serves a purpose that cannot be replicated at home.

Going to the movies may evolve. What kind of movies people go to may change. But six months of theatre closure won’t kill the habit to consume a medium that provides a unique, larger-than-life experience.


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