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India Web Fest: Is the Niche Finally Going Mainstream?

As the digital content space democratizes, unexpected players are brewing a revolution

Jessica Xalxo Aug 29, 2019

(From left) Priyanka Sinha Jha, Amol Parashar, Sayani Gupta, Veer Rajawat Singh, Anupriya Goenka, Gauhar Khan and Naveen Kasturia talk about the democratization of acting and the scope of roles in the web space. Photo: IWMBuzz

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With old and new players both constantly emerging and taking a backseat, it’s hard to put together an immersive conclave on the business of web entertainment. But the India Web Fest (IWB) managed to do just that last week. From monetization to creation, distribution to consumption, seasoned and christened industry experts weighed in on the history, trends and evolution in the OTT (over the top) media space over the course of the day-long conference held at The Westin in Mumbai on August 21st.

Organized by web entertainment platform IWMBuzz, the forum spanned a fun mix of panels on the creative side of things with discussions on streaming and the future of content creation as well conversations about the business of it all, delving further into revenue, brand building and more. Candid conversations on influencer life, meme marketing and more interspersed the tightly packed schedule of the IWB. Here are the highlights.

Data is gut and experience as much as it is analytics

The fest opened with a welcome note by IWMBuzz co-founder and Editor-in-Chief Siddhartha Laik who, in particular, remarked on how conclaves such as IWB create an ecosystem of real time feedback on trends and viewer wants. This was followed by an insightful keynote conversation between Anuj Gandhi (Group CEO, Indiacast Media Distribution) and Sameer Nair (CEO, Applause Entertainment) on the Indian and global digital content space.

Anuj Gandhi and Sameer Nair discuss ‘The Digital Content Space: Indian vs Global.’

Nair spoke of the “curious and unique” mutation of Indian television, which underwent a different evolution when compared to shows in the U.S., post the daily soap revolution 20 years ago. With the rupee and dollar arbitrage, the two markets differ in terms of volume and value (respectively). Nair foresees a crystallization of the Indian market with it solidifying into a value-based production space as it further forays into premium and alternate content. “We’re already producing a higher quality of content and we’re going to continue to spend more. We started out by thinking we’ll do shows for between $100-200,000 an episode. We have already gone up to $400,000 an episode. And that is us (Applause Entertainment). The richer, fancier platforms (Netflix and Amazon Prime Video) have even more money,” he said.

Gandhi cited India having the largest number of TV households with around 300-400 million people consuming digital content. In a demographic such as ours, opportunity also exists in the absence of a strong catalog and sometimes, data boils down to gut and experience. “If there are six to seven paltforms and all of them need two shows a month, you’re talking about needing 50-100 shows a year of new content. I think we’re making about 10,” said Nair. With the definition of premium changing, a wide array of genres have come to find a home on the digital platform through web series’ such as Gandii Baat, The Office (India), Sacred Games and Little Things. Nair relates this to the Internet data revolution in India. “With our population, any niche becomes a large chunk,” he said.

(From left) Samar Kagalwalla, Anirudh Pandita, Deepak Segal, Goldie Behl, Sagar Gokhale and Sameer Saxena weigh in on ‘Let’s Decode: Building Content For the Next Generation of Viewers.’

The first panel of the day saw panelists Anirudh Pandita (Founder, Pocket Aces), Deepak Segal (Head of Content, Applause Entertainment), Goldie Behl (Director and Producer), Sagar Gokhale (COO, Qyuki Digital Media) and Sameer Saxena (Chief Content Officer and Head, The Viral Fever) discuss the feasibility and scale of content for the next generation of viewers. Samar Kagalwalla (Executive Vice President, Marketing, Yes Bank) moderated the panel.

In a mobile dominated country, interactivity is bound to shift to the small screen. As Pandita said, “Advertisement becomes a proxy for attention.” He emphasized thinking of the consumer first and what they engage with, especially as gaming continues to evolve in the social space (a large lot of the young demographic are hooked on to online and app-based games such as PUBG, Fortnite and Loco and brands are expected to move to mirror user attention). “If you don’t invest in content, your rival is going to do it,” he said while observing that snacking on short form content has become user behavior. With emerging platforms and niches of entertainment, new players can now employ new formats and expand from there.

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Behl proposed that while looking to the future of screenwriting, one should keep a strong grip on identity as well as use technology. “The more we go global, the more we go native. That’s going to help you build your community and crowd,” he said.

Asish Bhasin, Tarun Katial, Raj Nayak and Satya Raghavan at the panel titled ‘‘View From the Top: Web Entertainment Now and Next’.’ Photo: IWMBuzz

The ‘View From the Top: Web Entertainment Now and Next’ was a heavyweight panel what with industry veterans and experts breaking hard truths and sharing experiential knowledge. Raj Nayak (Ex-COO, Viacom18), Ashish Bhasin (CEO, Greater South and Chairman & CEO India, Dentsu Aegis Network), Satya Raghavan (Director, YouTube Content Partnerships, India) and Tarun Katial (CEO, ZEE5 India) spoke at the panel while Samir Bangara (Co-founder and Managing Director, Qyuki Digital Media) served as the moderator. On advertising in the evolving media space, Bhasin said, “The moment we’re able to measure across media, across formats, automatically the money will flow to the right place. Digital is the most measurable medium. But as an ecosystem we haven’t agreed on a currency within digital.” Busting the myth about premium, long-form shows not recovering their money, Nayak maintained that advertisers are willing to back up good content. “Big broadcasters make a lot of money on content. The fact is, that 24, both season 1 and season 2, made money. In spite of spending one and a half crore plus on each episode,” he said, “If we don’t do it, somebody else will.”

Content is a symbolic partnership of business and creativity  

Post lunch, the room soon filled to capacity as the next panel took to stage. Moderated by Rolling Stone India’s executive editor Nirmika Singh, the discussion on ‘Music as Original Video Content Strategy’ had diverse music voices such as pop-rock band Euphoria’s frontman Palash Sen, playback singer Akriti Kakkar and musician and content creators Ritu Agarwal and Jonita Gandhi join the conversation. Singh introduced the panel by posing the question of whether music had taken the content route and become synonymous with video.

Palash Sen, Akriti Kakkar, Nirmika Singh, Ritu Agarwal and Jonita Gandhi discuss the blurring lines between music and video. Photo: IWMBuzz

“Content creation and being a content creator is actually a very empowering term,” said Gandhi, delving into the boundless creation which occurs as a consequence of being a jack of all trades. But balance seemed to be key. “Music is my passion but I’ve chosen to make this my business and career. I’ve to recognise the trends, see what works and find a balance between what I want to do and what I should be doing to propel my career,” she said.

Skirting the seniority joke, Sen hearkened back to 1998 when he knew with certainty that if Euphoria had to make music, they also had to produce videos. Largely because India is a country brought up on films. For independent artists, everything was DIY then and now too, with the backing of no label or money. “Make your own music. Write your own music. Put your face in the video. Don’t make somebody else look good,” he said to artists choosing to take the indie route.

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For Agarwal, the numbers do not concern her. Content must make her feel something first. “If you think a trend is trash, don’t go for it,” she said, maintaining that content is not a bad word. “What I do melds both worlds. I’m a musician first and a content creator later. I just happened to take the path of social media,” she further said.

Sudeep Lahiri, Prajakta Koli and Ashish Chanchlani breakdown the life of an influencer. Photo: IWMBuzz

Call it lunch induced laziness or an impalpable disconnect but YouTubers Prajakta Koli and Ashish Chanchlani had to address a tough crowd during their fireside chat ‘Likes, Camera, Action: Life of an Influencer’ with Sudeep Lahiri (VP, Content and Strategies, One Digital Entertainment). In all seriousness, the crowd did begin to warm up to Koli and Chanchlani’s millennial humor towards the end of their stage time, especially after Koli likened time spent on Instagram to opening the fridge door and looking in. “We are influential because we are not talking at people. We’re more inclusive and more conversational. We’re reaching out to minute demographics. Everything we deliver, reaches more people accurately,” she said. Chanchlani cited the aspect of relatability as the key to his success.

The content is the brand

(From left) Nirav Shah, Amogh Dusad, Abhishek Joshi, Manav Sethi, Divya Dixit and Vineet Kanabar during the ‘Cutting Through the Clutter: Building Immersive Marketing Campaigns for OTT’ panel. Photo: IWMBuzz

After dashing out for a much needed cup of joe, we settled in for the panel titled ‘Cutting Through the Clutter: Building Immersive Marketing Campaigns for OTT.’ The panel comprised Divya Dixit (Senior Vice President and Head, Marketing, ALTBalaji), Manav Sethi (Group Chief Marketing Officer, Eros International), Abhishek Joshi (Head of Marketing and Business Partnerships, MX Player), Amogh Dusad (Head – Content, Partnerships and New Initiatives – Digital Business Sony Pictures Networks India) and Nirav Shah (Digital Marketing Head, Syska Group) and was moderated by Vineet Kanabar (Head, Content Partnerships, Wavemaker). Dixit views brand building as a two pronged strategy. “In our industry, which is first entertainment and then OTT, brand building is not just the platform brand but the shows that you build and the perception of those shows,” she said. Joshi further cemented this saying, “The content will define who you’re appealing to or who are the audiences you’re going after.” The role of marketing is then to build on loyal viewership to increase engagement.

Nikhil Jerath presents on meme marketing. Photo: IWMBuzz

Idiotic Media co-founder Nikhil Jerath then presented on ‘Memes: The Road Less Traveled by Marketeers’ where he shared the best comedic practices to maximize outreach on social media. Most of these centered on moment marketing and capitalized on pop culture. With the numbers being drawn in, it’s safe to say that it’s a meme world.

(From left) Priyanka Sinha Jha, Amol Parashar, Sayani Gupta, Veer Rajawat Singh, Anupriya Goenka, Gauhar Khan and Naveen Kasturia during the ‘Performing For the Web: Opportunities and Challenges’ panel. Photo: IWMBuzz

The final panel for the day banded together some of the best known faces from the world of webseries. Actors Gauhar Khan, Sayani Gupta, Anupriya Goenka, Amol Parashar, Naveen Kasturia and Veer Rajawat Singh joined moderator Priyanka Sinha Jha (Author and Group Editor, Entertainment, Network18) to talk about the democratization of acting and the scope of roles in the web space. “We’re here to be a part of good stories – web opens up the genre. We don’t just have to be a part of movies or TV shows. We never looked at any role as a springboard to something,” said Goenka. Khan observed that the abundance of content also comes with a catch – exponential quantity doesn’t always equal quality. Kasturia noticed that the growth of webseries productions also paralleled a rise in employment for people in the industry while functioning as a new medium of exploration, often even leading to new digital superstars; as cited by Gupta, actors such a Pankaj Tripathi (after Mirzapur, Criminal Justice and Sacred Games) are now finding the spotlight beaming straight at them. The web space ultimately magnifies visibility on the global scale, genre and medium no bar. “The TV industry is the TV industry, the film industry is the film industry and the web space is the webspace. But actors are actors. And we’ll always do our jobs and do them well,” said Khan.

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