2005 was the year when Youtube launched.
Back then, torrents were the preferred medium to acquire content you cannot lay your hands on otherwise. They were shared with friends using P2P networks like DC++ and shareaza. Though it took 2–3 hours to download one film, but you could find anything there.
However, with Youtube, and later with OTT platforms, Convenience of finding everything under one roof and instant gratification changed the game.
The early Years
In the earlier version of Youtube, you could watch anything, get music videos for songs you had only heard of, watch the rarest of documentaries in one platform without any interjection. There were no copyright laws, no horde of subscription or earning of views. Everyone shared what they had, and wanted others to see.
The ecosystem was at a very nascent stage then.
Come 2010, Youtube started to push creators to create their own content and getting the laws in place so you could not share other’s content and make revenue out of it. It made sense, and slowly the internet hits went from 1 minute child videos to music videos and web series.
Netflix against the world
However, The real game changer was Netflix. With iPhone changing the smartphone game, in 2007, Netflix decided to go completely digital and changed its model from being a DVD rental company to an out n’ out Tech company which specializes in streaming content.
With foresight into how digital could change the future, they had digital rights of almost all the movies that they were renting. Nobody apart from them, was betting on digital yet, and this first mover advantage let them take a huge leap ahead of the rest of the competitors who started cropping up soon.
What changed was not only the way we searched for movies, but the way we consumed content in general.
Content consumption went from a social experience to a solo experience.
A lot has to do with the shift in the hardware of choice — Laptop / TV to a mobile phone. With 24 hour accessibility, and a screen with you at all times, we were an audience waiting to be entertained.
We now had the freedom to watch what we wanted whenever we wanted without any restriction of it leaving the theatres or returning the DVD. Soon. almost 30% of the internet bandwidth of all of US was being used to stream content on netflix.
While the first ‘episodic online series’ had been around since 1995 (The Spot), and MSN had also experimented with online Web series back in 2003, bandwidth constraints and lack of credibility did not allow anyone to look at them as a viable model to scale. Nobody had envisioned Hollywood and major stars creating shows exclusively for the web.
Netflix again will be accoladed for putting in a $100mn budget on House of cards. In 2013, Netflix earned the first Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Three of its web series, House of Cards, Arrested Development, and Hemlock Grove at the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards.
Since then, Originals have become an alternative source for content which do not get the traditional releases. Infact, Netflix has also started experimented with interactive content like Black mirror: Bandersnatch trying to push the limits of storytelling in the digital medium.
The young population of India was hunger starved for good relatable content till 2012, when TVF started making original short form content.
A lot of content creators around that time were looking at putting their portfolio on Youtube, primarily because it was a free medium which you could share with anyone through even an SMS or a whatsapp.
TVF was probably the first ones to tap into the original web series and branded content space before anyone else did — and succeeded in it.
However, in 2015, Hotstar got launched with the Cricket world cup and a complete library of anything in the Star content universe. While most of their audience came for the live sports, their eventual aspiration to become a one-stop-shop for everything content did not stop them from acquiring content from across the board.
Movies, TV shows, Originals, even a crossover show with TV (On Air with AIB) with digital superstars in it was tried with.
But with the advent of Netflix and Amazon Prime, game has shifted to ‘who has the deepest pockets’ when it comes to acquiring the content, and quality content in terms of originals.
2016 saw the launch of 36 OTT platforms in India — Viacom (VOOT), Balaji Prodns ( ALT BALAJI), Zee ( Zee5), everyone wanted a piece of the glowing pie of the Indian content universe.
Supply & Demand
This may be a golden age for creators for sure. OTT platforms are running to acquire the good quality content and making deals that would not have seen the light of the day 3 years back. Movies which would never have released are being paid millions for digital rights alone.
Ideas which were never green-lighted by any production houses are being given a shot at in the digital medium
Movies like Rajma Chawal, Love per square foot, etc are being appreciated along side an Andhadhun or a Badhai ho.
Where are we going from here
Creators are raking in the moolah: There was never a good time to be a creator in the world. If you have got quality, chances are you would be very successful. From creators running behind production houses to OTT platforms running behind content creators, the tables have turned.
More options for the Audience: With over 50 OTT platforms in India alone, and each one vying to woo you to watch more content on their platform, an audience now can choose through an endless assortment to watch their kind of stories. Atleast now, they do not have an excuse of ‘There is nothing good to watch’.
Better Quality: With digital being a VOD platform, the audience can leave you at anytime if they do not like your content. So the platfroms cannot feed you anything they wish. They need to be careful of what their audience wants to see and deliver on their promises.
Overabundance: There is just way too much content out there now. The way human beings function, is if you give too much of something to them, they stop appreciating them. Probably this will help improve the overall quality of content out there, but also finding good quality content is more difficult as it is scattered across platforms. Unless there is WOM or a lot of marketing spends on the property, it is difficult getting to know of that one movie which would suit you.
We are viewing, not watching: When we were kids, I remember that my parents got the cable cut so I would not be distracted from studies. We are living in a 24 hour distraction-laden world where, unless we have a lot of self control, we cannot switch off that easy. Notifications go- off on the go, and we are just shifting from one content piece to the next without taking a moment to think about what we just saw. Life is moving from one meme to the next, one movie to the next, without any internalization.
Lines between Facts and Fiction are becoming fuzzy: The lines of where facts end and fiction begins has become blurry on the digital medium. With an endless supply of sources, you do not know which is right and which is lying. Propoganda movies and content pieces are on the rise and fictionalized accounts can very well re-write the history of certain events and occurances which we might not even know of.
Regulations: Digital has been a democratic medium till now. However, while shows like sacred games push the limit of how to showcase nudity, there are also cases of Gandi Baat and XXX on ALT BALAJI which teaches you how not to potray women on the screen. While self regulation is being proposed right now, there might soon be a time when we can see censorship coming on the best practices of what to show and what not to show.
We are still at a very nascent stage of the new age storytelling medium. It is hard to believe that Moving Pictures ( Movies as they are called now) is just 150 years old, and television less than a 100 years.
Content will go through a lot of change in terms of the format, the medium on which it is consumed, and we might keep switching platforms to watch the same content like we watch Friends in different TV channels nowadays.
Content, however, is going to be king. The ownership of that might change hands and the creators might becomes slave to the OTT platforms, but then that is a story for another day.