As 4G gains accessibility across India, streaming content will become more ubiquitous. The evolution of consumer habits and content distribution opportunities will lead to a seismic shift in the M&E industry. Change has already begun, and in anticipation of the landslide to follow, a number of players are entering the OTT market. In this exclusive, Creative First caught up with Siddharth Roy Kapur, Founder, Roy Kapur Films, to discuss this changing landscape.
You went from the Managing Director of a multinational (Disney) to an entrepreneur starting your own production house. Tell use a bit about the transition.
It’s been about a year since I’ve ventured out on my own with Roy Kapur Films. Disney was a wonderful organization to work with, but to start something on your own is an exciting journey and I’m happy to take it. Being an entrepreneur gives you a different level of freedom. For me, the advantage is the ability to focus entirely on creative development. With industry-wide transition to digital, I don’t think there could be a better time to dive in.
You’re also producing a lot of content for digital. What excites you most about this emerging avenue of content delivery?
As a medium, digital is exciting because it gives creators a lot more autonomy; you can pursue content without considering the vagaries of the box office. For example, you might hesitate before making a slice of life film for cinema, but you can easily do it for digital. Digital gives you the opportunity to explore any kind of content. Also, content presented on digital platforms are free from the boundaries of censorship allowing creators to push the envelope even further.
Another main advantage for digital is that duration is not a governing factor. Stories can be told over any duration of time. Creators however, need to consider that content consumers may watch ten episodes in a single go. Creating a story arch that fits varying consumer viewing habits is new and challenging, but it’s also a massive opportunity.
Digital also frees content from the time restraints that broadcast television has to fulfill for advertising needs. A show no longer has to be 23 minutes; it can be 21 or 27 or however long it takes for the story to be told. Creators shouldn’t be overindulgent with this liberty; the audience still appreciates a tight edit. Think of yourself as a member of an audience – what would you be willing to experience?
What do you consider to be the biggest roadblocks or challenges for the OTT sector?
In general, the OTT sector is in the investment and creation stage, but at a certain point in time a business model has to be self-sustaining and monetization will be key. A lot of AVOD players are going to have to assess this in the near future. Those working on a subscription model will have to analyze return on investment and make decisions accordingly. There will be a trial and error period; some investments will be made in content that doesn’t have an audience. That’s how it is with any new sector that’s growing. Having said that, OTT is here to stay because it gives the audience decision-making power. There are so many consumer propositions in its favor, we will all work
With a film there are a lot of issues to consider that aren’t a worry for digital content. Here, you don’t have to use stars, so cost and scheduling problems aren’t there. Also, there is no P & A budget to consider. These aspects really work in OTT’s favor.
As far as OTT platforms, Jio will be a new kid on the block. What are the advantages of that?
As a platform Jio already reaches 180 million subscribers, and is on track to reach 300 million in the next two years. For a creator, the main objective is that content gets viewed by as many people as possible. Jio’s large subscriber base offers that opportunity. It’s not niche or catering to special interest audiences. Jio’s reach will cover the length and breadth of the country, wider than the reach of a General Entertainment Channel (GEC). That’s the opportunity with Jio. The content will have to speak for itself but what we aspire to do is give this vast audience accessibility to great, quality storytelling.
When producing original content, how much do you consider the means of which it will be consumed (primarily mobile or smaller screens)? Does that factor in to things at a very basic level like set designs, costumes, etc.?
At a conception level, content must embrace the consumption medium. A lot of this content, even feature length films, will be watched on smaller screens such as a mobile phone. It doesn’t make sense to shoot a series of long shots or add a lot of detail to the set design that the audience won’t be able to see. It’s really important for the technicians associated with the production to understand the screen the content is going to be viewed on, and shoot & design it accordingly.
Do you think there are any genres that are best left to the big screen?
There are definitely genres that work best for the big screen but that doesn’t mean they’re only for the big screen. Primarily, anything that really benefits from a cinematic experience will dominate the box office. This includes concepts such as superheroes, sci-fi, creatures, disasters, and large-scale period movies. Additionally, some films can be more enjoyable when viewed in a group environment. Everyone is embracing the experience together and it creates a certain kind of energy. Horrors, thrillers, and some comedies all fit in that category. At the same time, a high-concept film like Raazi that’s exciting and everyone’s talking about is also great for the theatre.
Biopics seem to really speak to the Indian audience (and translate into big box office numbers). Why do you think that is?
India is thirsty for new, unsung heroes, different from the obvious ones we grew up learning about. At a very basic level, we all need more positive role models and inspiration. As a nation, we are coming into our own and with that comes a new sense of pride. That, allied with these emerging stories of such awe-inspiring heroes past and present, makes for a great movie. The box office shows these films do really well and we’re sure to see a lot more biopics.
You’re also President of the Producers Guild of India. What is your vision for the organization?
The Guild is a success if it can function as a meeting ground for all the active producers in the industry. It should be an entity wherein one can discuss grievances as well as opportunities. This will enable stakeholders to work together to accomplish goals and interface with governmental authorities regarding crucial issues that could foster industry-wide growth.
There are three crucial issues we should address.
The first issue is screen density. Everyone knows that this country is severely under screened; we all talk about it, but there needs to be a concentrated effort by all stakeholders to increase screen density and ease permissions required for building cinemas. There is a direct correlation between the number of screens in a market and the rise in box office. Reinstating or alternatively, introducing tax incentives to build cinemas will help us achieve greater screen density and box office growth.
The second issue to address is piracy. There is definitely some great work already being done by MPA on that front, but we still need to do much more to combat online and offline piracy.
Third, we must ensure adequate IP protection. Every creator deserves to know how their IP is going to be protected. Doing this will not only promote our own industry, but also gives international organizations looking to invest in India, the confidence that their IP is safe and that adequate legal recourse is available.
In the west, we’ve seen a big push for gender equality in the film industry. In May, we saw 82 women walk the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival to advocate for it. As the President of the Film & Television Producers Guild of India, what do you think needs to be done for gender equality in the film industry in India – if anything?
The best way to address gender equality is through commerce. There should be more investment in female-oriented films. It’s a virtuous cycle where people realize the potential of such a film based on how well it did at the box office – Success speaks. When it comes to the crew, today there are many more female technicians than there were five years ago. It’s great to see so many female editors, female cinematographers today. These are areas where women were traditionally not well represented, but that’s changing and changing pretty fast. There should be industry-wide sensitivity to consciously give female technicians the opportunity they deserve, and to encourage them. I do see this happening organically.
Concerning sexual harassment, the Guild encourages each of our members to set up a cell within each of their production units. Everyone on the crew should know who to talk to in case there is a sexual harassment issue, and any grievances should be taken seriously. Executing this however, is up to each individual production house.
Where do you see Indian cinema headed in the next five years?
A lot will depend on how we address the three points I mentioned regarding screen density, piracy and IP protection. Creatively speaking, the actual content being made and stories being told will be left up to each individual creator, so it’s hard to make a 5-year projection on that front. My main concern is the role that we play in creating an environment ripe for growth by addressing systemic issues. If we look at China, it wasn’t a major shift in the quality of storytelling that made their industry burgeon; it was an effective effort to boost screen density. As a result, the film industry in China has experienced exponential financial growth – but it did. So did Hindi Medium. At the core, human emotion is quite universal. The key, however, is that we should never try to reverse-engineer our content, making presumptions of what a certain foreign market might like. We must always remain authentic and true to who we are.