What's the common thread between Sacred Games, Mirzapur, Breathe, Inside Edge and Ghoul? They are big names and were big hits. But not on the big screen.
The year turned out to be one of big wonders on the small screen -- all thanks to the proliferation of over-the-top or OTT platforms in India.
It was in 2017 that OTT platforms, which provide video content over the Internet, made their presence felt in the Indian market. This year, its world expanded with a robust roster of content.
"Content emerged as the undisputed king, not just in a proverbial sense, but even in terms of what clicked with the audience. Since the audience is becoming increasingly diverse, storytellers have the option to explore narratives that resonate at a hyper-local level, yet, can be appreciated by a global audience as well," Siddhartha Roy, Chief Operating Officer of Hungama Digital, told IANS.
The shrinking size of screens is in no way a measure of the size of the entertainment.
If there was Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui entwined in a tale of a police officer's race against time to save Mumbai from an attack after a tip-off in Sacred Games, there was also Radhika Apte entering the paranormal realm with Ghoul.
R. Madhavan captured the plight of a father in his digital debut Breathe; Ali Fazal and Pankaj Tripathi narrated a story of lawless land filled with action with Mirzapur; Rohan Sippy had fun spreading laughs with his humorous take on all Bollywood things with Side Hero; and Sunny Leone's life story unfolded with Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone.
There were others which made a mark. Aravind Adiga's 2016 novel "Selection Day" became subject of a web series and Mithila Palkar and Dhruv Sehgal navigated the complicated world of relationships with the second season of Little Things.
Sunil Lulla, Group CEO at Balaji Telefilms -- the firm behind ALTBalaji, said: "Audiences today have become more accepting to new concepts. This has lead to major OTT players now heavily investing in exclusive original content across languages on the platforms."
Actress Ratna Pathak Shah, who is part of Netflix's projects Love Per Square Foot and Selection Day, feels the medium offers great possibilities to the entertainment scenario in India.
Looking back, Bimal Unnikrishnan, Vice President, Content, Viu India, said: "International players coming into India also recognised the need to tailor their diverse content catalogue to suit the preferences of the Indian consumers... Content diversity and an increase in regional stories can be seen visibly."
He pointed out that "local talent is gaining more recognition than ever before; more niche stories are also being told".
Manish Aggarwal, Business Head, ZEE5 India, mentioned that the "digital viewer is seeking fresh, edgy, relatable and engaging content every day" -- which is changing the landscape of the content being produced. Identifying these needs have led us to come up with new concepts that revisit the basics of content," he added.
Be it Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Eros Now, Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, Viu, ALTBalaji or Sony Liv -- the growing number of platforms have proved to be boon not only for the audience and operators but also for the creators.
"The digital medium has opened doors towards creative freedom. It has eliminated the gate-keepers or the censorship, which means that if you have a great concept, you can step up and share your content, tell your story in a manner that resonates with you," Unnikrishnan said.
To this, Sandeep Bhargava, CEO at Purple Pebble Pictures and Advisor Board Member at Sanjay Dutt Productions, added: "It does promise freedom, for the time being. The best part of this medium is that it is not star-dependent and that helps in democratising the choice of subjects, which is always good. It allows for freedom to showcase ideas without the censorship sword."
But freedom comes with some sense of responsibility, Roy pointed.
"The Internet is easily accessible to all, including children, while that poses a great responsibility upon platforms and content creators like us, it is also a huge opportunity in terms of providing our consumers differential/unmodified content."
Apart from the content, there were several factors converging to make India a lucrative market for the platforms.
"This year has been an absolute game-changer with regard to the changing perception of digital audiences. The growth in mobile broadband speed and 4G services by Reliance Jio saw a rapid increase in data consumption across the country out of which video streaming accounts for 70 per cent of the total data consumption on mobile," Lulla said.
In the same vein, Roy added: "While content played a key role in the growth of the market, some important factors that fuelled the same were Internet penetration as well as data affordability and availability of affordable smart devices."
And it's just the beginning.
According to a report, the Indian OTT market will reach $5 billion in size by 2023. Another states that 75 per cent of content will be consumed on OTT platforms in 2021.
"It's no secret, the future of television and possibly the media and entertainment industry as a whole is OTT," Bhargava said.
The major driver of this growth will be regional content.
"From a future perspective, the three main pillars will be content, data and technology, with regional content driving the growth in 2019," Aggarwal said.
In support, Roy said: "The future of OTT will be more hyper-local, regional language driven with a new-age storyline, which will help create a platform for brands to create/integrate unique concepts and influence audiences."
Turns out, OTT platforms will continue their climb to the top in the years to come.
(Sugandha Rawal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)