Let’s be honest here. I am going to be brutal infact. I didn’t like any web series stuff released recently in the new video streaming platforms in the last three months. I am sure nobody would have liked it either. I could see only filmmakers who made them, talking about it in social media. No serious talk from the audience. This is a very dangerous trend I believe.
They are many reasons as to why we kind of struggle to create top notch quality content, probably you might think that this is just a matter of time before we actually infuse quality and hence increase viewership, but we got to talk about it now. Understand where we are going wrong, so we could soon catch up with the other web series released globally & North India
First of all,
There is a constant conflict between the concept of Webseries & that of a TV series.
Web series = TV series outside India!
Most of us would have exposed to world renowned series like ‘Sherlock’, ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Game Of Thrones’ and many such shows. These are what we could term as a ‘TV series’. Earlier, these were telecasted only on television but then the internet started booming. The speeds became high, and back then one video rental service in the name of Netflix came up with the idea of streaming. Soon internet streaming became the order of the day, Netflix actively began to take licenses of high cost TV series made by famous production houses, the likes of Disney and others to engage and retain its subscribers, but then Netflix soon enough realised the importance of in-house production and by 2011, they entered into content production. House of cards was selected to be made and the rest as you know is history. Netflix originals became highly sought after across the globe among the netizens and soon binge watching or bing’ing becomes a phenomenon. Now what we have to understand here is the fact the Web series and TV series meant the same thing. These will have a finite 8-10 episodes, run into many seasons upto 4 on an average, and the run time would be around 40-50 minutes.
Web Series is not equal to TV series in North India
Meanwhile In India, up north, Youtube did witness a sea of trolls and sketches and a certain section of filmmaking crowd begin to understand more about youtube (its monetization) and started shifting from short films to web series. Now this is the first time our mass audience are exposed to a concept such as web series. With the budget limitations, people like TVF made low cost, comical, but engaging web episodes, more importantly, they did not import actors from feature films, instead begin to groom their own found actors, these innocent web series touches chapters that feature films didnt touch. Most of the web series are free-style, the content was given more importance than the aesthetics and gradually people begin to spend more time on the various web series that sprung up from independent production houses such as TVF, dice media and so on.
Good things kept happening, these channels start to find sponsors for their projects. The sponsors came in the form of consumer brands (e.g commonfloor.com for TVF’s permanent roomates), and the web series that were created as a result of brand sponsorship begin to promote the brands in a subtle but very effective way. They did not advertise the product like how an advert does but they placed the product in an organic way which proved to be a clear win-win. Now here what you have to understand is that these so called web series are clearly distinct from TV series. they play around 15-20 minutes, usually end in one or maximum 2 seasons.
The Entry of Video Platforms
Soon, the idea of video streaming begin to attract corporate investors in India and platforms like ALT balaji starting making their own content, the best part these platforms used the popular youtube web series as a reference point. They came up with premium ones which really were superior compared to their youtube counterparts. Superior in the sense, they sticked on to to the concept of web series ( 15-20 minutes, maximum 2 seasons,etc) but enhanced in terms of production quality. (but Recently, Netflix released its first original, Now this is a TV series, I am talking about Sacred Games, 40-50 minutes, could go upto many seasons)
No Web Series, No TV series in South
As you read the story above, you can very well understand the pain point down South particularly Tamilnadu. Before web series could become popular here, streaming platforms sprung up and audience have to come to platforms to watch web series, but here’s the worst part, these platforms do not have a reference point unlike in the north where they had plenty of youtube web series which told them what worked and what did not work. Also, platforms here have a confusion of what to make exactly. They have an ambitious idea for a TV series, but the execution looks like a web series. Also, platforms entrust projects to popular production houses, who unfortunately tend to treat web series as a low budget feature film. What is the result of all this? People will soon view web series a cheap version of feature films.
The Way forward?
Let’s talk from filmmakers perspective.
As a filmmaker, you have to stay grounded in reality. Instead of approaching platforms for funding, you can well start your low cost web series in youtube. You have to develop a fan base continuously till platforms approach you for to make a web series for them. This happened with Dice Media who created the famous Little things. Little things season 2 was acquired by Netflix.
Let’s talk from platforms perspective
As platforms, instead of outsourcing content production to feature production houses, it is important to curate content from youtube channels, who are well equipped enough to make web series. The point here is to attract fan base of these youtube channels, to come and watch premium content made by their favourite youtube stars. In this way, the budgets can be kept low and audience infusion would still be at a higher rate. The only way is to make the people see your content as a rebel version. Not a cheap version of feature films. That also means you have to create an ecosystem of alternate filmmakers, actors and the like, and importantly not to import actors or directors from the feature films, which in many cases would have an higher probability of failure.