COVID-19 and the changed entertainment content conception patterns

In the absence of theatres, people cosied up to OTT platforms, small screens

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2020 was going to be a amazing year for cinema enthusiasts, with a great line of films scheduled for release across languages. Some of the biggest releases that were expected to set cash registers ringing included Tenet (which is out now, but with reduced theatre footprint), Wonder Woman 1984 (now in theatres on December 25), the latest James Bond outing, No Time to Die, Master (Tamil), and Sooryavanshi (Hindi). The pandemic and the lockdown that followed led to the shutting down of theatres, among other activities. As people started spending more time indoors, and homes became office spaces, the entertainment content consumption patterns too have undergone a change.

Reduced fanfare

In a country where cine goers are ready to stand in queue for hours to catch the FDFS (first day first show) of their favourite stars and hold pujas before releases, shut theatres meant leading stars like Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Vijay, and Chiranjeevi  going without a release for a year. Sure, there has been quite a few OTT releases, including Akshay Kumar's Laxmii, Suriya starrer Soorarai Pottru, among others. Nonetheless, lack of theatre releases meant movies being released to reduced fanfare, in the absence of the 4 am madness, and without cinema enthusiasts rushing to give out half-time reviews and quick ratings after the FDFS. 

More time, more screen time

As homes became office spaces, and most of the spaces that offer sources of entertainment shut, people aggressively took to contents on both TV and OTT platforms. "During the lockdown, people opened up to new content they weren’t exposed to earlier," producer-director Abhishek Pathak was quoted as saying. 

What followed the lockdown was a lot of binge watching, or 'quarantine and chill' as the COVID-19 lingo would have it. 

While the beginning of the lockdown saw many of the mythical dramas like 'Ramayan' from a different TV watching era gaining popularity, thanks to the government decision to announce the re-telecast of such shows, it was the Chris Hemsworth-starrer Extraction, Spanish heist thriller La Casa de Papel aka Money Heist, Amazon Prime original Paatal Lok and the like, and plenty of comedy content that kept the Indian viewers engaged.

OTT rules the roost

While OTT giants like Netflix and Amazon and others such as ZEE5 India, ALTBalaji have been popular among the youngsters, the older generation of movie goers hadn't yet really cosied up to them, until the pandemic stuck. Theatres downing shutters and TV screens running out of new content because of the cancelled shooting schedules meant looking for alternatives. While Gen Z, millenials and Gen X took hardly any time to adjust to the changed viewing patters, thanks to hours of binge watching, the baby boomers and those older took  some time to began consuming content online. But they did come around, eventually.

Meanwhile, desi streamers like ALTBalaji began to vigorously tap into the segment. 謨per cent of our audience is from non-metropolitan, Tier 2 and 3 towns and cities. By tapping into these hinterlands, we have realised there's a growing demand for Hindi originals that these markets find immensely relatable.”Vogue had quoted ALTBalaji CEO Nachiket Pantvaidya as saying. 

Watch parties, the new norm

As social distancing and work from home became the norm, the comforts of sofas replaced the bustle of theatres and the adrenalin rush of FDFS. While home theatres can never replace the delight of widescreen and all the associated mirth, some relief came in the form of watch parties. 

A watch party is a free service from OTT services Amazon Prime and Netflix, where people cane watch shows in a synchronised manner. 

There is also a group chat provision where people watching a show can interact with each other and talk about the show. “In an ideal world, we would all love to watch it together live. This is the next best thing,”The New Indian Express quoted  Jatin Varma, founder of Comic Con India as saying about the watch parties hosted by streaming platforms.

Watch parties aren't just limited to shows and movies. Sports enthusiasts, who have been missing the gallery action, got a bit of the cheers and hoots as they joined fellow enthusiasts through the IPL watch parties hosted through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

In the end, while cine goers may have missed out on the immersive experience of the widescreen, they did get plenty of time to catch up on movies they missed and shows they may have ignored for want of time.