When Mismatched for Netflix began shooting for its second season in August, it was clear to director Akarsh Khurana that he would focus on the one thing that made the show endearingly popular with the family audience—no “forced” explicit content. “It’s one thing for an OTT (over-the-top) show to have nudity or abrasive language as part of the script and another to be put there just for the eyeballs,” says Khurana. His show wowed viewers with its relatable script, including the family dynamics, amongst a canvas of young characters.
Content on the Hindi OTT landscape is seeing a shift. As is the audience. If a few years back, OTT meant bold content with a few exceptions, now it has historical shows and family dramas. Call it playing it safe in the wake of tighter content regulation or the need to migrate the cable television audience into OTT, makers of web shows are exploring terrain outside of explicit content.
So what has led to the emergence of “family viewing” shows on OTT?
Streaming giants maintain the pandemic was the game changer. “Covid-19 altered consumer behaviour significantly as everyone was confined to their homes. This black swan event led to the emergence of co-viewing and the ‘living room experience’ at a wide scale. It was further fuelled on the back of connected devices which saw increased adoption,” says Nimisha Pandey, Head—Hindi Originals, ZEE5. Initially OTT was about individual viewing on phones or laptops, however, with Smart TVs selling in larger volumes, family-inclusive viewing has gone up.
If one were to look at the line-up of programming at Netflix, it is evident how more shows around kids and family have grown in the past year. “We know that there is no one type of family. It’s why we’re investing in a wide variety of kids and family films and series from India—including entertainers like Sardar Ka Grandson,” says a Netflix spokesperson.
According to Kaashvie Nair, Director of Sardar Ka Grandson, time has come for OTTs to work on the familiar cliche—a family that watches TV together bonds together. “Bonds are created either on the dining table or in front of the TV. My own relationship with my grandmother was born out of our love for movies and late night viewing sojourns,” she says. Her film captures that family essence. “I wanted to tell a story that helped a family gather around their screens where they share the emotions of laughter and sadness and end the viewing with a sense of wholesomeness,” she adds.
The platforms are aware how risqué content in India has its share of controversies with the regulatory body. Even though no platform would openly accept that regulation in India becoming stricter has altered their slate, the rise of family shows is evidence enough.
Take for instance, ALTBalaji. The platform, which initially rode on the success of bold shows such as Virgin Bhasskar or Bekaaboo, now, has more family shows. “A couple of shows in the last six months were curated keeping family viewing in mind,” says Divya Dixit, Senior Vice-president, Revenue and Marketing, ALTBalaji. In February, they had Crashh about sibling bonding followed by The Married Woman around a woman’s aspirations, a family drama His Storyy, to name a few.
Content creators concede they are simply catering to the mood of the nation. Guneet Monga, director of Pagglait, says, “Opportunities for makers and entertainment for audiences can only grow with diversity in content and if anything, OTT has led to growth for both.”
A point reiterated by Dhruv Sehgal, lead of Little Things. “It has to be a great viewing experience. I don’t think family watch should be the criteria to make shows,” he says. Pandey of ZEE5 says the buck stops at storytelling. “Authentic storytelling is the heart and soul for creators and consumers. The need of the hour is to present stories that are relatable and also give a sense of escapism to the viewers.”