The Year that wasn't

The Year that wasn't

People wearing face masks. (Xinhua/Jhon Paz/IANS)

Amit Khanna New Delhi, Dec 28 (IANS) This has been a year that most people would best like to forget. Life went topsy turvy as a Coronavirus christened Covid 19 pandemic swept across the world in waves. It was not the first swept nor will it be the last such pandemics. However, this highly infectious airborne virus has defined the way we live, work and entertain ourselves. Quarantine, social distancing and varying degrees of lockdowns and restrictions have altered many of our day-to-day activities. Media & Entertainment is one of the most spheres of human activities which we have seen a substantial change. According to reports time spent before screens of various sizes-mobile, computer and television has increased to an abnormal 6 hours a day on an average. In case of people working from home screen time could be as high as 12 hours a day. Zoom (WebEx, Google Hangouts, Teams and other video conferencing apps) are a part of most of our lives. The digital transformation which began in the mid 1990s has now accelerated virtual existence into a reality. What was missed in the year gone by was the absence of newspapers and magazines to begin with. As lockdowns were enforced the printing and distribution of newspapers became difficult. For the first time mainline print media concentrated in beefing up their digital presence. Some brave enough created pay wall and have managed to garner at least some subscribers. News aggregators like Daily hunt and Inshorts gained currency. Curated news via Google ,Apple, Microsoft and other device manufactures tied up with news sites to deliver information to their users. There has been a revival in the circulation and advertising of publications recently. However the shift to digital is definite . Most experts believe digital's share of the overall ad spend will overtake print and TV by the end of next fiscal. Broadcast TV struggled in the first half of the year as new content was hard to come by. IPL and reality shows however told us it is a bit early to write the obituary of linear telecast. News broadcasters were the big gainers as more and more people tuned in to learn about the new developments in and out of the country. However sensationalism driven by social media and grandstanding has created a credibility gap. Views have superseded news in the highly ideologically driven news channels. n a large country like India at least for this decade broadcasting will remain an important media. Another entertainment option which has been severely impacted is live entertainment. This segment has only partially succesded in going virtual. Concert lovers and stage enthusiasts missed their regular outings and I am not sure that this will change in the coming months. With 600 million people having Internet access in India even if it is limited to a sketchy broadband access is devouring entertainment and information in gigabytes. Nothing exemplifies this more than the rise and rise of the streaming video services (OTTs) in the last twelve months > From a mere USD 100 million at the beginning of 2019 it is expected to be a USD 500 million market by next year and reach USD 3 billion in 3 years. There are a dozen large streaming platforms including Disney + Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Zee 5, Sony Liv, Hoichoi , MX Player, Voot , Sun NXT and Eros now. Almost every week new series are being unveiled in different languages across platforms. With improved bandwidth both fixed line and wireless( 5 G should be here by 2022) streaming audio and video is bound to become the preferred choice of a large number of viewers. A new trend is the release of films on these platforms. As cinemas have only partially opened and in certain geographies are still shut film lovers and producers alike have sought out online options. Dil Bechara, Sadak 2, Gulabo Shitabo, Shakuntala Devi, Lakshmi Bomb, Raat Akeli Hai, Loot case, Thappad, Khuda Hafiz, Khali Peeli, Coolie No 1 and AK vs AK are some of the films which have bypassed the cinema circuit altogether and premiered online. In other languages it is the same story. In Tamil for example Soorarai Pottru, Mookuthi Amman , Ka Pe Ranasingam and Maara are some of the new OTT releases. I Telugu there have been Gatham, Middle Class melodies , Colour Photo and Guvva Gorinka to name a few. Similarly a umber of bold and often darker content was made available to viewers on OTT. To an extent online viewing has flattened the star curve. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Pankaj Tripathi, Jaideep Ahlawat, Amit Sadh, Swastika Mukherjee, Sweta Tripathi, Isha Talwar, Ananya Goenka, Rasika Duggal, Sobhita Dhulipala were among the many popular actors online. Some of the older stars like Nasiruddin Shah, Bobby Deol Sushmita Sen, Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, Neena Gupta too had made a shift to digital. Increased viewing patterns mean more content is being watched and created. There is much more diversity in the kind of stories being told . Video -on-demand helps sharper segmentation of the audience irrespective of location. Technology driven by the changing lifestyles in the post pandemic world. In a year where thousands of media professionals lost their jobs ,digital content is proving to be a new life line as newer apps ,services and content delivery platform fresh with capital have gone a production overdrive. One thing is certain budgets will have to come down for both films and Broadcast TV. Advertising revenue is shifting fast from analogue media to digital. Social distancing and other precautionary measures are now become necessary in post Covid world will mean reducing crowding on film and TV studios. This will mean leaner crews and the end to the entourage economy perpetrated by the stars. Elaborate health precautions and sanitization regimes are now mandatory for studios and cinemas alike. Most of marketing will shift to online promotion and Digital Out of Home (DOOH) reducing the extensive to marketing budgets to more manageable ones. Start to finish filming in a sanitized location will be preferred One looming shadow is the impending regulation (self ?) of online content. Giovernment has to be light handed in regulating content. Existing ornaisations like the TRAI are ill equipped to jhandle the fast changing digital ecosystem.

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