‘One out of five Prime customers watching Original content comes from outside the country’
In 2020 Amazon Prime Video is looking to bolster Original content initiatives. One focus is on the regional front. The aim is to feed a need gap by having shows with multi-layered characters. TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto caught up with Amazon Prime Video India head India Originals Aparna Purohit to find out.
What is the plan this year to grow the Original slate?
The plan is pretty much the same. We want to fill the need gap that exists for our customers for entertainment. We want to come out with multiple shows for them in very diverse genres including romance, thrillers, musicals.
The idea is to tell all kinds of stories. We work continuously with our creators to find new stories and do whatever it takes to translate those stories to the screen. We started this year with ‘The Forgotten Army’. We are launching the second season of ‘Four More Shots Please!’ on 17 April. ‘Breathe’ will return for another season this year. An interesting array of shows will come out.
What is the content need gap and the whitespace that Prime Video is looking to fill this year?
There is a lot of cinema culture in the country. We also produce such a high number of entertainment content hours on television. But I do believe that there is a very fertile space that exists between the two mediums. Our idea is to really capture that space with compelling, engaging, exciting stories. The aim is to tell stories that very character-based, that are nuanced, that are diverse in their genres, that have the potential to go into multiple seasons and that is truly entrenched in our soil.
What do you look for before giving a concept or an idea the go-ahead?
A couple of things! For us, it is the story that comes first. We look at how exciting and differentiated it is. Why must that story be told and why must it be told now? What is the passion that the content creator brings to that story? We are really looking for that. I am a story chaser. I go to any length and breadth to find a great story.
How does OTT give you the opportunity to tell stories that you would have found difficult to tell in film or on TV?
We want to tell stories that have multiple layers where every character’s journey and arc can be looked into. In cinemas, you have a very limited time of 90-120 minutes. But here you have 8-10 episodes for a season. So you can explore every layer of that story. ‘Four More Shots Please!’ deals with multiple themes and has four characters. We go into the journey of every character. The city of Mumbai too becomes an interesting character. You have to finish the season at a point where you can pick it up for the next season. That is something that is unique to this format.
What has Prime Video learnt so far in India when it comes to creating Originals?
We have learnt so many things. The biggest learning has been that there is much more appetite that exists in our country for good, strong storytelling. The love that we have got for our Originals has been phenomenal. The other interesting things is that one out of five Prime customers watching Original content comes from outside the country. Our content crosses barriers of ethnicity, language.
Good stories resonate with people. What we have also learnt is that people enjoy watching content in their language. They want stories and themes that resonate with them. That is the reason why we are now creating content in different languages. We have film content in nine Indian languages. The 10th language is English. Now we are creating Originals in different languages starting with Tamil and Telugu. We have also learnt that a Hollywood show like ‘Jack Ryan’ works equally well in India as it does across the world. Good stories connect, liberate and take people away from the chaos that exists outside.
What is the challenge in creating cinematic TV?
The challenge is that the process of development is really long. It is fraught with challenges. Now you do not write one film. You write 8-10. Every episode has to be super engaging, it has to have an interesting structure and leave you with a cliffhanger. The idea of working in a writer’s room never existed. Writing for cinema is so solitary.
But here necessarily you have to work with other writers. You have to jam with other people. To achieve a cadence of seasons becomes very, very difficult. We are working around it and we are very happy that ‘Four More Shots Please!’ is coming back for another season in such a short time span. That really is the biggest challenge. The architecture of this writing is very different from other mediums and this is very new to us. We constantly learn as we move along.
Will you have more Originals in 2020 compare to 2019?
Definitely! We have a lot more Originals coming out. Like I said the process of development is very long. Everything that was in development all these years will come out this year.
To what extent is the current situation hampering content creation?
At this point in time, the safety of people is more important than anything else. The fact that they are with their families and loved ones is our top priority. So, of course, the shoots have been stopped. All work on pre and post-production has been stopped. But the development work continues. Writers continue to write. We continue to develop and jam with our writers.
To what extent will the content budget for Originals and content acquisition this year for India go up?
We never discuss budgets when looking at stories. We do not work budget backward. We give our writers the resources to write and do what it takes to help translate their vision in the best possible manner. We invest heavily in development. We want to ensure that our writers have the freedom to write the best script.
Could you talk about how OTT allows you to go beyond the traditional TV soap when it comes to content that targets women?
OTT is a very liberating media. It allows for all kinds of stories to be created. We don’t need to be formulaic. We are not just catering to one demographic cohort. Our audiences are spread across 4000 towns and cities in India.
Our footprint is so large. So we do not have to cater to just one target audience. So the opportunity to explore themes that have not been explored before exists here. When you have women creators whether it is writers, directors, producers there is an opportunity to have more female characters, a better representation of women, more engaging plots. You can have women who are independent and are unapologetic about ambition like our girls in ‘Four More Shots Please!’. It is just a very democratic and liberating media.
Are you focusing on creating franchises from Originals?
Returning seasons are very important for us. The idea is to tell stories that have got the legs to go into many, many seasons.
What is Prime Video’s strategy to explore sub-genres within drama, comedy, horror?
If you look comedy I am proud to say that we are the house of comedy with the stand-up specials that we have on our service. ‘Comicstaan’ really gave a voice to so many comics in India. Then we have shows like ‘Pushpavalli’, ‘Mind The Malhotras’. We have a lot of comedy covered on our service. We have a lot of horror and psychological thrillers in development.
How are you tackling kids content?
We have a lot of kids content. At the moment we are not producing kids content but in terms of licensing and acquisition activities, we have some phenomenal kids content. This is now being offered for free during the lockdown. There are no plans in the immediate future to create kids content. Our strategy is to fill need gaps that exist and create content that has not been created.