If you happen to hang around people who work in the TV industry, you would know how scary are the words Lapsed Audience. Earlier lapsed audience use to mean the viewers who had migrated to shows on other TV channels in the same time slot (which could be quickly fixed with an animal attack, a kidnapping or an animorphism). The meaning has changed now. The audience is now switching off their TVs and watching content over the numerous OTT channels that have sprung up in the last year and have been producing content tirelessly since then. And why not? By some estimates, there are 272 million dollars at stake in the video streaming business.
In this lucrative OTT/YouTube content space almost everyone has tried their hands at and got burned in the creating valuable fiction properties. Most OTT channels have gravitated towards making shows centred around love. It’s an easy choice to make. Since the audience is comparatively young and urbane, they think what better than to peddle love stories to them. And that that would have been a smart move if they made good or even watchable content.
The OTT players (Balaji, Voot, Arre etc.) might hide behind numbers generated by their PR machinery and comment bots and bought views but the fact of the matter is none of the shows have caught the fancy of the online viewers (with the exception of Permanent Roommates from TVF). There are glaring reasons why these stories don’t resonate. It’s always easier to criticise a show in hindsight but in the case of OTT love stories, it’s apparent from the trailer itself that the shows will go unnoticed.
Of course there are multiple reasons why these shows don’t work – the conveyor belt of writers/creatives who worked in television/movies are now working for the web, the attempt to make everything bigger, better, glossier, making established actors play younger characters, low writing budgets etc. – but let’s home in where the real trouble lies – the way the characters are written.
No one’s interested in a love story of two characters who are not worth falling in love with and that’s where the problem lies. The audience that OTT caters to right now can’t find themselves caring about obvious protagonists who veer between behavioural extremes. They talk only in punchy one-liners or not at all, have indiscriminate sex or none at all, use too much slang or use fake regional accents, and are drunk half the time or never. Almost every trailer is a combination of these things, every character described by a dominant but shallow trait. They audience wants to see some version of the people they see around them (or people who they would want to know more of) on screen and they know that the best things about them aren’t the ones mentioned above. The audience is infinitely more complex than that and that’s what they want to see on screen. The audience is not looking for jarring, in-your-face experiences strung together in a form of a story but a string of boring, humdrum, daily instances told interestingly with a decent story progression. The audience doesn’t want their insecurities being used as peg-lines for shows. When you watch a soap, you know the characters are not meant to be real, they are supposed to overreact, scream and gasp. But the characters in OTT are expected to be real, they are meant to be your friends who talk to you, sit next to you and navigate life’s problems with you. But what you get instead is a version of you from an internet meme where you are What You Do and the characters are What Your Parents Think You Do. These love stories look what an urban love story might look like from the outside. While these love stories take everything from the soaps – the same producers/writers, the gloss, the unreal situations, the acting and the actors – they forget the one thing that makes soaps run for years at an end. Characters who run deep and stay true to how they were written. Unless OTT love stories figure out telling stories about characters that are real, there’s no point making them fall in love with each other.
First published in Businessworld.