Bollywood embraces the digital boom

From web series and short films to music singles, the digital space seems to have become a bigger market in the past few years

These days, film theatres and television are not the only medium providing people their daily dose of entertainment. One can witness the increasing number of audiences for content released on the Internet through several digital platforms or channels. While All India Bakchod (AIB), East India Comedy (EIC) and The Viral Fever (TVF) have become the most popular groups producing online content, it is also interesting to see how established Hindi film studios and music labels are steadily exploring the medium.

Alia Bhatt in the AIB production, Genius of the Year
Alia Bhatt in the AIB production, Genius of the Year

New players
Bhushan Kumar’s music label, T-Series, has released a number of music videos online, the latest one being Dheere Dheere, featuring Hrithik Roshan and Sonam Kapoor. The video received a favourable viewership and thus, it has only pushed the music company to produce and release more online content. “Dheere Dheere is the fastest video to reach 50 million views on Youtube in India. Internet penetration in India is growing at an exponential rate. Music and videos consumption on digital platforms and especially on mobile handsets, has increased tenfold. Easy accessibility and affordable data pack prices is helping this medium grow,” says the T-Series head honcho.

T-Series released Dheere Dheere Se online
T-Series released Dheere Dheere Se online

He also believes that Bollywood stars have now understood the way the digital market works and are taking a keen interest in it. “Our stars are very proactive as far as their online and social media presence is concerned. We have always been a supporter of a digital India, hence we have a lot of exciting releases lined up, which won’t be limited to digital platforms, but definitely digital will be the major avenue for the consumption of this content,” adds Bhushan.

Radhika Apte in Sujoy Ghosh’s Ahalya, which was released on YouTube
Radhika Apte in Sujoy Ghosh’s Ahalya, which was released on YouTube

In the meanwhile, major film production houses are also steadily trying to create a mark on the Internet. Eros International has been uploading films on their website and Yash Raj Films, under the Y Films banner, has been releasing web series and music videos online. While they have received great response so far to their content, Ashish Patil, Vice President of Y Films, hopes to strengthen their standing even more.

Kalki Koechlin in Y Films’s Man’s World which was released on their channel
Kalki Koechlin in Y Films’s Man’s World which was released on their channel

“We have not only released web series like Man’s World, which starred Parineeti Chopra, Richa Chaddha, Kalki and other celebs in cameo appearances, and another new show, Bang Baaja Baaraat, but also a couple of music singles. The latest music single is by the band, Jumbo Jutts from Hrishikesh. The revenue from advertising is minimal as of now. But, we are getting sponsors and partners. United Nation funded Man’s World and Uniliver has come on board for Bang Baaja
Baaraat. Also, we are getting good views which will eventually help us in getting more sponsors. We plan to release feature
films too in future as we grow,” reveals Ashish.

Rohan Joshi of AIB
Rohan Joshi of AIB

Ask if what keeps them interested in producing more content, if there’s not much return on investment as of now, and he explains, “Here we see an opportunity to extend out story telling skills set into other devices and stay relevant to today’s audience, who are always consuming content online. Also, it requires lesser budget than a feature film. This medium allows you to experiment and tell stories that you may not be able to tell in the big format. We can also find new talents like actors,
directors, stylists and also producers. Also, at some stage, one will be able to monetise the medium in a much smarter way.
We are a new channel but we have gone from 18,000 subscribers to 100,000 subscribers in three weeks. Advertisers and sponsors are realising that they can earn a lot through the medium.

And that will make it grow even faster.”

The success story
The director of Kahaani (2012), Sujoy Ghosh recently tasted success with his debut online Bengali short film, Ahalya. However, he had not imagined such a mass acceptance for the regional film. The director quite candidly explains that he was trying to figure out how the medium functions.

“When we did Ahalya, it was more of a stepping stone. We were then still trying to gauge how to master the medium. Digital is a great medium but we didn’t know how do we market the product or how do we monetise it. We wanted to make a short film but treat it like a feature film, in terms of production value and cast,” says Ghosh, and adds that he wanted a bigger audience for the film and thus released it online.

He says, “I wanted to know how a Bengali film or any regional film can move away from the region and know how people in Mumbai or any other city will react to a Bengali short film. The problem with regional cinema is that it is not screened at many places, but if we figure out a window like this, it helps the film reach a wider audience.”

Sujoy is trying to find sponsors to create more content for the digital market. “Once a filmmaker or a content developer starts receiving popularity through social media for his work, it helps him achieve greater heights in future. I would love to
make more films and I am trying to partner up with different people before releasing content online.”

Popular names
Apart from new entrants into the digital world, experienced groups like AIB and East India Company say that advertisers and sponsors are showing more interest for digital content now. “The medium has grown in the past few years. There is tremendous interest shown my advertisers and sponsors for online content. We have partnered with brands like AskMe to produce content for them,” says Rohan Joshi of AIB.

AIB has worked with Bollywood actors including Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Alia Bhatt and Karan Johar, but no monetary investment has been made to get them on board.

Rohan says, “We approach stars on the basis on ideas. We do not invest to get stars on board. They understand that the
medium is being explored abroad and they know that it is fun and cool. Therefore, they associate themselves with online content. It’s not only a different experience for them but for the audience also.”

Sourabh Pant of EIC believes that the digital medium gives them the freedom to experiment, grow without investing on marketing and use it as a platform for marketing their work. “As comedians we get a proportionately higher number of people to watch our videos. Also, through camera tricks and editing, it allows one to include a lot more creativity that you can’t do on stage. We are doing a show EIC Outrage, which is a news commentary, based on trending topics across the country. So presenting such a show online is far easier and satisfying,” says Pant.

He believes that their work has earned them a fan following and subscribers, and not marketing. “It has been purely an organic growth. We have reached 250,000 subscribers purely on an organic basis. Our viewers are our marketing managers as they like and promote our videos. We are focusing on creating good content. Now, brands are also coming to us to make videos for them, which is great.”

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