In a must read interaction with Monika Shergill, the content creator talks about present and future of web entertainment: An IndianWikiMedia exclusive

If there is one lady who knows Indian entertainment inside out, it has to be Monika Shergill– content head at Viacom18 Digital Ventures. The professional par excellence has close to 20 years of experience in the broadcast industry, having held various leadership positions in various channels. She had joined Star in 2007 as programming head for Star One. A couple of years later, in December 2009, she was appointed as the non-fiction head of Star Plus. She has also served as the non-fiction content engine head from 2011 to 2012 at the company. Prior to joining Star, she was with Sony Entertainment Television for five years, as associate creative head.

As web entertainment made inroads into the Indian content space, Monika extended her creative genius to this promising and virgin vista of entertainment as well. Understanding the mood and requirements of web audiences, she has come up with cutting-edge Voot Originals (Timeout, Untag and Chinese Bhasad, etc.),which have impressed one and all.

IndianWikiMedia caught up with Monika on her plans for Voot (Viacom digital arm) and lot more… 

What do you feel about the current digital ecosystem?

We are at the cusp of a content tsunami in digital space. There are a range of OTT players (ALTBalaji), including net arms of all major TV networks (Hotstar and Sony LIV, etc.),and the biggest of streaming services (Amazon Prime, Netflix),offering various kinds of shows, both in the free and subscription spaces. It is the best time to be a content creator, with everybody coming up with newer ideas. The YouTube engine is already going good, with people making and uploading stuff, either in conjunction with brands, or solo.  This reminds me of the period of satellite consolidation, when all the TV channels were trying to increase their hours of original programming. The moot question today is not if, but at what rate and velocity can online content be ramped up.

Expect a whole new of range of shows in the subscription space. It should go live by mid-next year, as these things take time. At the same time, we will continue to work on our ad-supported content, which is tailored around our network shows, e.g. Voot Exclusives, for Bigg Boss and Splitsvilla. This synergy will really come into its own, post BARC introducing combined net and TV ratings. We will then know if it helps TV ratings to go up.

How different is web programming from TV?

As BARC data expands into rural markets, small screen content is getting even more formula driven. Programming is being done for more audiences down the population strata, with a few experiments thrown in, here and there. Of late, no new-age, disruptive story, either in form or narrative has become a hit.

Digital, on the other hand, is all about breaking the mould. If you repeat your story, it is all over. Being used to international content, the benchmarks of this experimental audience group are also very high. What was missing so far was stories written in the Indian context. We aim to provide relatable, edgy, forward-looking content, which, sooner or later, would matche up to international standards.

Another plus point for digital is that, given the fact that we are not limited by time restrictions, we can program for a heterogeneous population, as opposed to TV. A streaming service would ideally prefer an entire bouquet of shows, which appeals to all sections of society.

A reflex action was bound to happen, given our regressive social (moral policing) practices. It is also human nature that the moment you are given freedom, your first target is the forbidden fruit. But all that is in the past. Future content will be more mature, in terms of characters and complexities, rather than focusing on gimmicks.

What new can we expect from Voot in 2018?

Expect a whole new of range of shows in the subscription space. It should go live by mid-next year, as these things take time.

At the same time, we will continue to work on our ad-supported content, which is tailored around our network shows, e.g. Voot Exclusives, for Bigg Boss and Splitsvilla. This synergy will really come into its own, post BARC introducing combined net and TV ratings. We will then know if it helps TV ratings to go up. 

What about web series budgets?

A content creator will always feel that budgets are less, given high-flying imaginations. Having said that, most streaming services offer good rates– much better than what volume dependent TV shows get. We, therefore, end up burning more cash for every minute of content produced. As time passes, we will further up our content graph, in terms of numbers of characters, and production values.

Binge vs weekly– your take?

Binge, anyday. Given the large number of shows up for grabs, you are bound to miss an episode, thereby breaking the link. Why do you think TV went daily?

But weeklies give you time to make changes as per feedback, as in TV?

Yes, TV scripts have the liberty of alterations; but only over time, as plot lines are written in advance. This is not possible in the short-running digital format. Also, this is better, for it gives us the freedom to follow our vision. Some shows work, others don’t; which is the case everywhere.

The absence of censors in web is a big boon, creative-wise?

Yes, programming for an audience, receptive to different kinds of themes, gives us space to push the envelope. All said and done, we prefer to exercise self-censorship.

But web content, so far, has been full of sex and sleaze?

A reflex action was bound to happen, given our regressive social (moral policing) practices. It is also human nature that the moment you are given freedom, your first target is the forbidden fruit. But all that is in the past. Future content will be more mature, in terms of characters and complexities, rather than focusing on gimmicks.

 

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