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MIFF 2020, Open Forum 2: “Viewers are willing to pay for docu content”

Documentaries rarely provide investment returns, let alone earning profits. But that is about to change, or has it changed already? This was discussed on Day 2 of the Open Forum, organised by the Indian Documentary Producers’ Association (IDPA), under the topic, ‘Generating Avenues and Creating Revenues.’ Moderated by Ravi Iyer (Executive Committee Member, IDPA), the panel consisted of Manika Verma (Content Aggregation Team, Netflix), Tasneem Lokhandwala (Head of Content and Programming, Epic channel), Adita Jain (Head of Content Acquisition, Docubay) and Ramesh Meer (Owner, FX Factory and Organiser, Global Content Forum).

Adita said that Docubay was announced in Cannes last year as a B2B entity, and later as a commercial entity, headquartered in Mumbai. “The time has come when viewers are willing to pay for content. It is not a mass audience, being confined to niche viewership, but nevertheless, they will pay for content. Currently, our content is 80% foreign and 20% Indian, sourced from 100 countries and reaching 160 territories. We release one documentary a day! Some interesting subjects for documentaries could be Chandrayan, Apollo, elections in various countries, etc. Incidentally, we have launched CrimeBay day before-yesterday.”

Manika revealed that Netflix is a content aggregator and distributor across OTT platforms for international clients and audiences, with 70% of content in the form of feature films and 30% in documentaries. Said Manika, “This is so because documentary content is still in a nascent stage, and we still find stiff resistance to documentaries from our clients.”

A 1967 graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Ramesh Meer organises the Global Content Bazaar annually. Its third edition is taking place next week, in Mumbai. Asked what kind of content documentary-makers should create, to be saleable, he cited the example of TV ads. “You see so many ads on TV. Most are boring, but a few are so well-made that you like watching them again and again. Make that kind of documentaries. A documentary will work only if it strikes an emotional chord, has feelings, and binds you. Good documentaries can be sold for a high fee these days. Don’t bother about starting your YouTube channel. Only You-Tube makes money. You will make either nothing at all or peanuts.”

Aong the few platforms airing and looking for documentary content, Tasneem said that the time to tap this avenue, “…is now.” Continuing, she remarked, “We are open to makers of documentary content, and you can approach us with either basic paperwork, at an idea stage, or at the licensed stage.”

During the proceedings, two books were released by Smt. Smita Vats-Sharma, Director General, FD and Director, MIFF. Both were written by Ashok Kumar, a senior member of IDPA. One was on the history of Hindi cinema, until the 1970s, and the other was titled Institute, dealing with the way some unethical media institutes are run. Mr. Sanskar Desai, Secretary, IDPA, welcomed the guests and proposed a vote of thanks.

The forum, which began around 1.30 pm and lasted for over an hour, witnessed active participation from the audience, and would have continued for much longer, had time not been a constraint.