This article has been authored by Mansi Prabhakaran, a student of Gargi College, Delhi University.
This article is one of the winning entries of National Online Article Writing Competition organised by Lucknow University.
Gone are the days when watching television meant hours of mindless surfing through various channels playing the same old content on repeat. Television drama serials have nearly become a once upon a time content, with the rise of OTT platforms. The advent of the concept of television crossovers has furthered this change.
Today, the entertainment world is standing witness to a massive revolution, a pivotal change of immense proportions - the dawn of the era of web series and television crossovers. With the audience's attention dwindling and the horizons of societal norms widening, OTT platforms with their fresh, novel and path breaking content are the harbingers of this digital revolution. Web series are becoming popular, not just due to their content, but also due to their easy availability and affordability.
With the advent of internet, people across the globe are able to easily access the content available on such platforms – it means that a person sitting in China, can enjoy watching Spanish shows, and a person in France can learn Hindi by watching a regional web series. This revolution is a true product of globalization, and is a trailblazing development in the contemporary history of entertainment industry.
Now the question remains that does this change present equally to all communities, what about the people who do not have access to internet, are they a part of this revolution? Another question arises, which is regarding the viewership of such programmes – while their content receives much critical acclaim, it may not be suitable for certain age groups, especially children; what mechanism should be in place in such cases? Yes, it is inaccessible to certain groups, and yes, some parental controls have to be in place.
This article seeks to analyse the advent of web series and television crossovers, dissect the reasons for their immense popularity, and at the same time, raise and answer questions that have come up over the course of this digital revolution.
Web Series: Entertainment Unlimited
By definition, a web series is a series of scripted or non-scripted online videos, generally in episodic form, released on the Internet and part of the web television medium, which first emerged in the late 1990s and became more prominent in the early 2000s.[i] A single instance of a web series program can be called an episode or "webisode", however the latter term is not often used. In general, web series can be watched on a range of platforms and devices, including desktop, laptop, tablets and smartphones. They can also be watched on television.
In the contemporary history of the entertainment industry, web series hold a special place of importance because of their prevalence and popularity - statistics suggest that Netflix (a prominent OTT platform) has penetrated 65% of US households, with an average American aged between 18-34, spending two hours on the streaming platform.[ii] Reports suggest that in 2019, Netflix had touched nearly 150 million subscribers across the globe.[iii] With the pandemic situation, one can only imagine how many subscribers it may have hit, owing to quarantine monotony and the subsequent dearth of movies and shows being produced; the actual numbers are yet to come in.
A question that may pique one, would be why are web series gaining precedence over other formats of entertainment? Why have they become a worldwide rage in such a short time?
There are a plethora of reasons for this alarming popularity, first being the duration of these series - they are shorter, and hence cater to the millennial audience's attention span. Secondly, their gripping plotlines, fresh content and novel approach, intrigue viewers. They also have allowed space for newer talents to come up and take the center stage, for example Vikrant Massey, Shweta Tripathi, Pratik Gandhi (of the recent rage Scam 1992 fame) and the much-acclaimed actor Pankaj Tripathi in the Indian context and western sensations like - Anya Taylor (of Queen's Gambit Fame), Álvaro Morte from Money Heist and Lily Collins - the darling Emily from Emily in Paris. However, the most important reason is and will always remain the spread of the internet, which has enabled the OTT giants to spread their reach far and wide, and in virtue of this, web series are also products of globalisation.
Mostly everyone was sucked into the ceaseless spiral of finding a new show – binge watching it – recommending it to everyone and then, moving on to the next show. As for Indian web series, the older lot include classics like TVF Pitchers, Baked etc. Recently, excellent shows, backed by the brilliant marketing strategies of OTT platforms, such as Sacred Games, Mirzapur, Scam 1992, to name a few, have become extremely popular. However, the recent establishment of governmental control over these OTT platforms, through a Gazette Notification issued by the President of India, in the latter half of 2020, bringing OTT platforms under the purview of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, does raise concerns on the future of content available on these platforms.[iv] Several English shows have also gotten excessive popularity, and due to universality of the internet and the aid of subtitles, people are also increasingly consuming content in languages other than English.
Television Crossovers: Yay or Nay?
Television crossovers have been prevalent since the mid-2000s, however now with intersecting plotlines and overlapping content of shows, they have become more frequent. Western TV shows have had subtle crossovers, leaving fans often surprised and second-guessing whether the characters of the two shows did really come together or not; Indian TV shows have much publicized crossovers, which are announced much before and receive a lot of hype. Some of the famous crossover episodes are – The Office (UK) – The Office (USA), Flash – Supergirl, and the Simpsons-Family Guy.
Television crossovers receive mixed reactions. While one side of viewers appreciate them for the freshness they infuse in a show, another side appears to look at it as a displeasing attempt to mix two stories. People do like the beloved characters from different shows coming together, however they feel that this causes an unpleasant clash of artistic expression and character quirks, and misleads the plotline. So, it is safe to say that crossovers are yet to earn complete approval of the audience.
Thus, both web series and television crossovers are indeed the harbingers of revolution – a revolution that transcends the boundaries of entertainment and allied industries, a revolution that has caused us to be glued on to our laptop and phone screens, and set aside the beloved family television in the living room. This revolution has caused us to worry about subscription costs rather than the stability of the cable connection, and has exposed us to so much content that we often lose track of time surfing through titles, and deciding what to watch. Whilst the questions of accessibility and content restrictions still remain, these products of technological evolution are here to stay, and it is indeed the dawn of a new era.
[i] Web series, En.wikipedia.org (2021), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_series (last visited Jan 8, 2021). [ii] Netflix Revenue and Usage Statistics (2020), Business of Apps (2021) https://www.businessofapps.com/data/netflix-statistics/ (last visited Jan 8, 2021). [iii] Topic: Netflix, Statista (2021), https://www.statista.com/topics/842/netflix/ (last visited Jan 8, 2021).
[iv] Government to govern Netflix, Amazon Prime and other OTT platforms, The Hindu (2021), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/netflix-amazon-prime-other-ott-platforms-now-under-govt-regulation/article33072710.ece (last visited Jan 8, 2021).