JioCinema is riding the 🌊

Once the IPL was over, streaming platform JioCinema handed its newly acquired audience over to a blitzkrieg of originals films and shows, one every Friday. How will this aggression change India’s streaming industry?

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A quick note: we’re taking next Tuesday (August 29) off for Onam, so there won’t be an edition of The Impression next week. I’ll be back on September 6.

When Netflix first launched in India (and worldwide simultaneously) over seven years ago, we had no streaming or OTT industry to speak of. Hotstar was streaming cricket, but other rivals launched only later that year. The first streaming originals were free to watch on YouTube, such TVF’s cult hit Pitchers (2015).

But it was another year or so before India’s first original streaming shows began releasing—Amazon’s Inside Edge (2017) and Netflix’s Sacred Games (2018) among them—and Indian subscribers got used to paying for high-quality, long-form content.

Seven years later, this industry is already facing another tectonic shift, courtesy Reliance Industries’ JioCinema. It made the Indian Premier League (IPL) free, changing the way live sports streaming is monetised in India. It bought a licence for the massive libraries of HBO and NBCUniversal, and sold them for just ₹999 a year (although with ads).

And now, it’s drowning us all in original content.

Inside JioCinema’s tsunami of originals

Pablo García Saldaña/Unsplash

“It’s Reliance. They’re all about aggression in everything they do.”

This is what an independent film and web-series producer says when asked how JioCinema’s entry has changed the way original films and series are sold in Mumbai. The producer spoke to The Impression requesting anonymity. “I don’t want to talk about JioCinema on the record. They’re our partner,” they say. “And they’re a very good partner,” they stress, a beat later.

In its first few years, India’s streaming industry was in the grip of a gold rush. Platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, MX Player and later Zee5, SonyLIV, and others were acquiring or commissioning films and series at a breakneck pace. Producers with scripts to sell made hay while the OTT sun was shining.

The rush peaked during the pandemic, after which budgets got tighter and platforms’ slates, smaller. Filmmakers’ gold rush was over.

“Earlier, especially in the pandemic, platforms were very eager to greenlight content,” a web-series writer working with several streaming platforms told The Impression, requesting anonymity. “They were in a rush to build their catalogue. Those days are over now. It’s harder to get your show or film onto Netflix’s slate or Amazon’s slate.”

JioCinema’s entry could not have come sooner.

By airing the IPL for free, it has already changed the way live sports is monetised forever. Now, as it shifts focus toward retaining the audience base it acquired via the IPL, JioCinema is aggressively building a library of originals in an otherwise cooling market. Even its marketing sells JioCinema as the home for the hopelessly addicted; it’s using the tagline “Dekhta Ja India” or “Keep watching, India” (you can also interpret it as a promise: “just watch, there’s more”).

For writers, directors, and producers with a script, JioCinema has become plan B.

“Right now in the industry, there is an understanding that if you have a story to sell, JioCinema is always there,” the writer quoted above said. “So, people will make the rounds with their script to all other platforms, but they know that if all else fails, they will be able to sell the idea to JioCinema because they’re constantly in need of content.”

Reliance did not respond to a request for comment.

Since this year’s IPL concluded in May, JioCinema has been following a simple strategy: drop a new original (film or series) every Friday. It started with Hindi crime-drama Inspector Avinash 10 days before the IPL final, followed by a comedy movie Hello Hello What’s Up? the following week, and then a John Wick-style action film Bloody Daddy starring Shahid Kapoor the week after. In the three months since then, JioCinema has released more original shows and films than most of its rivals. And that’s not counting the Viacom18 library it now has after streaming platform Voot merged with JioCinema.

Other platforms often strike long-term deals for content with prominent production houses, such as Netflix’s deal with Excel Entertainment and Amazon Prime Video’s partnership with Yash Raj Films. But JioCinema’s doors are open to one and all. The producers of its original titles range from Sunir Kheterpal (of theatrical releases Rocky Handsome and Kesari) to indie studio JAR Pictures (of critically acclaimed series Tabbar and cult films Gangs of Wasseypur and Kai Po Che) to newer kid on the block Leo Media Collective (previously Still & Still Media Collective of Bandish Bandits fame). Several titles have been produced in-house by Jio Studios and credit CEO Jyoti Deshpande as producer.

The bottom line: no title or production house is too big or too small for JioCinema. They want it all.

“JioCinema will acquire anything right now; everyone knows it,” says an independent Bhojpuri and Hindi film producer. “They have a massive slate to fill. They need something to release every Friday. That is a lot of content.”

Parent Viacom18 is also reportedly bringing in Kiran Mani, a top Google India executive, to run the JioCinema business and keep it growing at a scorching pace.

One ‘Bigg’ Factor

In all this, the caveat is that JioCinema wants to produce mass entertainers only, which will appeal to as wide an audience base as possible. There is not much space for the high-budget, slickly produced “prestige” shows that Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are known for. In a catalogue that earns from ad revenue, there is unlikely to be.

But JioCinema isn’t the only one in line for mass entertainment.

“There was a time when platforms wanted something niche, in the early days of streaming,” a film and web-series producer told The Impression, requesting anonymity. “But that time is gone now. Every platform wants a mass entertainer now, be it SVoD (subscription video-on-demand) or AVoD (advertising video-on-demand). The time of ‘niche content’ is over.”

In the last few years, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have been spending good money to acquire India’s biggest box office hits, including RRR, Bhool Bhulaiya 2, Kantara, Pathaan, Ponniyin Selvan, and more.

Originals aside, JioCinema’s biggest boost since the IPL has come not from its originals but from Viacom18’s streaming spinoff Bigg Boss OTT. Season 2’s finale aired in mid-August drew 23 million viewers. At its peak, 7.2 million people watched the episode live, and over 100 million watched the show overall. Excluding live sports, this was India’s most viewed live-streamed event, Variety reported. It also helped stem the expected loss of viewers who abandoned the platform once the IPL was over.

Now that this record is set, JioCinema’s upcoming original releases have a tall standard to meet. And because these originals are monetised through ads, not subscriptions, this weekly blitzkrieg of fast-produced mass entertainment is likely to continue. This will have a far-reaching impact on the kind of shows and films that are made for streaming.

Netflix has yet to introduce its ad-tier in India, but Amazon and Disney+ Hotstar are good examples of how this future is looking. Amazon’s free-to-view miniTV looks for shows that are either comedies or love stories, with 20-minute episodes, new actors, and significantly lower budgets than regular OTT shows. Hotstar is going slow on direct-to-OTT films. It is also commissioning originals with longer seasons of shorter episodes released daily. These shows have ad breaks and are free to watch. Filmmakers in Mumbai are already treating this as a separate genre: “TV plus” content that earns them lower margins but is apt for simple stories and a quick turnaround.

“We’re not in the business of entertainment; we’re in the business of time,” Sumit Saxena, creator of the recent JioCinema original hit Kaalkoot, told The Impression. “You are in the business of entertainment when you entertain people with a film or show, and they give you money directly. But that happens at the box office. In the OTT business, the audiences give you their time and attention, they don’t pay you directly. The platform monetises their attention, and it’s your job to get it. Your storytelling will have to be very exciting so that you can get their attention as quickly as possible, and hold it for as long as possible. It’s a very, very tricky business.”

Last Scroll Down📲


Is this fight still on?: No, not the ‘Zuck vs. Elon’ cage match; that’s off. Meta’s “Twitter-killer” Threads will launch a web version later this month as it prepares to take on the now-rebranded X. Is there a point to this, though? Threads got a record 100 million sign-ups just days after it launched but blew the lead because user interest dropped and crucial features weren’t shipped on time. By early August, it had lost more than 80% of its daily active users.

Meanwhile, there’s a party at X, erstwhile Twitter. Verified users are flaunting their lavish ad revenue earnings even as the algorithm pushes them to steal content via screenshots or, worse, unleash verbal attacks to rake in impressions and ad $$$.

Cards on the table: Hollywood studios have made a public offer to the writers’ union, four months after it went on strike. Their last meeting to discuss the strike ended in arguments, The Wall Street Journal reports, and the studios decided not to release their offer publicly last Friday. Now, they’re hoping a public disclosure will appeal to enough union members to put pressure on the union’s leadership. Among the concessions are 21.5% more in residuals for writers and protection from the use of generative AI. The writers’ union is not impressed.

Snap to attention: Snap Inc. has a new country head in India. Pulkit Trivedi, formerly director of Google Pay, will manage the company’s growth, marketing, and creator relationships directly. He will report to Snap’s head of Asia-Pacific, Ajit Mohan. Both Trivedi and Mohan have previously worked at Meta India.

“Where are the teeth?”: The Supreme Court asks TV news channels. A three-judge bench said that news broadcasters are unable to self-regulate and the fines they pay for violating their own rules were paltry. It was listening to an appeal filed by the National Broadcasters’ Association against a ₹1 lakh (~$1,200) fine.

With several major state elections scheduled this year, and the general election next year, news channels are preparing for a bountiful season of ad revenue. Some news channels are demanding raw data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) during the election season, while others want a ratings blackout altogether.

Trumpet 🎺

Tarun Tahiliani/Instagram

Super-glamorous shows and brand integrations are a match made in heaven. Which is why this much-delayed season of Amazon Prime Video’s Made In Heaven is absolutely teeming with brand integrations: everything from dubiously bright-red Zomato takeaway bags (has anyone ever actually got their order in one?) to an entire episode starring designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, featuring his bridal couture collection.

But while Sabya got a generous plug, fellow wedding couturier Tarun Tahiliani was left in the cold. In a series of Instagram stories, he expressed disappointment at the makers of the show for featuring his outfits—provided for free—and passing them off as designs of a character on the show. “If this is what the production house intended, they should have engaged a costume designer,” Tahiliani said.

Incidentally, the Aditya Birla Group’s fashion arm invested in both Sabyasachi (which it owns) and Tarun Tahiliani (for a 33% stake) in 2021.

Popular TV (and web) shows are a powerful brand marketing tool. There are Pinterest boards dedicated to actor Sobhita Dhulipala’s sarees from the show; brands big (like Raw Mango) and small (like Roma Narsinghani) are marketing themselves with stills and clips from the show. But just like with Tahiliani, none of these brands were explicitly advertised by name, and it was up to them to use the show material to promote their products.

Was Tahiliani’s deal with the show’s makers different? Maybe, but the brand did put up an Instagram post featuring the actors from the show wearing the designer’s clothes. Maybe it was the realisation that a rival (and his collection) got the meatier role. What’s amazing is that despite average (and some poor) reviews, Made In Heaven has such a chokehold on the rich urban Indian that the country’s most iconic designers are jostling for the spotlight.

That’s all this week. If you enjoyed reading The Impression, please share it with your friends, family, and colleagues. And please write to me anytime at [email protected] with thoughts, feedback, criticism or anything you’d like to see discussed in this space. I'd love to hear from you.

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