The rise and rise of indie content creators as streaming wars heat up

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We have seen the rise of the OTT industry, the decline of mainstream media outlets, and the growth of OTT titans such as Netflix and Disney+. When appraising this industry at large, it is easy to localise our focus onto micro-level competition between individual platforms, or even the industry’s rise against the traditional movie and cable TV industries. In fact, the majority of analysis and focus has fallen upon the apparent gains for consumers across the world, or the growth and depth of the large platforms themselves. To be fair, this is expected in a nascent and high-potential industry, but this reality means smaller sneaky gainers have evaded the broader public eye and have carved out a niche for themselves, within which they are doing remarkably well without excessive scrutiny and criticism.

The ‘sneaky gainers’ are predominantly the smaller independent content creators and platforms, which have capitalised on certain specific factors to gain a huge amount of relevance in tiny pockets across the globe. Having ridden the metaphorical wave that was created by their hugely popular and expansive counterparts, indie platforms and studios have inadvertently done very well in the last few years, especially against the backdrop of the pandemic. Netflix’s annual user growth, or Disney+’s subscription figures are all extremely relevant statistics that reflect the OTT industry at large, but here are some extremely significant numbers that would have evaded the common OTT user’s attention:

Independent (or Indie) content accounts for over 65% of the world’s total content production, which translates to almost $150 billion in revenue. For context, Indie content by definition is produced by studios and houses that are not associated with the codified association studios of the largest movie industries in the world (i.e., Hollywood, Bollywood, for example.) Indie content is produced in over 250 languages ranging from global staples such as Mandarin, French and English to obscure regional tongues. Over a thousand platforms distribute indie content across the world, and a large number of indie shows and movies generate positive reviews and feedback among major critics and observers.

There is a large number of factors behind why indie content has garnered so much success in the last few years, some of which are fairly straightforward.

  • The biggest advantage indie content holds over larger productions is the sheer depth and variety available to the average consumer. For every large-scale IP production we see online, there are over 25 indie productions as well. While the likes of Star Wars and Marvel may shatter box office and viewership records with individual releases, the indie genre overwhelms them by their strength in numbers.
  • Mainstream media fatigue too plays an important role. People tend to get bored with the typical comic book adaptations, sci-fi and action films; and the variety that indie content provides allays that fatigue while fulfilling people’s entertainment needs.
  • Indie content is cheaper to produce (and thus, purchase), and still provides good quality.
  • As a consequence of cheaper productions, indie shows and movies tend to focus more on their stories and acting rather than visual and special effects, a trait a large number of viewers tend to appreciate.

Understandably, there is a multitude of factors that we still haven’t touched upon. Regardless, it is clear why the indie genre has become so large. What’s intriguing is how they achieved this scale in such a discrete and subtle manner – and that is precisely why they have been the largest gainer in the “streaming wars”.

There is no denying that the likes of Netflix and Prime Video put the OTT industry on the map. However, these platforms aimed at creating a new platform of mass entertainment driven by their licensing chops and original content at a time when cable TV and the big screen were dominant. Evidently, they succeeded. However, a lot of people didn’t realise that numerous others were slotting themselves into the gap between the older generation and these OTT giants, creating original content on a smaller scale that was available online on niche platforms. Sony Liv is a good example of this – in 2013, the Indian platform came online as a place where people could enjoy Sony productions alongside content produced by smaller regional houses in North India that Sony supported.

In 2019, Netflix became cognizant of this sleeping giant, and began commissioning a large number of indie studios to produce shows and movies exclusively for Netflix. In 2016, Netflix worked with just 11 independent creators in Europe – which rose to 44 in 2019 and 72 in 2020. Globally, they have partnered with over 100 studios in the past year alone. Some of their most popular shows – Money Heist (La Casa de Papel) and Lupin are the products of indie studios doing their best work with Netflix’s funding. The world of anime too has garnered a huge amount of popularity, with studios and artists that produce anime content almost doubling in number between 2016 and 2021.

Clearly, the Indie genre has made the best of what the OTT industry has to offer, and both consumers as well as smaller production houses are the better for it. The genre has grown exponentially in the last year as Netflix and Disney have begun licensing their works at an unprecedented scale alongside their own commissions. With more and more local OTT platforms coming up each month, this growth is still expected to accelerate, making independent content production a highly lucrative field that will mobilise even more creators in the near future.

(Picture for representation purpose only)