Streaming platform Netflix is focusing on comedy and its first offering under the category this year is headlined by Kapil Sharma, a stand-up comedy talent and host of one of the most popular TV programmes, The Kapil Sharma Show.
“Comedy is a big area of focus for us and always has been. Last year we launched Comedy Premier League featuring 17 comics from India and also have stand-up specials from artistes like Vir Das, Amit Tandon, Kenny Sebastian. This year Kapil Sharma is headlining our comedy slate. We wanted to bring him back to the stand-up genre from where he started his journey,” Tanya Bami, series head, Netflix India, told Moneycontrol.
Some of the Indian comedy specials Netflix has include Yours Sincerely, Kanan Gill, Kenny Sebastian: The Most Interesting Person in the Room and Vir Das: Losing It, among others. Some international comedy specials include Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King, a comedy film by the American comedian of Indian descent, Trevor Noah: Son of Patricia and Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark, the last two movies featuring the South African comedy star.
Cashing in on comedy
Along with Sharma’s stand-up special titled I’m Not Done Yet, the over-the-top (OTT) player has plans to bring on the platform a mix of stand-up specials this year. “We are also excited about how the Jonas Brothers roast was received so we are doing something around that.
After the web series Decoupled, we are keen on sitcoms as India loves this genre. Then romantic comedies, we are looking at that as we know that is something Indians love from the uptick of Korean dramas,” Bami added.
She said that Netflix India’s comedy line-up numbers will be higher than last year. However, did not share exact how many shows were released in the category last year but added that comedy is very prominent for Netflix and across the world the platform’s investments in comedy and focus on the genre is fairly large.
“Comedy is an easy way to communicate. Non-fiction viewership grew 250 percent from 2019 to 2021 and in that the comedy specials format saw high traction,” said Bami.
During the lockdown in 2020, comedy remained the most popular genre of content for OTT audience with a viewership share of 16.5 percent, followed by thrillers at 13 percent, crime at 12.5 percent and action at 12.1 percent.
She added that the platform is working on the second season of web series Mismatched, Masaba and Bollywood Wives. “While all of these are manifestations of comedy, in pure-play comedy there’s a lot cooking too,” added Bami.
However, she pointed out that the coronavirus outbreak has affected the Indian stand-up comedy scene.
“Capturing comedy live shows has been affected due to COVID. Large audiences can’t be engaged. During Comedy Premier League, we went ahead with a 30-people audience. By creating bubbles, we continued creating our scripted content. But people have to congregate beyond a number during a live shoot which became difficult,” said Bami.
Netflix's bet on Kapil Sharma
Suraj Karvi, VP, Head of Media, Blink Digital, a digital ad agency noted that focusing on comedy bundled with other offerings across genres can be the right strategy especially for Netflix that is fighting the value game in India.
"Despite price drops and making it more competitive, it (Netflix) hasn't seen likewise growth in subscribers. But this specific content (Kapil Sharma stand up special) will further help Netflix to be an inclusive brand within the Indian market especially when comedy as a genre gets great traction across all regional pockets of India. Various studies indicate comedy is the one of most preferred contents online," he added.
Karvi added that not only is Kapil Sharma a household name, his content and appeal cuts across as it is mainstream. "To put things in perspective, The Kapil Sharma Show is within the top 5 shows on Sony Liv with almost 35-40 million monthly reach," he said.
Utkarsh Sinha, managing director, Bexley Advisors, a boutique advisory firm supporting tech/ media companies, too thinks that the choice of Kapil Sharma is interesting given his large broadcast following. However, he said that it is questionable whether there is a strong overlap between his current audience base and Netflix’s subscriber base.
“It will be interesting to see if his show can actually serve as a crossover between these complimentary audience bases and drive subscription conversion,” said Sinha.
Focus on regional
With around 5.5 million subscribers in India, Netflix is finding its slow going in India frustrating. Experts tracking the India streaming space expect the platform to up its focus on regional content. But going regional does not always work.
Karvi noted that while localised and regional content is the way to crack it in India, comedy unlike other genres cannot be just localised and dubbed for regionalisation as the essence gets lost. “Therefore, region-specific comedy content is a must.”
Amazon Prime Video with 21.8 million subscribers has already marked its presence in the regional space when it comes to stand-up specials. The platform in 2020 had launched Comicstaan Tamil which is touted as the first regional stand-up reality show on digital. In addition, the platform had offered 40 Indian stand-up comedy specials in 2019.
Netflix's 2022 content plans
As competition in India’s streaming market heats up, Netflix will be upping its overall content line-up for 2022 along with comedy. Netflix had released 41 original titles last year.“I don’t think Netflix India has rolled out this kind of volume of originals ever before,” said Bami.