OTTs: the Gold Rush Hollywood’s been waiting for?
Often when we talk about Netflix, Prime Video or Disney+ our conversations are monopolised by either the economics of an OTT platform or, more recently, the OTT-theatre conundrum. While these two may be the most pertinent discourses presently there is something else also that we tend to overlook: the employment it offers to up and coming actors. Recently, I was reading an interview of Chase Stokes, the male lead on Outer Banks, where he talked about struggling to land a gig in Hollywood and the experience of living in his car before landing the career-defining role on Netflix show. This interview made me wonder about those countless other shows that I had watched, potentially with a much larger global audience, and how those had provided those Tier B and C actors with a livelihood in an industry that is seldom kind to them. It’s as if OTT has given these people a new face, a new identity, and a new lease on life.
Would you have paid any attention to Chase Stokes had he not been on Outer Banks, but rather on another Cable-TV production? No, right! You might disagree and feel that he could have landed an equally, if not more, lucrative offer on cable TV, but, seriously, what are the chances of that happening? Very slim.
The surplus employment created by these OTT platforms is an argument oft-forgotten by most when debating the ill-effects of OTT. In the Before-OTT era, the box-office earnings of movies were the only source of income in the industry, which force-fed a culture of star power and fame in Hollywood. Simply put, before-OTT people had to venture beyond the comforts of their home to enjoy movies, but keeping in mind the expense and effort required to do the economic activity we as rational consumers would choose to watch one movie over the other, and if this boiled down to a choice between a famous actor we adored or a movie without a star face, it wouldn’t take a genius to know that the former would triumph. This disbalance in preferences created had created inequality in both income and opportunity for the less popular bandwagon in Hollywood.
Yes, opportunities were there for them too, but they weren’t as abundant as now when platforms across the spectrum are racing to develop newer content at a record pace. Earlier in the B.O. era where we would have a handful of studios making a couple of movies every year today, we have several OTT platforms producing alongside many major and independent studios too. The OTT era has not only generated employment on the content front but also the production front as it has allowed many actors, producers and directors to go solo by providing them with an opportunity to produce small budget films, docuseries, limited series, and a whole host of other content which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. Apple TV+ is a good example because while it may not have the scale it certainly has the financial muscle which has permitted it to finance exclusive boutique content. The Morning Show and Ted Lasso are some of the major shows it has produced to critical acclaim, and the biggest strength of these shows is that all of them are produced by actors running independent studios, who also coincidentally even act in major roles in the movies. This has allowed many new studios to be set up which further creates more employment in the whole technical, and production side of Hollywood. This has far bigger implications as it opens jobs for the less literate too as the number of manual labourers required in the entire industry would rise due to additional demand from these newer independent studios.
This employment thought may not be as consequential because if OTTs are unable to co-exist with theatres, then the inevitable demise of theatres will render hundreds of thousands of people unemployed. This unemployment will marginalise the positive impacts of the employment generation cycle initiated by OTTs and so if we want to feel this impact then the OTT platforms, major studios, and theatres need to come together to charter a plan that ensures the survival of theatres in the long term. Theatres are battling hard for their survival and there is a lot on the line. Ultimately, OTTs could be the mid-life refresh that was needed to spruce Hollywood up for the next century. This revolutionary change has set Hollywood on track for faster and greater development, growth and innovation. Lastly, let’s be mindful that not every change is bad as in the case of OTT, and that there are always going to be certain winners and losers with every such change. Theatres happened to be on the losing end this time, but even then there is hope to salvage their survival from this metamorphosis which shows the maturity that the present revolutions are bringing forth to the table. There is little we can do now, so let’s grab our popcorns and enjoy the movie from the front seat as the whole OTT-Theatre conundrum unravels.