Nostalgia emerges as key theme for content in 2020

Indians have turned to old, nostalgic offerings across the media and entertainment sector to cope with the covid-19 pandemic this year. While re-runs of mythologicals Ramayana and Mahabharat on Doordarshan dominated the first half, repeat airings of TV soap Saath Nibhaana Saathiya have been topping BARC Hindi GEC (general entertainment channel) category ratings in the recent past even though fresh content is available. At 13.3 million AMAs (average minute audience), the show ranked higher than Zee TV’s hugely popular Kundali Bhagya last week. AMA is defined as the number of individuals of a target audience who viewed an “event”, averaged across minutes.

Further, web shows such as Panchayat (Amazon Prime Video) and Scam 1992 (SonyLIV) capitalised on an old-world charm while classic Hindi film songs have topped audio streaming platforms. Music labels have also licensed old songs for use in new movie and web show titles like Ludo and Disney+ Hotstar’s Aarya. Earlier this year, advertisers such as Amul, Vodafone (pug ad) and Asian Paints (Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai) brought back some of their much-loved campaigns.

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“Nostalgia has emerged as one of the most compelling content lenses in recent years, and it is unlikely to lose its footing anytime soon,” Shailesh Kapoor, founder and chief executive officer of media consulting firm Ormax wrote in a blog earlier this month. For instance, Ludo King has emerged as the most popular online game of 2019-20, he pointed out, even as modern-era games like PUB G (till its ban in India) and its variants fascinate teenagers and the youth.

“Audiences are beginning to question if they need modern interpretations at all, or would they rather visit the old world as it was, without any gloss and packaging added to make it relevant,” he wrote.

Video streaming platforms have also seen impressive viewership for classic movies. Initially considered niche services appealing primarily to urban, millennial crowds, OTTs have discovered a new audience in the 40-plus generation during the pandemic that turned to it as other avenues of entertainment remained out of reach. Soumya Mukherjee, vice-president, revenue and strategy at Bengali-language streaming service Hoichoi had said earlier during the lockdown that consumption of old classics had surged three times. The hits included offerings from icons such as Tapan Sinha, Satyajit Ray, Uttam Kumar and Ritwik Ghatak.

Vikram Mehra, managing director at Saregama India Ltd said there could have been no bigger advantage for them as a music label during the pandemic than their huge play in retro music. “The pandemic saw a leaning towards music that could appeal to everyone at home rather than just the individual and that helped us,” Mehra said. “Also, the use of old Hindi film music in recent web shows like Ludo, Aarya, Delhi Crime and A Suitable Boy have exposed younger audiences to older music.”

Amarjit Batra, managing director – India, Spotify admitted their data shows retro music has a very loyal listener base, these classics are not only limited to Hindi, but extend to English, Tamil, Telugu, and Punjabi as well. While Arijit Singh is the most streamed artiste in India on Spotify in 2020, older names like Shreya Ghoshal and AR Rahman rank seven and eight respectively.

“Music is nostalgic and has a special place in Indian households; music right from the 50s all the way to the 90s, and even the latest songs, are integral in the way families bond and soundtrack their daily lives. While there was an absence of film releases, Bollywood tracks comprised 8 of the top 10 most-streamed songs of the year in India,” Batra said.

“The pandemic has been a time for us to feel depressed about our present and future. It has thrown us completely off gear, making it difficult to either pep up the present or imagine a beautiful future. The only recourse has been to go back and reclaim the past,” said Pulkit Sharma, a clinical psychologist in Puducherry.

“After the usual cooking and working out activities fizzled out, the past was the only place you could feel happy,” Sharma pointed out.

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