With seven Hindi and regional movies skipping theatres and premiering on streaming platforms, will digital-first emerge as a new trend?
With cinema theatres shut since mid-march and the likelihood of opening any time soon bleak due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, filmmakers are now looking at over-the-top (OTT) platforms to release their movies. “Interest costs are mounting on amounts raised to fund films, with producers having to bear this additional burden with no date in sight for cinemas to re-open; in fact with the knowledge that cinemas may be one of the last sectors of the service sector likely to be given permission to re-open,” Producers Guild of India said in a statement. Recently, several Hindi movies such as Gulabo Sitabo, Shakuntala Devi and Ghoomketu along with some regional movies decided to skip the theatrical release and straightway went to streaming platforms, on account of mounting costs which the producers have to bear. However, this move may come at a large price.
This move has drawn a lot of ire from the exhibition industry as the movement will undeniably affect the footfall when theatres do open. For instance, Inox Leisure issued a statement saying that it is disappointed to see one of the partners not continuing the mutually beneficial relationship which exhibition industry and content creators share and shall now have to take certain actions against the content creators. “INOX will be constrained to examine its options, and reserve all rights, including taking retributive measures,” the company said. PVR, though disappointed by some of the producers’ decision to skip a theatrical release, pointed out that this is not the first time films are being premiered on streaming platforms first. “Cinema exhibition has regularly faced competition from new emerging distribution platforms over the last many years, and it has continued to enjoy cine-goers patronage and affinity. Once we get to the other side of this crisis, there would be enough and more pent up demand from cine-goers who have been cooped up at homes for the last many weeks,” Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures, opined.
OTT versus Movie Theatres?
As per Box Office India – a box office analysis platform, Ayushmann Khurana and Amitabh Bachchan’s film Gulabo Sitabo’s move to Amazon Prime will be a beneficial one. The deal has been estimated to be cinched at Rs 65 – Rs 70 crore, while the television rights of the movie continue to remain with the producers and are worth Rs 10 crore. Overall, the movie will be able to rake in Rs 75- Rs 80 crore. Production houses believe that while it is a good idea for medium-budget movies to release on OTT platforms, it will not be picked up by big-budget movies. “While big-budget movies won’t be released on OTT platforms as the move wouldn’t allow to production firms to recover cost mid-size films will be released on OTT platforms,” Vikramaditya Motwane, founder, Phantom Films, said.
About 65%-70% of the film industry’s revenue is dependent on theatrical releases. This is also a reason why big-budget movies such as Laxxmi Bomb or Sooryavanshi, which were estimated to cross Rs 300 crore at the box office, cannot afford to move to OTT platforms. “Releasing on OTT has not become a trend as of yet, as it depends on market forces and negotiations. It depends on what the price is offered by the streaming platform and whether the production house is capable of riding this period and release the movie next year,” Jehil Thakkar, partner, Deloitte, said. Production firms will only opt for OTT release if the deal is monetarily viable.
Industry analysts further pointed out that it would also depend on how long the situation takes to normalise. According to Thakkar, If theatres are able to function by September/October, in that case, production firms will not mind holding onto their content. However, if it stretches to next year, then things may differ. Meanwhile, in the international film arena, big-budget movies such as James Bond: No Time To Die and Black Widow along with several other Marvel movies have been postponed due to the pandemic with no murmurs of a digital-first release. If big-budget movies across the world are put on hold, will Bollywood also maintain its traditional theatre first stance, or will it decide to go digital-first, even if the move comes at a loss? Only time will tell.