Digital to the rescue

By: |
May 31, 2021 7:01 AM

We ask experts if other filmmakers are likely to follow suit

The Indian audience is ever evolving and seeking new alternatives for entertainment.The Indian audience is ever evolving and seeking new alternatives for entertainment.

The Indian film industry, which was hoping for a more lucrative summer this year, has had to hold back new releases as the second wave of the pandemic rages on. Salman Khan-starrer Radhe became the first Indian big-budget movie to opt for a simultaneous digital and theatrical release. Venkata Susmita Biswas asks experts if other filmmakers are likely to follow suit.

‘Larger studios will wait for theatres to reopen’

Mihir Shah, VP, Media Partners Asia

The digital revenue pool in India is still not large enough to justify the high acquisition cost for these big-budget films. In 2020, India’s D2C SVoD market stood at $440 million, while DTH operators made $80 million from VAS services. In contrast, Indian gross box office earnings reached $1.5 billion in 2019. In a typical year, domestic theatricals contribute 60% to the movie industry revenue. The financial incentives are significant for the industry to align back to pre-pandemic windowing of movie releases on theatres (T), followed by digital (T+45 days) and satellite (T+90 days).

Pay-per-view or TVoD revenue streams aid to boost existing ARPUs and are more prevalent in matured subscription industries (DTH) and markets (the US, Europe). With more than 60 online video services in India, the industry is in a land grab phase. In that regard, the TVoD model adopted for recently released Radhe is very premature. Going forward, as supply-side issues stabilise, several small-budget films or those which struggle to get a sizable share of screens for release, will go the digital way. Meanwhile, larger studios with financial capacity to service their interest payments will prefer to wait for theatres to reopen.

‘Important that theatrical revenues regain lustre’

Nitin Tej Ahuja, CEO, Producers Guild of India

Desperate maladies call for desperate remedies. In view of the severe (and still ongoing) Covid crisis and the resultant theatre closures, producers have had to pivot to alternate platforms for exhibiting films. It is a very fluid and evolving situation, and it is hard to precisely predict the contours of the post-pandemic film ecosystem, but most experts believe that the theatrical window of exclusivity is unlikely to be of the same duration as it was earlier. However, while the current crisis may have acted as an accelerator, these windows were anyway ripe for change, both globally and domestically, even before the pandemic.

With huge amounts of funds locked up in projects — both completed and those at a standstill — it is important not only for producers, but also the larger film economy to find some way to monetise these properties and inject some liquidity back into the system. So, whether it is SVoD or TVoD or any other model or platform, producers are trying out different options. That said, from a producer’s perspective, it is critically important that theatrical revenues regain their lustre in the near future, as that is essential for a healthy and balanced film market.

‘Newer hybrid models could be created’

Shrenik Gandhi, CEO, White Rivers Media

The Indian audience is ever evolving and seeking new alternatives for entertainment. Direct-to-digital through a TVoD strategy, alongside a theatrical release, was a bold experiment for a movie like Radhe. For TVoD to be a success for any top-tier movie, at least three of the following four factors need to be in perfect alignment: timing, content, whether an alternate source of entertainment is available, and, finally, star cast. The star cast and the lack of other entertainment options worked in favour of Radhe; and points one and two did not, which led to a dip in the collections as the week passed.

Once states start lifting lockdown restrictions, theatres open up and people return to their normal lives (with the necessary pandemic-appropriate behaviour), newer hybrid models could be created. There could be cases where TVoD could come into the picture a few days after the movie is released in theatres; or there could be select viewing of the movie at a premium, in advance, the way premieres used to happen in pre-Covid times. Movie marketers need to keep experimenting with various models and keep unlearning the old ways to conquer the new-age audience.

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