Analysts at research firm Media Partners Asia estimate that India had 27 million paid online video subscribers in April
Dil Bechara — Sushant Singh Rajput’s last film — has understandably been a big hit with viewers thronging to the Disney+Hotstar platform. Given the circumstances, it would probably have drawn crowds even if it had been first released in the theatres. However, a crop of digital-first releases is attracting a sizeable audience that might not have been the case had they been screened in the theatres first.
To be sure, the genuine viewership data for OTT screenings is not available and the numbers being put out are merely estimates. Also, the population of paid subscribers is very small though a connection, is more often than not, shared by two or three people. Analysts at research firm Media Partners Asia estimate that India had 27 million paid online video subscribers in April.
Given that people have been locked-in at home these past few months that number would have gone up. Amazon Prime Video has a share of nearly 45%, Disney+Hotstar an estimated 30% while Netflix has a share of about 14% of the market of paying viewers. The rest of the pie is owned by a clutch of players.
The total theatre seating capacity with the Inox and PVR chains is around 3.25 lakh. Experts say that in the first week of a release, a film is typically screened for four to five shows. The average occupancy is 50-60% and if the film features top stars and does well, that could increase to around 95-100% over the weekends.
However, mid-budget films like Amazon Prime Video’s Shakuntala Devi and Netflix’s Raat Akeli Hai, they feel, would have been watched at best by 5 lakh people in a week — roughly 2 lakh on weekdays and around 3 lakh on the weekends. In contrast, the viewership — based on surveys — for these films on the OTT platforms has been estimated at 25 lakh over a week. Akshaye Rathi, director at Saroj Screens told FE that Shakuntala Devi and Raat Akeli Hai would have done “very well” at the multiplexes without specifying the numbers.
Again, a film like Disney+Hotstar’s Lootcase, which features no big stars, they point out, is unlikely to have attracted much of a crowd in the cinema halls. However, the comedy seems to have fared well on the streaming platform; data provided by Ormax Media shows as many as 30 lakh people may have seen it over a week between July 31 and August 7.
Shailesh Kapoor, CEO at Ormax Media said biopics have typically been crowd pullers, which probably explained the success of Amazon Prime Video’s Shakuntala Devi. The success of Lootcase, he felt could partly be attributed to the huge subscriber base of Disney+Hotstar given the platform’s sports content.
Kapoor says viewership on OTT depends on content, rather than the star cast. “Had Raat Akeli Hai released in the theatres, the opening would have been better than Lootcase due to its bigger star cast. Gulabo Sitabo, the data shows has garnered an estimated 120 lakh views over the June 12-August 7period.
As experts say, streaming platforms allow viewers to try out films. Also, a Bollywood film may not always draw in a big audience, in the south, if the release coincides with a local blockbuster. With OTT platforms offering several subscriber options, consumers are being encouraged to sign on. Prime Video comes at a monthly price of `129 while Netflix’s cheapest pack within its slate of monthly offerings — the mobile-only pack — is priced at `199. Disney+Hotstar’s monthly subscription costs `299 but a cheaper variant of its annual pack, with select content, is priced at `399. Also, Netflix’s standard plan can be accessed by two devices at the same time while the premium plan can be availed by four devices simultaneously. Prime Video allows up to three members to stream content at the same time. However, the same title can be watched by only two people at one time.
Ajay Shah, partner, EY, observes that while viewership may be bigger on OTT platforms, especially in the current circumstances, it’s the revenues that would decide on the channel of release. Clearly, that tilts the scale in favour of theatres. A recent report by Deloitte put the average ticket prices at `192-197 in the first half of FY20 compared with `170-188 in FY16.
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