Bollywood in 2021: Theatrical releases back but some may still pick OTT

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February 8, 2021 5:00 AM

As budgets for originals and local acquisitions grow bigger, the outlay is projected to grow at a CAGR of 18% during 2020-25 to $1.6 billion, they said.

As Jehil Thakkar, partner at Deloitte India, observes, “The days when every film, without exception, would first go to the cinemas may not ever come back. Windowing is now up in the air.”As Jehil Thakkar, partner at Deloitte India, observes, “The days when every film, without exception, would first go to the cinemas may not ever come back. Windowing is now up in the air.”

Bollywood may stage a strong comeback in the theatres in 2021, but the pandemic has forever changed an established practice that saw films move from one channel to another — theatres, television and so on — in a pattern. With cinema halls still half-empty many producers are opting to release their films on streaming platforms without waiting for a theatrical release; ‘windowing’ is, in effect, out the window. As Jehil Thakkar, partner at Deloitte India, observes, “The days when every film, without exception, would first go to the cinemas may not ever come back. Windowing is now up in the air.”

Rakesh Jariwala, partner at EY, believes content will now be increasingly created keeping in mind its suitability to a particular screen and the budgets structured accordingly. “There is a growing realisation that a direct release to OTT can also be a viable model. We have seen that some of the big players do have adequate resources to compensate producers for the theatrical window if the situation so demands,” Jariwala says.

Consequently, even as cinema theatres start attracting bigger audiences, OTT deals will continue to happen. Industry insiders say the biopic, Saina, for instance, could see an OTT release, possibly on Netflix, as could Kartik Aaryan’s Dhamaka. While a premiere on a streaming platform may lack the charm of a release in theatres, producers aren’t complaining about the money.

Analysts at Media Partners Asia estimate investments in OTT content were about $700 million in 2020. As budgets for originals and local acquisitions grow bigger, the outlay is projected to grow at a CAGR of 18% during 2020-25 to $1.6 billion, they said.

The availability of good and varied content has seen free users convert to subscribers. The trend accelerated during the pandemic when homebound viewers were able to sample content across platforms. Experts confirm subscriptions to OTT platforms have grown manifold. “The myth that Indian consumers do not pay for content has been busted. Before going to the theatres, people will decide whether it merits a watch at the cinemas or not,” Thakkar said.

Nonetheless, as Shariq Patel, chief business officer, Zee Studios, says OTT cannot replace the theatrical experience for certain types of films even if producers are upbeat about OTT. The line-up for 2021 is promising and one or two big releases should be able to pull in the crowds. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Tuesdays & Fridays is set to hit the cinemas on February 19, Salman Khan-starrer Radhe and John Abraham-starrer Satyameva Jayate 2 are likely to be Eid releases, while Reliance Entertainment’s Sooryavanshi and ‘83’ are expected to be released around March-April. YashRaj Films has reserved its entire slate — including Ranbir Kapoor-starrer action film Shamshera, Bunty aur Babli 2 and Prithviraj with Akshay Kumar — for releases in theatres. Makers of Telugu movie Pushpa featuring Allu Arjun have blocked the Independence Day weekend; Ajay Devgn’s Maidaan and Shahid Kapoor’s Jersey are expected to have a Dussehra and Diwali release, respectively.

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