Netflix, in an attempt to disrupt the ‘original’ model it pioneered, plans to release its original movie titles globally in cinema halls, starting with theatrical releases of three of its major award contenders: Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Susanne Bier’s Bird Box.
While this move will help it restore the equation with cinema owners — as it was known to be vocal against exclusive theatrical releases — it seems to be following into the footsteps of its competitors like Amazon Prime Video which had released its exclusive titles in theatres in the past before streaming on Prime. “However, Amazon has not disrupted distribution and exhibition ecosystem. It releases its movies in theatres before posting them online. Disney is also exploring this model,” says Priya Choudhary, managing partner, MediaCom.
It seems Netflix also does not want to be stereotyped as only a ‘made for TV’ content house. “As content IPRs start getting more expensive and exclusive, OTT platforms with deep pockets will try and establish themselves as bonafide content houses such as Disney, which also has a streaming service,” opines Mukul Krishna, global head, digital media practice, Frost & Sullivan.
“The needle has shifted for incumbent OTT providers to not just produce original content but also use cinema distribution for larger market buzz.”
Clearly with Disney’s OTT plans, AT&T looking to expand HBO into streaming, and YouTube growing the world over, the fight for providing great entertainment on a screen is only getting tougher. Furthermore, theatrical releases also mean a possibility to vie for awards — a big push to content creators. In addition, such releases serve as ‘head content’ which helps in sampling and eventually driving traffic to the streaming platform as well. Hiren Gada, CEO, Shemaroo Entertainment — which plans to launch its OTT platform next year — observes, “A release in theatres can give Netflix wider publicity and also more revenue streams in addition to subscription revenues.”
Buoyed by the traction generated for the movie Love per Square Foot and shows Sacred Games and Ghoul, Netflix is looking to experiment with pricing models in India with a focus on adding 100 million subscribers.
What does its global move to theatrical releases, then, mean for multiplexes in India if a content tie-up is explored in the country as well?
“Netflix has high production quality content along with research/analytics capabilities. Effective targeting would keep seats in cinemas relatively more occupied,” says Krishna.
In fact, experts say this is an opportunity to be explored by leading OTT players and production houses in India too, if the model succeeds globally. Eros Digital COO Ali Hussein, believes that while digital-only releases are gaining momentum, one can’t mirror the reach of theatres. “Releasing a film in theatres is both a content opportunity as well as a marketing one,” he says. “There are certain economies available with distribution platforms like multiplexes which also provide revenue opportunities for content creators.”
While currently, Netflix has not officially confirmed any plan to premiere its original content in Indian theatres, it heavily used the medium to advertise its upcoming series and already has advertising tie-ups with key players like PVR Cinemas and INOX Leisure. “Sacred Games was heavily advertised in our cinemas. At times, Netflix wants to premiere its shows with us. However, we don’t want to encourage special screenings as our categories don’t overlap,” says Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Cinemas.
In a similar vein, Anand Vishal, VP, sales, INOX, remarks, “If Netflix screens its originals in India, it will be more from the perspective of creating a talking point and not really a marketing strategy.”