FICCI E-Frames: Small comfort, but film industry thankful for OTTs

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July 12, 2020 7:15 AM

Going by the trend in international markets like South Korea, Germany and France that saw impressive footfalls at theatres after reopening, producers and exhibitors are confident it will be replicated in India as well.

As far as exhibitors are concerned, they do not feel threatened by OTT platforms.

With theatres shut, the going has been tough for the film industry. Absence of a theatrical window has pushed many filmmakers to give the silver screen a miss and opt for digital releases — as many as 10 Bollywood movies have been acquired by digital platforms so far. The decision, although not easy — as actor Akshay Kumar had pointed out: “a movie is the birthright of the theatres” — is the need of the hour. Filmmakers strongly believe that the economics of a movie hinges on theatres —60-70% of a producer’s revenue comes from the theatrical collections, but the presence of OTT (over-the-top) platforms during the pandemic has definitely been a ‘great boon’ for the industry, they acknowledged.

“Is a film releasing on an OTT platform wrong? The answer is no,” said Shibasish Sarkar, group CEO, content, digital and gaming, Reliance Entertainment, at the Ficci Frames Summit on Saturday. If a film producer, who has been incurring costs and losing money due to the pending release of a movie, finds a platform to distribute his film, “it is a correct decision between a buyer and a supplier,” said Sarkar. This way, at least some money is flowing back into the system.

Sarkar said even if a producer wants to release a blockbuster movie on a digital platform, it is his individual decision and should not be criticised. However, Sarkar, who is backing big-budget movies — Sooryavanshi and 83 — reiterated that he will try to hold the movies for a theatrical launch as long as he can. The movies were slated to be released during Diwali and Christmas, respectively. “This part of the economy (theatres) has to open up or there is no long-term survival for us,” Sarkar added.

Leading Telugu film producer, distributor, exhibitor and studio owner Sureshbabu Daggubati said producers are not sure if they should they take their movies to the cinemas even if they resume operations. The authorities may mandate exhibitors to reduce their occupancy levels and it is also uncertain if the consumers would visit theatres with strict measures like social distancing and masks in place. Producers do not want to take the risk of rushing a movie to the theatre and end up with meagre collections that fail to recover their costs, Daggubati said. “Today, there is an option for me to sell my film on the OTT. If I go for a direct OTT release, I get a certain price. If I go to the theatre and OTT, the value of the OTT falls drastically (in case it does poorly at the cinemas).

This economic calculation is in everyone’s (producers’) mind,” Daggubati said. The government needs to step in and help the sector by easing the burden of GST and power bills for at least a year, he added.  Director Shoojit Sircar, whose film Gulabo Sitabo was the first to opt for an OTT release, said he is “happy with the way the film has fared on the digital medium so far”. Producers of the film reportedly earned Rs 65 crore, which more than covered the film’s estimated Rs 35-crore budget.

As far as exhibitors are concerned, they do not feel threatened by OTT platforms. Devang Sampat, CEO at Cinepolis India, said after the growth of OTT in India, the footfalls at the theatre have only grown since OTTs boosted consumers’ appetite for good content. Earlier, it was unthinkable for a movie like Stree to get to the `100-crore club. “Theatres and OTT platforms will coexist,” exhibitors said.

Going by the trend in international markets like South Korea, Germany and France that saw impressive footfalls at theatres after reopening, producers and exhibitors are confident it will be replicated in India as well. Release of a single blockbuster movie will drive considerable footfalls to the cinemas—exhibitors believe they are “just one blockbuster away”.

“In the long run, films will be back to the theatres and in a big way,” seconded Daggubati. As per a recent Deloitte-MPA report, India’s film industry is expected to clock in revenues of an estimated $4.3 billion by FY2024 from $2.7 billion in FY2019.

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