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How COVID-19 is wiping out the Box Office dominion

The Rs 100-crore, Rs 200-crore, even Rs 300-crore clubs were becoming the norm before COVID-19 struck. No one could have envisioned a scenario where cinema halls and multiplexes would be shut to the public for a prolonged period of time. The pandemic and the lockdowns changed that.

With the movie halls shut, OTT has become the alternate screen for movie premieres. Though there have been quite a few movie releases on the digital streaming platforms, a majority of the Bollywood producers continue to hold back the release of their big budget productions. ‘Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai’, starring an A-lister – Salman Khan – has sought to break the mould and took the brave step of having a hybrid release for the film – on the ZEE5 OTT platform and in theatres where they are allowed to be opened, mostly in the international markets.

Released on the occasion of Eid this year, Salman’s movies are usually expected to easily breach the Rs 100-crore mark. Box Office returns for the actor’s films are pegged to be phenomenal, with housefull sign boards in most theatres. But the OTT space is a different ballgame altogether. There is no Box Office here. ‘Radhe’ can be viewed as pay-per-view on ZeePlex and on ZEE5, and the OTT platform reported that it had around 4.2 million views on the day the movie dropped on the streaming platform. However, according to industry analysts, these views do not translate into Rs 100 crore or more as multiple people in the family would be watching the film on one payment of pay-per-view, vis-a-vis watching in a theatre, where every member of the family would be required to buy a ticket.

Salman, too, worked out the math and while speaking to the media ahead of the movie’s premiere, he had said that the Box Office collections of ‘Radhe’ would be “zero” in India.

Salman is not the first A-lister whose film has released on the digital platform, earlier we had Akshay Kumar’s ‘Laxmii’ releasing on Disney+ Hotstar, Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushman Khurrana-starrer ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ releasing on Amazon Prime Video, among others. But, most of the films starring big names have stayed away from OTT platforms so far.

Will we see the Box Office buzzing any time soon? It seems doubtful, as the consumer sentiment has been hit hard by the second wave of COVID-19, which has been far more devastating that last year and has seen horrific suffering by those afflicted – lack of oxygen, hospital beds and overcrowded cremation grounds. Medical experts warn us that this variant of the Coronavirus is far more virulent, is airborne, strikes more aggressively and death can be sudden. Moreover, this time it is the young population that has been hit the most.

It has been proved beyond doubt that a large part of the second wave of infections has been a result of the people becoming complacent in following the COVID-19 protocols as cases came down drastically since October last year. So, even when the movie halls reopen, will the people be willing to take the risk of watching a movie in the theatre, regardless of how stringent the safety protocols may be? Only time will tell.

Speaking to Adgully about how the future of Box Office looks like, Uday Sodhi, Senior Partner, Kurate Digital, opined, “The future of Theatre Box Office depends on how we handle the COVID-19 pandemic. For the next few months, it is unlikely that Box Office collections will improve. That leaves OTT release as the only option. This will seriously impact the viability of big budget films as Box Office generates approximately 2/3rd of all collections in India. Unless OTT revenues ramp up, movie revenues will be impacted significantly.”

On the other hand, Rohit Jain, Managing Director, Lionsgate South Asia and Networks - Emerging Markets Asia, remained more positive, as he said, “While OTT seemed to be the preferred medium of release, it is not going to be either/or in the long run. Movie watching on the big screen is a phenomenon that viewers will always crave for and enjoy. Large scale films will always enjoy the audience love on the Box Office once we are on the other side of the pandemic. Business models and economics of theatres, OTT and other distribution options may undergo changes, but that is unlikely to have any bearing on relevance of these segments.”

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