Understanding the changing dynamics of movie business in an OTT era

Even as COVID-19 cases across the country keep yo-yoing, India is returning to normalcy and even looking at a bumper festive season ahead. Crowds are returning to malls and market places, eateries, tourist places; even schools have started re-opening in a phased manner for senior classes. Vaccination drive continues at an aggressive pace, which has brought back some confidence to the market.

Movie halls, which had been shut for several months now, though briefly re-opening before being shut again due to the second wave of COVID-19, are now re-opening again with strict safety protocols. Cinema halls in almost all part of the country are now open, except in Maharashtra, the largest market for movies in the country.

Akshay Kumar’s spy caper – ‘Bell Bottom’ – released in movie theatres in August 2021 and did brisk business, thus signalling people’s willingness to watch a movie in the theatre. In the long months of lockdowns and restrictions on people’s movement outside homes, OTT became the go-to screen for movie premieres and we saw quite a few Bollywood A-listers releasing their films on OTT, including Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ayushmann Khurrana, Amitabh Bachchan and more.

More movie releases are planned in theatres in the coming weeks as the festive season gains further momentum. The positive consumer sentiment has buoyed the movie industry.

However, with no indication of when movie halls will be allowed to be re-open in Maharashtra, has disappointed the industry. In a tweet, the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) has appealed to the Maharashtra Government to reopen cinemas. MAI stated, “Due to state-wide lockdowns, the cinema exhibition industry has run into an extremely adverse and hostile situation. It was the first sector to be shut down and will be the last sector to reopoen.” A year earlier, in Septeber 2020, MAI had claimed that the rate of losses resulting from closure of cinema halls was at Rs 1,500 crore monthly and amounted to Rs 9,000 crore over six months (April-September 2020).

While OTT platforms may not offer the big screen experience of watching a movie, they have kept the cinema industry going in these challenging times and catered to the movie-crazy nation. Even thought cinema halls re-open, there are certain genres of movies that might continue with OTT releases, such as small-budgeted off-beat cinema. The big-budget star-studded spectacles will still go for theatre releases. However, the window of theatre release and OTT/ TV premiere has been shortened considerably now, which has created some concern for movie producers, who are apprehensive of not making the desired returns from theatres if the film premieres of OTT or television too soon.

"I believe that we may not see a drastic change of dynamics here"

- BBAP Founder-CEO, Sudip Mukherjee

Commenting on the changing dynamics of the OTT platforms, BBAP Founder-CEO, Sudip Mukherjee, said, “Initially, when OTT platforms entered the market, theatres were running at full speed and mechanisms were quite defined for each in India. Thus, I believe that we may not see a drastic change of dynamics here. OTT has certainly opened a vast opportunity for niche storytellers and segmented audiences, whereas earlier films were dependent on theatrical releases, making it an expensive proposition for the filmmakers. OTT platforms offer an ever-expanding universe of content that caters to a wide chunk of audiences.”

He further said, “At Biiggbang, we are trying to create a platform that gives unmatched experience to the viewers with our extensive library of short films that endorse remarkable stories and quality performances. Of course, films that offer larger-than-life kind of experiences will need a theatrical release; however, overall dynamics of content reaching to the audience can be left at the filmmakers’ discretion.”

"We are seeing a secular trend in OTT consumption growth and that will continue"

- Uday Sodhi, Senior Partner, Kurate Digital

On the co-existence of OTT and movie theatres, Uday Sodhi, Senior Partner, Kurate Digital, said, “OTT viewing habits are not going to change in any way. We are seeing a secular trend in OTT consumption growth and that will continue. More OTT investment in content will continue to drive users.”

“With theatres re-opening, producers will have more monetisation opportunities through box office and OTT. That should bring cheer back to the film industry and we should see more films coming to screens – in theatres and on OTT,” Sodhi added.

While we saw mainstream actors like Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar releasing their films on OTT during the lockdown period, it remains to be seen whether producers will be willing to have an OTT premire for their big-budget movies as theatres re-open on a larger scale.

"With OTT platforms booming, today one doesn’t need a star for a film to be a blockbuster"

-Mrinal Jha, Founder, MAJ (Mrinal Abhigyan Jha) Productions

Sharing her thoughts on blockbuster releases on OTT, Mrinal Jha, Founder, MAJ (Mrinal Abhigyan Jha) Productions, said, “With OTT platforms booming, today one doesn’t need a star for a film to be a blockbuster. Over the years, the reason producers sign up already-established stars is to harp on their already-existing fandom. However, now with OTT underwriting a film, the producer will not need a star to make a successful project. For instance, the OTT platforms would do great with actors of the level of Vicky Kaushal, who is not typecast and yet has a following and star appeal rather than the big, super-expensive ones. In fact, he would be my first choice for our upcoming big-ticket OTT project.”

Another question that everyone has been asking is whether OTT platforms will find it hard to find sufficient new movie content once the theatres reopen or will we see an altogether new breed of content in the market.

"I believe that we will see an uptake in rich content going forward as well"

-Anant Roongta, MD, Famous Studio

Commenting on the evolving content scenario, Anant Roongta, MD, Famous Studio, observed, “Content – both its creation and viewership – is constantly evolving, and OTT releases aren’t likely to slow down in the future. Firstly, because OTT content production now extends opportunities to a much larger and more diverse talent-pool of movie-makers, actors and technicians. Secondly, OTT platforms, hitherto considered urban-centric, have now become popular across geographies and demographics, thanks to the amazing variation in content for adults and children alike. In fact, reports suggest that OTT services have seen a nearly 100% increase in viewership of kids’ content during the pandemic. I believe that we will see an uptake in rich content going forward as well.”

(Edited and Additional Inputs by Shanta Saikia.)


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