While digital saves the day for films, theatres & OTT will move in parallel, say experts
With movie theatres remaining shut due to the COVID-19 for almost three months now, the Indian film industry has started to look at other avenues to release the films. OTT, given the growing reach and subscription that it has seen during the lockdown period, has become the new platform of preference for film releases.
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Thus, in recent times we have seen the release of a few films on OTT platforms, including Amitabh Bachchan & Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer ‘Gulabo Sitabo’, Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s ‘Ghoomketu’, Manoj Bajpayee’s ‘Bhonsle’, among others. Earlier this week, Disney+ Hotstar announced the launch of its ‘Multiplex’, wherein it will bring the ‘First Day, First Show’ experience to its subscribers in the comfort of their homes.
Disney+ Hostar will be bringing the digital premieres of movies starring several Bollywood A-listers, including Akshay Kumar’s ‘Laxmmi Bomb’, Alia Bhatt-Sanjay Dutt’s ‘Sadak 2’, Ajay Devgn’s ‘Bhuj’, Abhishek Bachchan’s ‘The Big Bull’, late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s last film ‘Dil Bechaara’, Vidyut Jammwal’s ‘Khuda Haafiz’, and Kunal Khemu’starrer ‘Lootcase’.
Similarly, Amazon Prime Video, ZEE5 and other OTT players have also lined up some Bollywood premieres.
While announcing the new movie premieres on his platform, Uday Shankar, President, The Walt Disney Company Asia Pacific and Chairman, Star and Disney India, maintained that theatres are a special experience and hence, they will always exist and thrive. But the potential of the industry can’t be capped by the number of release windows and theatres available. He said, “Our initiative will dramatically increase the number of films that can be made, giving film-lovers more films to enjoy and the creative community more films to make. We firmly believe that this will generate a massive momentum for more and different kinds of films to be made in India. It’s a win-win for all.”
Ajay Devgn, who besides being an actor and producer has also invested in multiplex chain NY Cinemas, told Adgully, “Having done a hundred films, I definitely took it for granted that theatres were where our films were meant to play. However, two things happened suddenly and almost simultaneously. The Corona pandemic threw all our comfort worlds into a tizzy. And, at the same time the OTT medium that was a fairly new phenomenon gained a huge significance as far as consuming entertainment is concerned. In the future, Theatres and OTT will move in parallel. Both options offer their own strengths. ‘Bhuj: The Pride of India’ will premiere on Disney+ Hotstar VIP – a platform that will showcase our film across the length and breadth of the country. I think people will once again start looking forward to new film releases.”
Movie premieres on OTT platforms truly seem like the need of the hour. Big budgets movies cannot be held back for too long due to the sheer investment put into it. Digital premieres are the most viable option and can also save the producer from spending huge monies on marketing, production and distribution.
At the same time, Siddhartha Roy, COO, Hungama Digital Media, pointed out, “The trend of releasing movies directly on the digital platform isn’t new. Producers released their movies directly on digital earlier as well and will continue to do so even in the future. However, the current situation has increased the momentum with which films are being announced for an OTT release. While most big-ticket films have already been pushed to next year or later this year, some films have opted for a direct-to-OTT release. The strategy makes sense for both, creators and OTT platforms – content creators are able to recover their costs and make some profits, OTT platforms are able to leverage new films to get additional viewers. In the future, once theatres reopen and we begin to get a grasp on the situation, we expect consumers and producers to return to the theatres as certain movies are meant for a collective viewing experience on a large screen.”
According to Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji and Group COO, Balaji Telefilms, “With almost all forms of content now being consumed indoors, it is a step in the need of the hour for producers to now release their budget feature films directly on an OTT platform. While we do understand that these movies provide the audience an all-together different experience when watched on a big screen, we do need to understand that we must do our best to help our partners and sail the storm together. It may be a hard time for theatre and multiplex owners and it’s important to reiterate the fact that none of the leading OTT players are looking at it as an opportunity of advantage. Now is the time where the industry showcases a true sense of harmony and find solutions where both co-exist and support each other mutually.”
While big budget movies releasing on OTT platforms is the need of the hour for both producers and platforms, industry experts believe that it is a temporary shift. At the same time, they feel that small budget movies could continue to have digital-first premieres as they already struggle in terms of the number of screens they get as compared to big budget movies. Karan Taurani, Vice-President - Research Analyst, Elara Capital, observed, “Movies like ‘Lust Stories’, which were primarily made for OTT, have done well on these platforms. Costing for these films needs to be low, because I don’t see OTTs paying premium prices for these movies once the shooting of webseries begins. A-list stars won’t go for direct-to-digital releases because of the sheer branding they come with. Big budget releases on digital are just the need of the hour, but they will definitely look to go back to the big screen once things normalise and are feasible.”
Movie releases on OTT is the new trend that we’re seeing which is backed by the necessity of releasing these movies. This is the only option producers have and definitely a smart one as OTT and Digital further grow especially during the pandemic. Metrics have spiked across platforms and we'll see more digital premiers in the coming months. However, how long will this go on for and what the 'new normal' will look like for the Indian Film Industry, only time will tell.