Television rights of slapstick comedy Welcome Back, starring Anil Kapoor, Nana Patekar and John Abraham, were sold in December. People close to the development estimate that the film, which premiered on Zee Cinema, was bought by the Zee network for 12 crore. A year ago, the film would have fetched its makers 25 crore.

The Anees Bazmee-directed film is part of a trend—television rights going cheap—that came to the fore in 2015. Industry experts estimate that rates for acquiring satellite rights of Hindi films have gone down by nearly 40% in the past year.

For instance, even a 146 crore-earner like Shah Rukh Khan’s Dilwale, which may have fetched close to 60 crore from TV rights until 2014, will probably fetch around 35-40 crore now, say industry experts.

“I’d call it a correction, a settled and streamlined scenario where each channel knows what it wants and at what rate it wants it," said Jayantilal Gada, chairman of film-producing and presenting company Pen India, which acquires worldwide rights to Hindi films and supplies them to networks such as Zee, Sony, Sahara One and Star.

Gada and other industry experts said the earlier boom was driven by new channels launching with the aim of acquiring films to buttress content or networks getting into a sort of bidding war over who bags the biggest film or the biggest star.

For film producers, being screened on general entertainment channels (GECs), with their large viewership, was a big draw.

And, for GECs, big-ticket films provide attractive TRPs (television rating points) and GRPs (gross rating points) for the month.

TRPs are a tool to gauge viewers’ choices and the popularity of channels based on data relating to the content viewed and the time spent on it, collected from a particular geography and demography.

GRPs, on the other hand, are a measure of the advertising impact based on the percentage of the target population reached, multiplied by how frequently the content is played.

Both help broadcasters make programming and advertising decisions.

The correction may be attributed to a couple of reasons. First, exclusive contracts with big studios or actors (like the ones the Star network has with Salman Khan or Ajay Devgn) have hamstrung GECs because they work on a limited movie budget that is fixed annually.

“That kind of commitment leaves them with little or no purchasing power for surprise hits like a Tanu Weds Manu Returns or even a Welcome Back that worked without big stars," said Gada. “So, nearly a hundred films remain unsold each year."

Second, to be sure, box-office performance is no guarantee of similar success on television. Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone’s 188 crore-earner Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is regarded a flop on television. Bought for 25 crore, the film only registered a TRP of 0.2.

On the other hand, a small, eminently forgettable film like the Prabhu Deva-directed Ramaiya Vastavaiya, which came for free to the Zee network as part of a deal made for Shahid Kapoor-starrer Phata Poster Nikla Hero, did exceedingly well and registered a TRP of 2.5. The film had made slightly more than 36 crore in theatres.

Not all producers are worried by the development. For instance, Vikram Malhotra of independent film studio Abundantia Entertainment said, “Channels being selective about what they are buying and how much they are paying, in the long run, is a healthy sign because it will enable quality to prevail."

Abundantia backed Akshay Kumar’s spy thriller Baby last year and is co-producing his Airlift.

Airlift, scheduled for release next week, has already sold its television rights for 15-20 crore, according to industry experts, to Colors, a subsidiary of Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd.

Viacom18’s film studio Viacom18 Motion Pictures also holds the distribution rights of the film.

Declining to comment on the details of the Airlift satellite deal, Malhotra added that, today, all satellite rights acquirers are smart enough to judge content. Producers need to assess the strengths and merits of their film and then open transactions rather than monetize rights as a way to de-risk their financials.

“Where we are concerned, we put out satellite rights when we feel we can put our best foot forward. For Baby, it was a demonstration of how well it would do post-release, so we hung on to the rights. In Airlift, knowing where the product is going, it was a pre-release deal," Malhotra said.

With no new channel launches planned anytime soon, industry experts do not expect the satellite rights boom to return.

Gada places his bets on the back-end system prevalent worldwide, which entails everyone—from actors to technicians—partnering with a studio in its profits instead of charging exorbitant fees, which will reduce the cost of production and thereby the dependence on revenue streams.

Malhotra believes there is no reason for filmmakers to be anxious.

“Should producers worry? Absolutely not. If you are making good films, you will always have a satellite buyer," he said.

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