New Delhi: On its opening day in January, Vikram Bhatt’s horror film 1921 found a considerable number of shows in major multiplexes around the country cancelled. It wasn’t the only film in recent times to undergo such misfortune. A couple of months ago, Rajkummar Rao-starrer Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana had its day one shows disrupted too. This happened as these and several other films were made available on over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms simultaneously or within days of theatrical release. Consequently, multiplex owners in India are now insisting on a longer window before films are streamed online.

It isn’t surprising why. According to the FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2017, the Indian film industry grew by a mere 3% in 2016 to reach Rs142.3 billion. Domestic theatricals and cable and satellite rights, the two major contributors to the industry’s revenues, along with the home video segment witnessed a negative growth with the former having reduced by around 4% in the last three years. While exact figures for 2017 aren’t available yet, industry experts said the dismal year should end in overall earnings at least 10-15% less than most years. On the other hand, the sale of digital video-on-demand (VoD) rights is the fastest growing segment in the overall movie industry revenue, expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20-25%.

“In the last one year, platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and even local players like us have all become very active. We’re looking for exclusive deals, earlier windows and same day release," said Girish Dwibhashyam, head-content at movie streaming service Spuul.

From the producer’s perspective, things have changed, he added. Barring blockbusters like Baahubali: The Beginning, the theatrical lifespan of a movie today has shortened to a maximum of two weeks.

“The producer realizes he is going to earn money only for two weeks. After that, the film is either available on torrent websites or with the pirates. Besides, they don’t invest in anti-piracy efforts after the movie is off the theatres," he said. “Producers are saying the movie is anyway pirated soon so why can’t we put it out on a legal platform? Why should we wait two months for that?"

There have been other changes too. Instead of now bundling satellite TV and Internet rights for television broadcasters like Star or Colors, producers now see greater monetization in dealing with OTT platforms separately for digital rights. Even a star like Salman Khan has signed an exclusive deal with Amazon for rights to all his upcoming films even before their television premiere.

“In the last six to seven months, theatre owners have seen even (successful) movies like Newton come to digital platforms as early as within a month. They were scared that this should not set a precedent, if two or three major producers do so, then obviously all the independent producers will start too," Dwibhashyam said.

However, cancelling movie shows or disrupting release schedules is not the way forward. Dwibhashyam said the digital premiere holdback makes sense is if there is adequate investment in anti-piracy measures. But there may be other solutions, too.

“I think the industry has to come together as a larger community and work out the right time-frame for this ‘windowing’ to occur. Given the fact that now OTT platforms are fairly prevalent and there are a lot of people who are consuming films on those platforms, I think it’s a little unfair to a theatre to have a situation where they have to compete with them," said Rahul Puri, managing director, Mukta Arts and Mukta A2 Cinemas.

The right way to look at it, Puri added, would be to adopt measures based on the kind of content you have.

“There will probably be films which will come on OTT platforms quicker and not have that much of a run in theatres and there are films that will do very well in theatres and should delay their OTT release," Puri said. “We are going to have to start to look at this in terms of a consensus and outline the different kinds of films and what their parameters are. Because nobody wants to stop the release of films."

Since the economics of a film matters the most, negotiations between producers and exhibitors should be done in advance.

“It’s not about a big or small film, it’s for every film," said Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana director Ratnaa Sinha. “The choices are very clear, it’s out there in the open, you just have to make a choice (on the window). Don’t linger till the last minute because then it hurts everybody. Our film really suffered because the first two or three shows got cancelled. So half the people thought it wasn’t releasing. That was harmful for us."

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