From box office to OTT: Streaming giants ramp up marketing to woo more viewers

  • The idea is to capitalize on the buzz already prevalent due to the theatrical success as well as bring in a fresh set of audiences who may not have visited cinemas

Lata Jha
First Published20 May 2024
Entertainment industry experts say the enthusiasm is understandable given that few films are making waves in theatres nowadays and streaming originals rarely break out in the clutter that exists on OTT.
Entertainment industry experts say the enthusiasm is understandable given that few films are making waves in theatres nowadays and streaming originals rarely break out in the clutter that exists on OTT.

Video streaming platforms that rely heavily on acquisition of films after the theatrical release, especially those that have set the cash registers ringing at the box office, are upping the marketing game when they premiere on OTT

From getting lead stars to do a special round of media interactions or shoot promos with influencers to roping in celebrities to announce the streaming of films they aren't part of, on their social media, the idea is to capitalize on the buzz already prevalent due to the theatrical success as well as bring in a fresh set of audiences who may not have visited cinemas. 

Also Read: OTT platforms embrace regional languages in over half of content

Entertainment industry experts say the enthusiasm is understandable given that few films are making waves in theatres nowadays, and streaming originals rarely break out in the clutter that exists on OTT. Further, lead actors are already on board for OTT promotions as part of their original contracts to do the film.

“The focus on promoting theatrical hits (for OTT release) has increased drastically. Platforms have been investing in ads in newspapers and hoardings, organizing exclusive star interviews, having digital influencers talk about the film, organizing contests and freebies and doing meet and greet with fans,” said Rajat Agrawal, director, Ultra Media & Entertainment Group that operates OTT platform Ultra Jhakaas. 

Agrawal added that there is a definite budget allocated to this exercise which might vary according to the scale of the theatrically released film and depending on how far the OTT platform would like to take its message.

Especially in case of Hindi films, producers can’t release the title on OTT before it has completed eight weeks in theatres, which is a long time and buzz can diminish, necessitating fresh promotions, said Sandeep Bansal, managing director, Chaupal OTT, a platform specializing in Punjabi, Haryanvi and Bhojpuri content.

Also Read: Movies go solo as OTTs swipe left on deals before theatrical release

The marketing campaign itself may not last for too long. Keerat Grewal, head, business development (streaming, TV & brands) at media consulting firm Ormax, said higher box-office grossing films are usually announced by platforms from their week of release itself or just one week before release. 

“For example, films like Animal, Tiger 3, Article 370 and Sam Bahadur had barely one week of promotion prior to their OTT release. However, even though there is pre-existing buzz for these films, marketing them is important to not just acquire new subscribers, but also to build the platform's brand's equity towards sustaining existing subscribers,” Grewal explained.

The trend stems from the way earlier satellite channels would announce world TV premieres of new films, from print ads to on-air promos. “Traditional means will however not work here so OTTs bank on social media to tell people the movie will come to their homes,” said Shubhangi Bhatia, strategy consultant at BOD Consulting. 

Also Read: Should OTT platforms be regulated the same way cable television is?

In fact, the success of a movie is also measured by its performance on OTT, Bhatia said, citing the example of Laapataa Ladies that promoted its OTT release on Netflix via a pre and post-release plan, including a roundtable that the team did with journalist and author Neelesh Misra and the cast watching snippets of the movie and discussing the same.

According to industry experts, acquiring theatre content for OTT was a trend that picked up in covid times, where content creation was halted and all platforms were looking for fresh programming. 

“The practice of marketing that content for OTT releases has only been building from there on. It's crucial for OTT services to establish that they now have content rights for the movie and that it's available on their platform, which is why promotional techniques are important,” said Rajni Daswani, director, digital marketing, SoCheers. 

Techniques have evolved from basic title promotion to getting main actors to do some fun, like Netflix getting Shah Rukh Khan to do special scripted promos for the release of both Jawan and Dunki and Disney Hotstar with Ranbir Kapoor for Brahmastra.

That said, some industry experts point out efforts to promote OTT release of theatrical films is not common across platforms, especially if the title hasn’t done well in cinemas. 

Producer Sanjay Chhabria said there is a common misconception that the excitement surrounding theatrical releases on OTT naturally translates into viewership. However, given the time gap between the theatrical release and its availability on OTT, robust promotion becomes essential to maintain audience engagement. 

Further, significant examples, such as Laal Singh Chaddha, An Action Hero, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar and Sonchiriya, highlight how films that underperformed at the box office can flourish on OTT platforms.

“Over time, consumers have calibrated the movie-watching behaviour to accommodate OTT platforms. In fact, the transition from theatre to OTT release forms a continuum with multiple consumer touchpoints,” said Saurabh Srivastava, chief operating officer, digital business at Shemaroo Entertainment Ltd.

"While theatrical marketing and box office success can set up an OTT movie premiere for success, they can also miss sleeper hits and smaller productions, particularly in regional markets. Here, OTT platforms have to play a more organic role in creating buzz,” added Srivastava.

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