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Bollywood likely to return to longer window for OTT premieres by March

With films starring Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif scheduled for the second half of next year, theatres are confident others will follow once this period of uncertainty on return of audiences ends.Premium
With films starring Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif scheduled for the second half of next year, theatres are confident others will follow once this period of uncertainty on return of audiences ends.

  • Most major studios have agreed to go back to an eight-week window for theatrical for their future releases. This goes to show the confidence they have in the exhibition business, which retains over 65% revenues for them, experts said

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New Delhi: Impressive box office collections of recent Diwali releases and the dip in covid-19 cases could lead to smooth theatrical operations over the next few months with Bollywood returning to the original six to eight-week window it used to follow for OTT (over-the-top) launch of its films before the pandemic, by March or April. 

While studios like Yash Raj Films have already signed such deals for big-ticket films starring Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan scheduled for the second half of next year, theatres are confident others will follow once this period of uncertainty on return of audiences, ends.

The covid-19 pandemic saw several films bypass the theatrical medium to release directly on streaming platforms as cinemas remained shut indefinitely. The period immediately after reopening too has been fraught with worry and uncertainty with most producers insisting on premiering their films digitally within four weeks so as to strike better deals with OTT platforms that would help them offset the losses or reduced profits from theatres, which in many states are still operating with capped occupancies and curfews.

“In the discussions that we’re having with producers, we get the sense that the eight-week window works for both parties, as long as water finds its level. While we’re confident people are coming back to theatres, we’re not sure exactly how long it will take for things to go back to normal," Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, joint managing director, PVR Ltd said. Diwali hits like Sooryavanshi have been a massive shot in the arm but theatres need at least four to five months of smooth operations for the pre-covid window to return, Bijli added, placing his bets on April.

Rajendar Singh Jyala, chief programming officer at INOX Leisure Ltd who agreed producers will go back to longer windows by April, said the process of recovery has definitely been delayed for theatre owners who had initially thought things would be back to normal by December this year. “We always knew we were one big film away from normalcy. But then, movies like Sooryavanshi were delayed because Maharashtra had not allowed cinemas to reopen," Jyala added.

The numbers of Sooryavanshi notwithstanding, studios are still waiting to see if the ‘revenge viewing’ phenomenon works for more upcoming films. Producer Amar Butala was quick to point out that the digital and satellite window for films, going forward is a dynamic situation and will be determined by the performance of movies at the box office. “There was uncertainty in the business on whether audiences would come to cinemas with the same enthusiasm in the post-covid world, but the performance of Sooryavanshi has given producers the confidence that the audiences are back in cinemas. If we see the same trend moving forward as more films release, the OTT window might also go back to eight weeks. The window will then apply to all films moving forward," Butala said.

It has been heartening to see all the stakeholders come together, iron out differences and agree on terms that are favourable to help the industry revive, Devang Sampat, chief executive officer, Cinepolis India said. “Most major studios have agreed to go back to an eight-week window for theatrical for their future releases. This goes to show the confidence they have in the exhibition business, which retains over 65% revenues for them," Sampat added.

As the theatrical ecosystem restarts, it is crucial to understand that both exhibitors and producers, are stressed financially and have suffered losses which are not just monetary but also in terms of opportunity costs and delayed timelines for multiple projects, said Prashant Kulkarni, head of sales, marketing and new business expansion at Carnival Cinemas. “In the long run, our success is intertwined. Hence, the digital release window will go back to pre-covid agreements for the benefit of all. That is not only in favour of exhibitors but will also determine the stature and overall success of the movies themselves. If the box office collection of a movie is low, not many would want to watch it on OTT either, even if it's shown for free," Kulkarni said.

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