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Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

Bollywood’s first batch of direct-to-digital releases fails to create buzz

  • Hindi movies like Gulabo Sitabo, Dil Bechara, Shakuntala Devi, Ghoomketu, Yaara, Raat Akeli Hai, out of a list of scores of other acquisitions, have made it to video streaming platforms as theatres remain shut indefinitely, with producers making upwards of 60 crore on an average deal

NEW DELHI : Bollywood's latest move to skip theatrical film release in favour of digital premieres over the last four months of the covid-19 pandemic, is off to a chequered start, raising concerns whether the huge sums of money on acquiring them, is worth it. Hindi movies like Gulabo Sitabo, Dil Bechara, Shakuntala Devi, Ghoomketu, Yaara, Raat Akeli Hai, out of a list of scores of other acquisitions, have made it to video streaming platforms as theatres remain shut indefinitely, with producers making upwards of 60 crore on an average deal.

However, the general sentiment remains mixed with media experts seeing this as a case of platforms overpaying heavily to keep their content pipeline going since production of originals remains stalled.

“Because of the clutter (of content that is available online), only 20-25% of films manage to generate any significant buzz, while others have to rely on reviews and audience appreciation," said Shailesh Kapoor, founder and chief executive officer of media consulting firm Ormax. The plethora of streaming players combined with the number of movie acquisitions they’re making results in a crowded online space. The past weekend alone saw the release of four Hindi films—Shakuntala Devi (Amazon), Lootcase (Disney+ Hotstar), Yaara (ZEE5) and Raat Akeli Hai (Netflix).

According to Ormax Stream Track that measures the percentage of buzz around a film in the week of its release, in the past couple of months, only Sushant Singh Rajput’s Dil Bechara premiered on Disney+ Hotstar garnered over 50% buzz. Comedy drama Gulabo Sitabo followed at 44%. Films like Ghoomketu struggled at 15%. Buzz is measured on the basis of surveys periodically carried out online among registered Ormax members on the basis of likes and dislikes that they mention in their profile.

There is no data available on non-Hindi local language films such as Ponmagal Vandhal, Sufiyum Sujatayum and many others that also skipped theatrical release and no conversation around them either. Kapoor said that like theatrical releases, the buzz around an OTT film would also depend on star cast. That effectively means that while the web is considered a democratic medium, an Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana film has higher chances of standing out compared to a movie with new or unfamiliar faces.

Ali Hussein, CEO, Eros Now said streaming platforms need better ways of determining consumer cohorts or target groups and give them suitable recommendations for them to discover content more easily. The online universe is made up of both heavy users who are accustomed to watching a lot of web content as well as early adopters who are just starting out.

Several films have also been constrained in marketing and promotional efforts because of the logistical challenges of the pandemic.

“Essentially these are films that were completed before covid and were budgeted for a theatrical release. However, nearly 50% of that recovery has now been denied to them," Neeraj Roy, founder and CEO, Hungama Digital Media that runs the Hungama music and video streaming apps, said. Going forward, direct-to-digital films will see more outdoor and print campaigns, Roy feels, while brand partnerships, much like those for theatrical releases, will follow.

Media experts are quick to point out though that Bollywood acquisitions have helped improve the brand value of streaming services. The good news also is that their overall consumption and subscription numbers are estimated to have risen by at least 25% over the covid-19 period.

“Movies have always been our biggest draw. Whenever there is a new release, the number of subscribers goes up significantly and good fare also helps in retention of customers because people who came for one film will end up watching more," said Aparna Acharekar, programming head at ZEE5.

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