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In most parts of the world, bypassing theatres to move online means exchanging cinema dollars for digital dimes, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Photo Imaging: Kishore Rawat
In most parts of the world, bypassing theatres to move online means exchanging cinema dollars for digital dimes, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Photo Imaging: Kishore Rawat

Digital release of films may not be viable

  • Producers and theatre owners say no film will ever be able to make the kind of profits on OTT that it does in theatres
  • Many others say their performance will remain a mystery in the absence of any metric or data available for viewership for web shows, like box office figures for feature films

NEW DELHI: Bollywood’s move to take new films directly to digital platforms amid the uncertainty over reopening of cinemas may not be viable for the makers of these movies.

While producers and theatre owners point out that no film will ever be able to make the kind of profits on OTT (over-the-top video streaming) that it does in theatres, others say their performance will remain a mystery in the absence of any metric or data available for viewership for web shows, like box office figures for feature films.

Films released on digital sites would also not make enough money, contends Pravin Chalikwar, a single screen owner in Maharashtra. He cites the example of Ajay Devgn’s Tanhaji- The Unsung Warrior that had run to packed houses in his cinema earlier this year and earned 268 crore in box office collections in India.

For example, while Gulabo Sitabo has recouped its 30 crore budget with digital sales of 65 crore, a theatrical release, trade experts said, it could have even brought in around 100 crore, making a share of 50 crore for the producer, supplemented with digital and satellite TV rights sale post release of more than 30 crore.

According to a report by The Hollywood Reporter, in most parts of the world, bypassing theatres to move online means exchanging cinema dollars for digital dimes. The five big movie territories of the world, China, India, Russia, Brazil and Mexico, together make up around a third of global box office, but just 3.5% of revenue from online streaming sales across the world.

“Forget audiences, it is doubtful if even producers will get any data on viewership for a particular film on an OTT service given the lack of transparency. In that sense, producers are really shooting themselves in the foot here," said a senior executive at a local Indian video streaming platform, declining to be named.

Globally, streaming platforms like Netflix have faced flak for tightly controlling access to viewer data – restricting even the information that a show’s creator can get. The company has also changed how it counts the number of household members viewing a particular movie or TV show. Previously, a member of the household had to watch 70% of a particular episode or film in order to be part of the overall tally. Now, it counts anyone who’s spent at least two minutes watching as a viewer.

Given that Indian films are at least two hours long, the executive said that watching two minutes of content may not be the best metric to go by. Creators of original web shows in India admit that they do not get quantitative data on viewership, although the OTT services give them some qualitative feedback on what works.

The popularity of a film could be assessed if it were available on a pay-per-view basis, like in the US. “By making it part of the platform’s overall subscription package, you’re entering a world of grey where there is no true measurement of an isolated film," said the person mentioned earlier.

“Every effort of ours is to make the Amazon Prime membership better for our customers and to add value to the shopping, music and other benefits they enjoy," Vijay Subramaniam, director and head, content, Amazon Prime Video India had said on the acquisition of Gulabo Sitabo, Shakuntala Devi and other films directly for the service earlier this month.

To be sure, the limited revenue coming in for producers will automatically reduce the share that top stars command in profits. While movies of A-listers are still some time away from being taken directly to digital platforms in India, the US has already seen some controversy. Voice stars of Universal’s Trolls World Tour, Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick, were reportedly unaware of the film going to a premium video-on-demand service and not releasing in theatres, after which there were new negotiations for compensation because their remuneration was initially tied to box office bonuses.

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