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The time spent on video streaming has surged 1.2 times to an average of 4.2 hours per week during the covid lockdown. (Photo: iStock)
The time spent on video streaming has surged 1.2 times to an average of 4.2 hours per week during the covid lockdown. (Photo: iStock)

Gap between theatrical release of films and platforms to shrink

  • It may be okay for big-star films to expect an extended run in cinemas and debut on streaming platforms later, there is no logic in holding back small producers especially as longer the wait, the more the value of the movie diminishes

NEW DELHI: Having tasted blood with direct-to-digital release of films during the covid-19 pandemic, Bollywood is unlikely to return to the eight-week gap between theatrical and digital premiere of movies even after cinema operations resume. It could soon be common to have a film available on a streaming platform within three to four weeks of its big screen debut.

The gap between the release of a film in theatres and its digital debut has been a matter of debate for sometime now both in India and globally. Streaming platforms obviously fight for faster digital release while cinemas have been resisting the move.

While many movies from the south India film industry have been releasing online within 30 days of their theatrical showcasing, the move got a boost from Hollywood where multiplex chain AMC Theatres recently signed a deal with Universal Studios where the latter’s films can release online within three weeks and the theatre will take a share of digital revenue too.

The pact "sure to send shockwaves throughout the exhibition industry…could see rival studios likely to begin pushing for exhibitors to grant them more flexibility when it comes to determining when and how their theatrical releases can make their way onto home entertainment platforms," according to a Variety report.

"The scenario is pretty much the same in India where multiplexes have so far controlled the release of films on satellite and digital platforms but the pandemic has brought about many corrections and it is definitely time for producers to renegotiate," Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema said. Most of a film’s business comes in its opening weekend or the first three or at best four days of release, Mohan added.

While it may be okay for big star films to expect an extended run in cinemas and debut on streaming platforms later, there is no logic in holding small producers back especially when the longer they wait, the more the value of their movie diminishes. Add to this the fact that most small, non-star vehicles don't even get proper shows and timings.

To be sure, altering the release window will not be good news for exhibitors as most audiences will be in two minds about going to cinemas if the movie is slated for streaming within a couple of weeks.

"The post corona world will be different. We all will have to re-think plans for the release of our films. It is unlikely that the old business model will be the only way forward given the way films have started going directly to digital," filmmaker Vipul Shah said, adding that in the past, exhibitors have opposed any such move vehemently so it will be interesting to see how they react to this new world.

Bollywood titles like 1921 and Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana had shows cancelled by many multiplexes when their producers negotiated OTT deals within days of theatrical release.

"Conversations on revising release windows have been carried on in India for the past year-and-a-half but we were following international practices which seem to be changing now," Mohan Umrotkar, CEO, Carnival Cinemas said. He added that each market is different though, India has far fewer movie screens than the US and it takes longer for films to penetrate into smaller towns and reach all audiences.

"We are not against other mediums but we want theatres to exploit the film fully. Given the current scenario, there will be talk (of renegotiations) for sure," Umrotkar added.

However, given the relatively limited reach of OTT in India at the moment, some stakeholders are still wary. Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji, and Group COO at Balaji Telefilms Ltd, said the AMC Universal deal will help redefine the business model and approach to movie marketing and distribution but is still some time away for us as India is yet to be completely digitized.

"Cutting down the digital release window might work for smaller films but not for big-ticket films. Further, in many parts of the country, watching a movie in a theatre is often an event in itself and people opt for cinema halls for the larger-than-life experience. Additionally, the price points at which these films are sold online in India might not be consumer-friendly and would make it more viable to watch a film on cinema screens itself," Neeraj Roy, founder and CEO, Hungama Digital Media said.

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