JioCinema turns choosy; Jio Studios looks for new content buyers | Mint

JioCinema turns choosy; Jio Studios looks for new content buyers

Jyoti Deshpande, president of RIL’s media and content business.
Jyoti Deshpande, president of RIL’s media and content business.

Summary

  • JioCinema has declined much of Jio Studios’ content, while the latter has also stopped green-lighting new projects in the backdrop of many completed ones remaining unsold

Reliance Industries Ltd-owned production house Jio Studios is looking beyond sister concern JioCinema to stream its movies and web shows after the latter declined much of its content, two people aware of the matter said. Jio Studios has also stopped green-lighting new projects in the backdrop of many completed projects remaining unsold, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.

While Jio Studios claims that streaming all titles on JioCinema was never part of the plan, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity that Uday Shankar, the influential top investor of JioCinema, has refused to screen all titles commissioned by Jio Studios, prompting it to look for outside buyers.

In April 2023, Bodhi Tree Systems, a joint venture between Shankar and James Murdoch, acquired a 13% stake in Reliance-owned Viacom18, which houses Jio Cinema. As part of the deal, Shankar, who earlier led Disney’s Asia-Pacific operations, joined the board of Viacom18. According to the people cited above, Shankar has vetoed streaming many of Jio Studios’ titles since then.

However, all of Jio Studios productions were not expected to be streamed on JioCinema, said Jyoti Deshpande, president of Reliance’s media and content business. “While the platform (JioCinema) may be our preferred partner, it isn’t reasonable for any one service to consume so much content. If there is a strategy fit with JioCinema, the title will go there; else, we will look at others," Deshpande said. She added that even in the past, its film productions like Stree have streamed on other platforms and satellite rights have gone to other companies as well. Moreover, JioCinema is focused on sports and reality content while following an ad monetization model, which means it cannot be a home for big movies and premium series.

In April this year, Jio Studios said it will produce 100 movies and web series, signalling a full-fledged foray into content creation. However, as older projects remain unsold, fewer new ones are getting the go-ahead.

JioCinema declined to comment while queries sent to Shankar remained unanswered.

This comes at a time streaming platforms in general are cutting back on content acquisition, limiting options for producers. Many streaming platforms are cutting spends and targeting more cost-effective shows to reach audiences in tier-II and III cities across the country. Many projects are on hold given the hurdles in the Zee-Sony merger that has a 21 December deadline, and uncertainties around the sale of Disney’s India assets.

“It’s an open secret in the industry at the moment. The power dynamics have changed and Uday has made clear that while the platform will focus on regional and sports content. All titles commissioned by the Jio Studios team will not go on the app," said a producer working closely with JioCinema, one of the two people cited above.

A second producer said the Jio Studios team is in the market looking for buyers for films and shows that have finished production. “If a project has gone on the floors, they’re completing it. However, the ones that were only committed to, have been pushed for now," the second person said.

“It’s a different environment right now, with all the mergers and acquisitions (pending), and a major chunk of budgets is only going into acquiring big-star films post theatrical release. There will be additional cash flow after these mergers, but for now there are a lot of producers who have stuff ready but are waiting for things to ease out so as to get fair value for it," said Abhishek Vyas, a director and co-founder of AVS Studios who has previously worked at Netflix and Zee Studios.

Agreeing that a certain amount of rationalization has come into the OTT (over-the-top) ecosystem, Saugata Mukherjee, head of content at SonyLIV, said in a recent interview to Mint that it was only a matter of time before platforms became measured in their approach and started evaluating who is going to pay for content. “It will help streaming find the right stories," Mukherjee had added.

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