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Business News/ Industry / Media/  Kerala cinema's OTT dilemma: The battle over release windows
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Kerala cinema's OTT dilemma: The battle over release windows

Having fixed streaming windows for southern language films, akin to those for Hindi films, could be a plausible solution

Mohanlal-starrer Malaikottai Vaaliban was streaming online within four weeks of theatrical release. (Photo: @MohanlalPromtn/X)Premium
Mohanlal-starrer Malaikottai Vaaliban was streaming online within four weeks of theatrical release. (Photo: @MohanlalPromtn/X)

New Delhi: The Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala has decided to halt the release of Malayalam language films in theatres from Thursday, in response to a dispute concerning the timing of films' releases on streaming platforms.

Hindi films have an eight-week window before they can premiere online on streaming platforms, as part of an unwritten understanding between theatre owners and film producers.

Malayalam films, on the other hand, had a similar understanding for 42 days (six weeks). But in practice, according to independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai, producers are increasingly opting for a 28-day streaming window. In some cases, streaming platforms get movies as early as two to three weeks after theatrical release.

Theatre owners say that this is impacting their revenues. Producers, however, argue that delaying OTT releases for films that are underperforming in theatres results in financial losses.

“In the Hindi-speaking belt, the eight-week window has been enforced because multiplex chains have a significant presence and call the shots," said Pillai. In Kerala, where the film market is highly fragmented, enforcing a uniform window period is difficult.

Pillai noted that the current halt on new releases might not have any immediate significant impact, as no major Malayalam films are expected in theatres in the coming weeks. Moreover, he said it's unlikely that producers will be easily persuaded to delay OTT releases, as cinemas continually need new content.

A senior executive from a theatre chain operating in Kerala expressed a preference for establishing fixed streaming windows for southern language films, akin to those for Hindi films, noting that the current trend of four-week windows is detrimental to theatre business.

This issue was also a topic of discussion at the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association's annual meeting, with members calling for an eight-week theatrical window before OTT releases. This comes after instances where high-profile Tamil films, such as Leo and Jailer, were made available on OTT platforms within four weeks, a practice resisted by major multiplex chains for certain films. Theatre owners argue that shortening the window to four weeks discourages audiences from watching films in cinemas.

However, film producers differ. Mukesh Mehta, founder of E4 Entertainment, said that simply delaying OTT releases won't necessarily drive audiences to theatres for films that don't initially attract interest. He pointed out that Malayalam films have performed well over the past year, even with quicker transitions to OTT, suggesting that the quality and appeal of films play a crucial role in their success.

Trade experts believe that while producers generally respect the theatrical window, flexibility may be necessary for films that fare poorly at the box office. The approach to OTT release dates is expected to evolve, with major films likely setting the precedent for others to follow, according to film producer and trade expert Girish Johar.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lata Jha
Lata writes about the media and entertainment industry for Mint, focusing on everything from traditional film and TV to newer areas like video and audio streaming, including the business and regulatory aspects of both. She loves movies and spends a lot of her free time in theatres, which makes her job both fun and a bit of a challenge given that entertainment news often just talks about the glamorous side of things. Lata, on the other hand, tries to find and report on themes and trends in the entertainment world that most people don't notice, even though a lot of people in her country are really into movies. She’s a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.
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Published: 21 Feb 2024, 04:08 PM IST
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