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Photo: HT
Photo: HT

Pandemic may alter theatre-digital film release window

  • Digital releases may happen just three-four weeks after theatrical premieres instead of the eight-week window in vogue
  • Altering the release window will not be good news for exhibitors, who have suffered huge losses due to a prolonged lockdown

NEW DELHI : After a successful run with direct-to-digital release of films during covid-19, Bollywood is not likely to continue with the eight-week window between theatrical and digital premieres even when things are back to normal. Instead, it may opt for a window of three-four weeks for online streaming.

The pros and cons of a possible shift are being fiercely debated by stakeholders in India and abroad, with streaming platforms seeking early digital releases and cinema chains resisting the move.

While many south Indian films were released online within 30 days of their theatrical launch, the move gets a further boost from Hollywood, where multiplex chain AMC Theatres has signed a deal with Universal Studios to release films online just three weeks after their theatrical launch and the theatre getting a share of the digital revenue.

The pact is “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", said a report in news journal Variety.

“The scenario is pretty much the same in India, where multiplexes have 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," said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. A big chunk of a film’s business comes in the opening weekend or 3-4 days of its release, he added.

While it may be okay for a film featuring a big star to expect an extended run in cinemas and debut on streaming platforms later, there is no logic in holding small producers back—more so, as the longer they wait, the movie’s value diminishes more. 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 consumers may be in two minds about going to cinemas if the movie is slated for streaming within a couple of weeks. “The post-covid world will be different. We 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," said filmmaker Vipul Shah. In the past, exhibitors have opposed any such move, so it will be interesting to see how they react to the change.

In fact, shows of many Bollywood titles, such as 1921 and Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana, were cancelled by multiplexes when the producers negotiated OTT deals within days of the theatrical releases.

“Talks on revising release windows have been going on in India for the past year-and-a-half, but we were following international practices, which seem to be changing now," said Mohan Umrotkar, CEO, Carnival Cinema. “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."

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