Small southern films see windfall from OTT sales after box office luck

  • Titles such as Premalu, Manjummel Boys and Lover were not snapped up by streaming platforms before theatrical release, as the streamers had burnt their fingers betting on some lacklustre big-ticket titles. However, the films later managed nearly twice the rates they would have gotten earlier.

Lata Jha
First Published27 May 2024
Premalu, a romantic comedy, made for less than Rs. 10 crore, has earned over Rs. 130 crore worldwide.
Premalu, a romantic comedy, made for less than Rs. 10 crore, has earned over Rs. 130 crore worldwide.(X)

New Delhi: A host of small-budget southern language films have witnessed great windfall from the sale of OTT rights after emerging as sleeper hits at the box office.

Titles such as Premalu, Manjummel Boys and Lover were not snapped up by streaming platforms before theatrical release, given that OTT services are going slow on acquisitions after burning their fingers with several big-ticket titles not giving adequate returns.

However, these movies later managed nearly twice the streaming rates they would have got before cinematic release based on the potential OTT players might have seen in them.

Also read |  Kerala cinema's OTT dilemma: The battle over release windows

Manjummel Boys, a low budget survival thriller made for less than 10 crore, has made over 200 crore worldwide. Premalu, a romantic comedy, also made for the same amount, has earned over 130 crore. Lover, a romantic drama, made for less than 5 crore, has doubled its investment by making around 10 crore.

Paying for success

Streaming platform executives say it is common for hits to command up to 25% of total box office collections as acquisition fee, especially if platforms see value in them at a time that subscriptions have hit the ceiling and few originals are truly making a mark.

“If the film hasn’t locked a deal before theatrical release and then breaks out at the box office, it is definitely in an advantageous position,” said a senior executive at a streaming platform, requesting not to be named. “Platforms are always ready to pay for movies that have been successful at the box office, especially if they feel their target audience will be able to relate to it.”

Also read |  Manjummel Boys sets a new trend for southern films: mega success at home

The person added that it is common for OTT platforms to take the initiative to dub such films in different languages, even if the makers had refrained from a multi-lingual release in theatres, sticking to the native language to get the authenticity and nuances right.

For example, Disney+ Hotstar is streaming Manjummel Boys in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada other than Malayalam, the original language, even though the theatrical release did not see any dubbed versions. A Marathi hit called Ved is also available in Hindi on the platform even though the film wasn’t dubbed for theatrical showcasing.

Mukesh Mehta, founder of Malayalam film production and distribution company E4 Entertainment, was quick to point out that while the sleeper hits have managed more than streaming platforms would have ordinarily agreed to pay for them, the rates are nowhere near what some big star films can command.

Small is big

“The common perception is that films starring certain stars draw more advertising as well as viewers any day,” Mehta said. “But the small films have definitely managed much more than normal, in this case. Had the platforms bargained with them earlier, they could have come at half the price.”

Also read |  Exhibitors pin hopes on big southern films to bring cheer to box office

To be sure, streaming platforms also see why the acquisition of these surprise hits makes sense. Not only are they proven successes, the cost of marketing the film for theatrical is also estimated to be lower than what services have to spend on generating buzz around fresh originals or direct-to-digital films.

“The platforms also need fresh launches every couple of weeks. That said, the competition isn’t that fierce anymore and films are easily spread out among players. Nobody is paying absurd rates anymore,” film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said.

 

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