A still from Mulk, which did not find box-office success but has managed to garner views on video streaming platform ZEE5.
A still from Mulk, which did not find box-office success but has managed to garner views on video streaming platform ZEE5.

Streaming sites a haven for niche films while blockbusters take to TV

  • Video streaming services have become a haven for experimental films that are unlikely to find theatrical draw
  • Impressions, a term used by the viewership measurement agency BARC, refer to the number of individuals in thousands of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes

NEW DELHI : After setting the box office cash registers ringing with collections of over Rs150 crore, director Indra Kumar’s ensemble comedy, Total Dhamaal, joined the list of all-time blockbusters on television last month, notching up 32.5 million impressions after three screenings, according to trade website Box Office India.

Along with action comedy Judwaa 2, horror comedy Golmaal Again, Salman Khan’s action drama Tiger Zinda Hai, and Tiger Shroff’s Baaghi 2, which have topped television charts with 52.6 million (eight screenings), 58 million (seven screenings), 55.5 million (eight screenings) and 39.1 million (five screenings) impressions, respectively, Total Dhamaal reinforces the fact that the television audience is still looking for mainstream entertainers.

Impressions, a term used by the viewership measurement agency BARC, refer to the number of individuals in thousands of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes.

In contrast, over-the-top (OTT) video streaming services are fast becoming a haven for niche, experimental feature films that are unlikely to find either theatrical draw or television audience acceptance. Over the first half of this year, ZEE5, the streaming service run by the Essel Group, has given films like Mulk, Batti Gul Meter Chalu, Why Cheat India, Sonchiriya, Kedarnath and The Accidental Prime Minister—none of which were box office successes, but have managed to garner 20-40% views, when compared with blockbusters such as Uri: The Surgical Strike and Simmba.

“Digital is a very diverse area and has the privilege and opportunity to be able to talk to different user clusters and to be able to make a business out of it. Especially the subscription video-on-demand model is not subject to the rating system where you have to appeal to the lowest common denominator," said Tarun Katial, CEO, ZEE5 India. He added that while films with mass appeal like Uri and Simmba will work across box office, TV and digital, small movies like Mulk and Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran, find discerning audiences online.

Working along similar lines are original digital films, such as ZEE5’s Tigers, Badnaam Gali, and 377 Ab Normal, which deal with socially relevant subjects, have unique success online but cannot be compared with box office or television acceptance.

Akash Banerji, business head, VOOT, said the success of these movies is aided by the fact that long-form storytelling is picking pace online and consumers are actually spending more than 50 minutes per day per viewer at an average. Plus, movies are a great acquisition ploy, they can get people on platforms to bombard users with other content pieces, which can then drive retention.

“Also, more and more platforms are realizing that acquiring movies, and that too big blockbusters, has become an expensive proposition. What they’ve started doing is building some niches around the movies," Banerji pointed out. At VOOT, for example, Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the company’s movie production unit has created a set of 12-plus short movies, each 15-20 minutes long, under the banner of Tipping Point, called Shortcuts.

“Majority of our consumers have, on an average, watched more than four to five movies. So more than 60% of our users would have seen a minimum of four-odd movies, from the entire roster. What that allowed us to do was to acquire customers, on the back of standalone movies with differentiated plot lines, and retain a lot of them by giving them a width of choices to actually consume," Banerji added.

In contrast, TV essentially remains for the lowest common denominator.

“As the television universe expands, we’re talking about a base of 197 million homes, and close to 840 million individuals, which obviously means that the bulk of your ratings are going to come from the lower strata homes. Even when we have tried to play out the commercially successful, sensitive intelligent films on TV, they haven’t really worked beyond a point. That’s a trend that’s going to continue for a while," said Neeraj Vyas, senior vice-president and business head, Sony Max cluster, Sony Pictures Network, adding that the trend affects the network’s acquisition decisions too.

The big movie hits on the Sony network, apart from Amitabh Bachchan’s Sooryavansham, are Baahubali 2: The Conclusion and Tiger Zinda Hai. In contrast, non-mainstream movies, such as Tumhari Sulu, Piku, Queen and Karwaan, have not worked, Vyas revealed.

“Movies have been a medium for escape and relief from the mundane realities of life. While the primary need of the TV audience is stress-busting, consumers are also seeking inspiration and meaning from stories. If we look at consumption beyond Bollywood premieres, we see wholesome family entertainers and patriotic action films hit the right emotional chord with the TV audience. Such films are rare in Bollywood and, hence, south content dubbed in Hindi has now occupied a large part of each movie channel’s programming mix," said Punit Misra, chief executive, domestic broadcast business, ZEEL.

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