Home / Industry / Media /  Video streaming platforms make big bets on producing original movies

NEW DELHI : Video streaming platforms are placing big bets on producing original films, with Amazon Prime releasing Majaa Ma, starring Madhuri Dixit, next week, Disney’s Star Studios promising to make them for its digital platform, Disney+ Hotstar, and Netflix lining up films with Vishal Bhardwaj, Sujoy Ghosh and Zoya Akhtar.

Both homegrown and foreign streaming services said films are quicker to produce, film-writing talent is readily available, and viewers are more inclined to watch them. As a result, global viewing of Indian cinema is up 50% in the first half of 2022 on Netflix compared to the same period in 2021. Besides, the cost of acquiring films released in theatres is steep, making original films more financially feasible.

“India has never really had the kind of premium television it is seeing now with web shows. Audiences have only been used to cinema and linear TV so far. So even though there are writers out there, series writing is harder and takes longer to put together. On the other hand, writing for a two-hour film comes more naturally to our writers and the industry, in general," Ajit Thakur, chief executive of Aha, said, a Telugu and Tamil streaming service owned by Arha Media & Broadcasting.

Having premiered films, including Bhamakalapam and Senapathi, Aha is commissioning projects in Tamil and Telugu, including some that will release in theatres first and then stream exclusively on Aha. It is also easier to cast bigger actors in original digital films as it requires less of their time than, say, a series, Thakur said.

Platforms are no longer keen to acquire films for digital releases, which was the need of the hour during the pandemic, said Gautam Jain, partner at media consultant Ormax. “Most platforms want to invest in building series or original films instead, where they control the IP. The overall cost structure is also favourable for platforms when they commission an original series or film instead of acquiring them," he said.

Karan Taurani, a media sector analyst at Elara Capital Ltd, agreed. “OTT platforms are looking to own IPs through films rather than paying a hefty premium for acquiring films from outside that they can only own for five to seven years. Films also have great recall and can be watched in one go," Taurani said. In an interview earlier this month, Rebecca Campbell, chairman of international content and operations at Walt Disney Co., said the company has five films in various stages of production in India and is looking at a balance between theatrical and direct-to-digital releases where they will have big movies that would stream directly on their Hotstar service.

To be sure, the renewed focus on original films is based on audience feedback. India has the highest percentage of film viewing in the world for Netflix. Global films such as The Gray Man, Red Notice, The Adam Project, and Don’t Look Up have found traction in the country along with subtitles and dubs in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. Indian films have featured in the global non-English Top 10 for nearly every week of 2022 (31 of 34) on the platform, with half of the films for a particular week coming from India for the first time for any country globally. Netflix will bring Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies, an untitled murder mystery starring Kareena Kapoor Khan, Chakda’ Xpress based on the life of cricketer Jhulan Goswami starring Anushka Sharma, and satirical comedy Kathal, among others, in the coming months.

Acquisition of films and direct-to-digital releases will continue parallelly. Theatrical releases have done really well for us, as affirmed by the positive response and success of The Kashmir Files, RRR and others, said Manish Kalra, chief business officer, ZEE5.

“The demand for big-ticket titles remains high from audiences who want to watch them at their convenience and comfort. Both acquired, and original films have a USP of their own. With home theatres and technological advancements, film demand will only increase. The focus will remain on curating an intriguing slate of titles whether through acquisitions or originals," Kalra said.The company has five to six original movies across genres and languages in the pipeline that are slated to be released on the platform in the next six to nine months.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lata Jha

Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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