Home / News / India /  New film picks fail to excite OTT audiences

NEW DELHI: Akshay Kumar-starrer Laxmii that premiered on Disney+Hotstar on Diwali was badly panned by critics and viewers alike, indicating that these over-priced Bollywood acquisitions aren’t really working for digital audiences.

Laxmii, a commercial entertainer for the masses, is ideally suited to single screens in small town India rather than the digital-savvy multiplex audiences, said film industry experts.

Trade website Box Office India said the horror comedy could have made around 110 crore in domestic box office collections, in addition to satellite, digital and music right sales, had it gone to cinemas. Its digital debut spells bad news for both theatres and the OTT that paid around 100 crore for it. Even earlier digital releases like Gulabo Sitabo and Shakuntala Devi, on Amazon Prime Video, though not as heavily panned, had failed to impress streaming fans.

These OTT flops are fast raising concerns around the choice of films, high acquisition costs and no return on investments for streaming platforms. Disney did not respond to Mint’s queries on the response to Laxmii and the strategy thereafter.

“The low success of some of these films can be attributed to weak content. OTT may have suffered losses (in terms of subscriber retention), due to films doing below expectations, which will impact premiums being paid for Hindi films for a direct digital release," Karan Taurani, research analyst at Elara Capital Ltd said. A recent report by the investment firm had pointed out that less than 38% of all films released directly on digital platforms due to the pandemic have garnered decent ratings. Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan agreed Laxmii was a film designed for single screen audiences and not elite subscribers who pay for shows like The Mandalorian, calling its direct-to-digital release “a big mistake."

Sanjeev Lamba, executive producer, Hungama Originals at Hungama Digital said the covid-19 pandemic has created much exuberance among OTT services to acquire mainstream Bollywood entertainers on price points substantially higher than what they would have shelled out before the pandemic.

“This is a short-term phenomenon and the prices will definitely come down. The movies are not doing as well as web originals, which are far more prolific. Many such as Scam 1992 have helped audiences taste blood with talented actors and storytelling," Lamba pointed out. That OTTs have quite voluntarily chosen to incur these losses is evident in the fact that many of them do not preview films before acquiring them and tend to be lured by big names and packaging.

According to a streaming tracker by Ormax Media for the week of Diwali and beyond, the top OTT offering with highest buzz was Amazon original Mirzapur 2, followed by Laxmii and MX Player’s Ashram. A senior executive at a digital agency said, after the initial enthusiasm created by promotions and marketing, Laxmii was rated at an average of 2 on a scale of 1 to 5 by users across platforms that engage with fans on streaming content.

However, many industry experts feel it is too early to expect OTT players to abandon Bollywood acquisitions. In response to Mint’s queries on Bollywood films receiving lukewarm response, Gaurav Gandhi, director and country general manager, Amazon Prime Video India said the company is delighted by customer response to both direct-to-digital movies and original series, and that all of these launches have led to a strong growth in new customers joining Prime as well as overall increase in viewership of Prime Video in India.

“Even the backlash helps create some kind of buzz. OTT players know web shows are more compelling content and they bring in long-term engagement but big-ticket films generate a lot of hype," said Balkrishna Hari Singh, founder and CEO, Frenzi - a single window search and recommendation app for streaming content.

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