Home / News / India /  Video streaming platforms turn to old, unreleased films

NEW DELHI: After snapping up as many new, recent titles as possible, a bunch of video streaming platforms are now looking at old, unreleased films that either didn’t find buyers and distributors or remained restricted to acclaim at film festivals, to ramp up content during the covid-19 pandemic.

While SonyLIV has acquired Manoj Bajpayee’s Bhonsle and Rajat Kapoor’s dark comedy Kadakh, ZEE5 got Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer Ghoomketu and Prakash Jha’s Pareeksha-The Final Test.

While Bhonsle, also co-produced by Bajpayee, toured the festival circuit in 2018 including Busan, Dharamshala, Rotterdam and Singapore, Kadakh was part of the south Asian International Film Festival last year. Neither found a theatrical release. Jha’s take on the education system, Pareeksha that premiered at the International Film Festival of India in Goa last year will now release as a ZEE5 original while Ghoomketu, already available on the same platform, had remained without distribution buyers for a couple of years.

“It’s not about old or new but the kind of stories we want to bring that we think will resonate with our viewers at large and we want to give a platform to," Amogh Dusad, head, programming and new initiatives, SonyLIV said. The idea of a digital platform, Dusad added, is to offer multiple pieces of content to multiple viewers, be it Hollywood hits, live sports, latest films or older, niche offerings.

“Different people have different tastes and even the same person may be watching different stuff within the same day or week so we have to expand our basket of offerings," Dusad added.

Jehil Thakkar, partner at Deloitte India said the paucity of new content arising from halting of production of web originals supplemented with the availability of movies with a recognisable name has sparked interest in these titles lying around. Plus, as compared to the Rs. 25-30 crore acquisitions of new films, these older titles may come for as little as Rs. 10 crore.

“Till about a month ago, new content that was shot before the lockdown was being premiered (on streaming platforms). But now, most of that is exhausted, and platforms are looking at acquiring other ready content, including films that could not find a theatrical release earlier which has emerged as an interesting option," Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of media consulting firm Ormax added.

India’s limited screen count is primarily responsible for several films not finding releases in theatres. The Hindi film industry makes around 2,000 films a year, but there’s space for only 200-300 to release in the 9,527 theatres in the country. Around 30-40% of the films made in the past five years have not been released. The theatrical business is entirely star-driven and while there are small-scale films that grab eyeballs, they have to come with exceptional concepts and word-of-mouth publicity, in addition to promotional budgets of at least Rs. 8-10 crore.

“The idea is that a theatrical release may not have been viable or successful for some films but a digital release will," Thakkar added.

Along with non-mainstream, unreleased films, OTT platforms are also looking at cult classics that may even be available on competing platforms to keep the content flowing. For example, Netflix recently premiered Sooraj Barjatya’s Vivah, already available on Amazon Prime Video. Earlier during the lockdown, it had brought Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Hum Saath Saath Hain and other hits also to be found on Amazon. Media experts say the expiration of exclusive contracts of producers with one platform may be primarily responsible for this.

“Plus, the services have seen people go for comfort food regardless of where it’s available," Thakkar pointed out.


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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