MUMBAI: Insiders say that the battle has always been a perpetual war - recent incidents have only taken it from bad to worse.
The reasons for the current face-off between producers and distributors are as follows: innumerous flops, TV broadcasters showing new films weeks after release, dwindling revenue streams for producers and disillusioned distributors who sick of writing off almost every entertainment-related investment as a bad one.
The ongoing war between producers and distributors may have found temporary ceasefire with the consensus to release the cable and satellite rights of new films nine months after their theatre release, but industry sources confirm that the problem is far from over.
All the four major producer associations - namely the Indian Motion Picture Producers' Association (IMPAA), Association of Motion Pictures and Television Programme Producers (AMPTPP), The Producers' Guild and the Western India Film Producers' Association (WIFPA) have joined hands in a move of solidarity to protest against what they term as "unreasonable dictatorial attitudes" of distributors.
The dispute began with the distributors demanding a one-year hold-up period on new releases following the trend of selling of satellite rights of just-released movies to TV channels last year. Well, aggressive broadcasters keen on acquiring new releases at a frantic pace (Zee TV with their Thursday Premiere slot and recently Raj TV with its Friday 8pm slot) could have actually stirred up a hornets nest! Incidentally Zee TV is showing the weeks-old feature film Chura Liya Hai Tumhne starring Esha deol and Zayed Khan on Thursday, 24 April. To add to this, "eager-to-please" cable operators show recent releases "on the sly" in several cities.
The distributors allege that the producers, in their bid to beat a sluggish box office and prevent piracy were killing the distributors business. Distributors have lost lots of money due to poor content, piracy in the form of DVDs, VCDs releasing in the market and disinterested viewers who anyhow get to see the movies on their television sets (either legally or illegally).
Interestingly, the producers counter by saying that new films do business only for three months in theatres and so film's rights should be released six months after release. They also claim that the rights of every feature film made by a known face in the industry is already lapped up much before the film is completed.
Voicing the general complaint of producers, AMPTPP director general Anil Nagrath says: "We shall continue our fight. The distributors are demanding a one-year hold up period. This proposition is not viable as a film's demand falls within three months of its release. Ideally, the producer must be allowed to sell the cable and satellite rights of the movie six months after its release in theatres - as otherwise his revenue gets affected to a great extent."
Adding to this viewpoint WIFPA general secretary Prabhat Pandey states: "Production of films is a free trade and distributors cannot be allowed to dictate terms like this. It is highly unfair. They might soon demand longer periods - for instance a five year stay."
Commenting on the current scenario, producer director Harry Baweja says: "The industry is going through a bad phase. The distributors are resorting to blackmail by making unreasonable demands. They are taking advantage of the fact that there is division amongst the producers. All the four different member associations are uniting under the single roof to tackle the distributors." Baweja is almost ready with his next film Qayamat - City under Threat but will release it only after the issue is sorted out.
Interestingly, some producers differ on this argument and believe that to protect the theatre business the stay period is justified. "It is foolish to give away the cable and satellite rights of films. Movies are meant for theatres and you cannot have cable trampling over this business. In Hollywood, the cable and satellite rights of a film are given only after four years. Taking this into account a time period of a minimum of two years is justified, " says Sagar Arts' marketing director cum producer Prem Sagar. Sagar should know since most of their TV and film entertainment properties are still earning moolah years after their release.
Though there is little reason to doubt that the channels get tremendous mileage from movies, broadcasters seem to be unperturbed by the decision. "We believe that with CAS (conditional access system) several broadcasters will introduce pay per view and movie on demand, the perception will definitely change. The nine month stay on cable and satellite rights is not a government notification but a mutual agreement reached between the producers and distributors," says CVO (Cable Video Opera) senior V-P marketing George Sebastian.
Moreover, with new movies failing to receive the desired response at the box office, "TV rights of new movies has become a big source of revenue for producers. Actually telecast fees offer the producers a ray of light", he adds.
However, film industry observers feel that the producers wouldn't be able to keep the distributor demands at bay for a long time - after all, they need the distributors and their strength/acumen to ensure that the entertainment product reaches the people.
"At the end of the day, egoistic producers would want to see their names in the posters which adorn cinema theatres and other publicity material. They have always done business with distributors and released films on screens. The new trend of TV releases or DVD releases or Internet releases won't be accepted by the industry which is still full of traditional minded old-fashioned people. They will agree to the terms of the distributor lobby eventually," says a film critic under conditions of anonymity.
Till then, let us wait for a concrete solution. Meanwhile, in Mumbai, theatre owners are going on an indefinite strike from 16 May 2003 - small screen zindabad!