Films become hot property for Malayalam channels

MUMBAI: While its neighborhood TV markets including Tamil and Telugu had been dealing with high-cost movie acquisitions, the relatively low-scale Malayalam TV channels hadn't been able to throw up such high figures on the movie acquisition front.

But if the present trends are anything to go by, the movie acquisition costs in the market are on the upward curve. This follows a buying spree by Sun's Surya TV and the launch of a flurry of channels who were using movies to drive in audiences.

In Malayalam, the relatively low budget movies -- compared to Tamil and Telugu -- were sold in the range of a negligible Rs 2.5 million. The scenario underwent a sudden change last year when Sun's Malayalam general entertainment channel Surya TV ramped up its acquisition plans. The channel's buying spree saw the rates at times even touching the Rs 5 million mark.

A recent release Paandippada, which had done well in the box office, has been acquired by one of the leading channels for Rs 4.2 million. According to market sources, Kairali TV acquired the telecast rights to the blockbuster Mammootty-starrer Thommanum Makkalum in the pre-release stage for an approximate Rs 3.3 million. As per market sources, an upcoming project Chaandupottu was sold in the market for Rs 4.1 million.

The print powerhouse Malayalam Manorama, which is targeting a 2006 launch of its proposed general entertainment channel, has also played a major role in the prices trekking northward.

"Manorama has been buying out all possible films. By now, it has built a strong library of relatively new movies," says a source close to the company.

The drop in productivity in the Malayalam film market has also triggered a demand for movies. The market, which used to churn out approximately 120 films a year, now produces only 60 films on an average. An alternative was telefilms. But as of now, the channels have shied away from substituting movies with telefilms in the prime slots.

"The formula of dubbed movies is yet to work in Malayalam. So, you can't really substitute anything else with Malayalam movies in the market here," points out Pratap Chandar, who heads the marketing division of the newly launched production house Symphony.

"A strong subject backed by a good starcast is vital for the success of telefilms on TV. Same is the case with all the markets," says Yantra Media head Shyamsundar who had plans to produce telefilms for Surya TV earlier.

"Surya TV enjoys an edge in the market as it has in its possession the maximum number of blockbusters and popular films. But now its competitors have also started investing big on the acquisition front," says an industry source. Surya TV used to buy film rights outright, but had to change its strategy as producers and competing channels initiated the idea of 10-year rights, thus limiting the usage of the property.

A new business model is also finding favour with the Malayalam TV market. Leading Malayalam film stars have started working out deals with producers where they get satellite TV, cable and music rights as well as the distribution rights for overseas instead of being paid remuneration for their acting. The average remuneration of top film stars in Malayalam ranges from Rs 7.5 million to Rs 12.5 million.

Actor Dileep, who is the third most popular actor after Mammootty and Mohanlal, has been regarded as a pioneer in this form of business arrangement. The actor is dealing in this business through Grand Productions, a production company he owns. Dileep is also known for his agressive stance against video piracy.

"For many of his projects, Dileep doesn't accept any remuneration. Instead, he acquires the rights and then trades it to broadcasters. The package includes sale to television channels including Doordarshan, overseas, audio and video rights. Producers, dealing with a cash-strapped industry, naturally find the offer too attractive to refuse. This practice has been finding many takers these days," says an industry analyst.

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