"There is a market for “failed” and low-budget films on OTT"


Netflix shook up the cinema establishment in the US when it had the temerity to release Beast of No Nation simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming platform. The movie, acquired at a cost of Rs 78 crore, did not do well at the theatrical box office (less than $100,000 gross), but it got more than 3 million views on the Netflix app.

However, CEO Reed Hastings are going ahead with their strategy of doing simultaneous releases of future projects like The Ridiculous Six, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon II in the coming months.

Indiantelevision.com got in touch with Essel group OTT player ditto TV CEO Debashish Ghosh on what he thought about Netflix ‘s bold gambit, whether it would be tried in India, and whether it would work with Indian viewers.  Read on to hear his views in one of the more entertaining interviews we have had in some time.



Q: Were you stunned by Netflix’s move to do an OTT release for Beast of  no Nation simultaneous with the theatres like the mainline exhibition community in the US was- so much so that they refused to release the film and it got a limited release?

“Stunned” may well be too sharp a rhetoric - since its not unnatural for subscription OTT platforms to find ways to showcase content PRIOR to standard and accepted platforms. Otherwise why would a consumer pay?

That’s one of the reasons we at DittoTV are also looking at driving “content before TV / Anywhere” as a proposition as well. Significantly before!

But please don’t ask for more details as of now - give me 15 days and then we shall give you an exclusive if you want it.

India is in the nascent phase of OTT. But it has a strong heritage of filmmaking and is probably the largest producer of films worldwide.

No doubt about that. But the mindset of film producers understandably is different here – especially the mainline ones – as they prefer making money upfront rather than later.  While we understand why, it is still a limiting factor as well - for most OTT platforms - which are not also producers of films as well.

How large is your film catalogue for OTT both Bollywood and  international?

We do not yet have a significant International Catalogue of movies but there are some imminent actions on that soon.  As far as Bollywood is concerned - we can only put up content on our platform - for which we have rights. And we have a library of around 3000 movies - which are already up and running.

Does films get views? How much of your audience watches catalog films on OTT? How much time? And how often?

Not really - if you ask me. Especially Bollywood - most of those movies are already available in myriad other platforms - and there is no REAL Uniqueness here. And thanks to Pirates and Torrents there will never really be.  So playing the game with the strengths of Movies alone - is not a viable proposition - at least today. And even platforms like YRF or Eros are struggling on account of that fact.

Having said that – it’s not as though people don’t watch movies on OTT platforms - but it’s few and infrequent and essentially driven by some sort of unique demand - on the part of the consumer (note: NOT the platform). For example : “ I am having a debate about a particular dialogue with my friend and I want to prove a point about a move when I am outside at a bar!” Such scenarios are so infrequent that they don’t drive business case - frankly.

OTT players have just begun their run in the space with original content for television shows. Is acquiring films exclusively for premieres the logical next step? How far are the Indian players from doing something like Netflix did?

This question you have to ask Netflix actually. Are THEY making money for the movies that they are acquiring at huge costs and efforts? Or are they doing it because they today have money to spare? And can using it for drumming up PR mileage like your article will serve to do?

Though that’s strictly not a bad strategy - if you ask me. But then you need to have international valuation and dollars to burn. Most OTT platforms cannot afford it. So it won’t be commonplace. And Business case will NOT let even Netflix sustain the movie strategy for too long.

Will there be sufficient views for a movie released on an OTT platform? Will there be enough ROI on big-ticket movies on OTT?

Well not really. But someone like Netflix can surely show the way and experiment - (Thanks to their success and surplus funds) - so that all other platforms can learn at their expense ;-)

Will the exhibition industry accept film premieres on OTT? Or will they revolt like they did in Kamal Hassan's case?

Ask the industry - they are the rich folk! OTT people are poor and struggling anyways – don’t rub salt on their wounds.

Will premiering films on OTT affect the revenue flows from theaters?

Not at all - to my mind. Theatres and OTT are not just about content – it’s about their respective experiences - and there is nothing overlapping about those distinct experiences.  I won’t say that the audiences are different - because that’s too passe :-)

How can Bollywood use OTT platforms better?

By synergising and using OTT for its advantages. Theatrical and Satellite releases are all about the movie in itself. So instead of treading that trodden path - OTT platforms and Producers can synergise and think together to bring greater value to the consumer. Like releasing unseen footage, shooting goof-ups, candid reactions of stars (post doing a tough shot for instance) etc. - on OTT platforms - over and above the film - or contextual to the film. Digital OTT platforms have many intrinsic advantages that need to be leveraged - which unfortunately neither the Film Industry understands nor do the OTT platforms innovate sufficiently enough - mostly since they are so fund strapped - thanks to paying huge content rights monies to producers.

There are 800 films released each year. Many don't make it to the theaters. Some disappear after day 1. Do you think there is a market for such films on OTT? Would it make sense for smaller budget films to take this route? Will you premiere such niche content on your platform? What would the deals look like: revenue shares, or minimum guarantees (MGs) or outright purchases?

Too many questions in one!  But yes - there is surely a market (even if that’s not a big one) for theatrically “failed” or smaller budget films on OTT. And yes OTT platforms should premiere such content - but as I said producers (big or small) are looking at quick upfront returns. And if their need can be logically channelised - all of this is possible and even more. But mindsets need to change (for the better) for that - and change is always very difficult.

Such deals should be revenue share and not MG / outright - as the risk is equal on both sides.

Will films work in SVOD or T-VOD? Or AVOD?

TVOD or AVOD is where it works for the consumer as of now. But AVOD does not really pay for its costs.  SVOD for movies has not really worked - even for Netflix (remember Game of Thrones?).

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