Are producers and cinemas heading for showdown on OTT release?

OTT release is inevitable at these times of adversity, but cinemas are miffed.

MUMBAI: Nothing compares a theatrical experience: the sprawling screen, overall ambience, high-quality surrounding sound system, the cheering (and sometimes jeering!) crowd, and the overall immersive experience it provides. The pure joy of being there just cannot be supplanted with any other medium. But, the Covid2019 pandemic has necessitated the need for other means of movie release: OTT.

Cinemas are unhappy with the release of movies directly on an OTT platform by skipping theatrical windows. With the Covid2019 pandemic refusing to fade away anytime soon, theatre release is not possible, at least in the foreseeable future. Will this lead to a showdown between cinemas and producers? Or will there be co-existence to find common ground?

A recent statement by INOX has pitted the exhibitors against the producers. The cinema chain expressed “extreme displeasure and disappointment” on an announcement made by a production house to release their movie directly on an OTT platform by skipping the theatrical window run. The decision of the production house to deviate from the globally prevalent content windowing practice is alarming and disconcerting, said INOX in a statement.

According to INOX, cinemas and content creators have always been into mutually beneficial partnerships. “INOX has been investing profoundly towards adding world-class quality screens, across the country, only to provide more eyeballs to the great content being produced. This partnership has endured for decades and has provided succour to each other. INOX will be “constrained to examine its options... and reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures, in dealing with such fair-weather friends.”

In response to this, producers’ guild of India issued a statement, expressing disappointment at the “abrasive and unconstructive messaging from some of our colleagues in the exhibition sector.”

“Statements that call for “retributive measures” against producers who decide to take their movies directly to OTT platforms, especially at a time when cinemas are unfortunately closed for the foreseeable future, do not lend themselves to a constructive or collaborative dialogue on the way forward for the industry.”

The guild said that we are in unprecedented times, facing one of the greatest public health and economic emergencies of our lifetimes. This is a time for the entire film industry to come together with empathy and support for the difficult predicament.

The production sector (just like the exhibition sector) is suffering hundreds of crores of losses on a daily basis. Elaborate and expensive sets erected for under-production films have had to be taken down due to no date in sight for shoots to resume, with the sunk cost of the set and studio rentals to be borne completely by producers, as insurers refuse to cover the cost. Shoot schedules have had to be abruptly cancelled due to the lockdown, with huge cancellation charges being borne completely by the producer, again with no support from insurers. Interest costs are mounting on amounts raised to fund films, with producers having to bear this additional burden with no date in sight for cinemas to re-open. In this context, the guild said, it is important that each stakeholder understands and empathises with the predicament of the other, rather than adopting an adversarial stance which is counter-productive for the entire value chain. reached out to producers and directors to seek their reaction in this regard. The overwhelming feeling among the fraternity is that it is a temporary phase and that OTT release is the need of the hour – the product of a peculiar situation like this. Once the situation normalises, theatrical releases will happen and people will throng to watch movies on the big screen.

Film producer Ramesh Taurani feels that taking the OTT route is the right decision at this point of time.

“The current scenario has led to producers taking this decision. In an ideal world, these films would release theatrically, but we are still trying to figure a way for theatres to reopen safely. Since the majority of the content is being consumed online right now it is the better call given the pandemic. Producers also have their financial restraints and can’t hold on to their films beyond a point so it definitely is the correct decision right now,” he said.

Hats Off Production founder Jamnadas Majethia says: “As I always say that these are extraordinary circumstances and unique situations. So such decisions and behaviour will surface till we really don't have a clarity on the impact of Covid2019.”

According to him, films have premiered on OTT earlier also. “And we will see ‘houseful’ boards at cinema halls again. These habits of the big screen experience have been built over the number of years and we can't change it over with a few months of restrictions. The vaccine will do the magic for the world. And till then it will be creations, innovations and survival of the fittest and emergence of good human behaviour that will help us create new opportunities of business,” he adds.

Malayalam producer-director Anil Thomas said producers have no other option but to release movies in OTT. “Even in the Malayalam film industry we are releasing movies on OTT platforms as we are left with no choice. Theatres are the last thing that will open after lockdown is lifted. So, producers over here have mutually decided to release shows on OTT platforms.”

According to him, not all the movies will be released but the ones which have low shelf-life or. “Nobody wants to release on OTT platforms; theatre has its own experience but till the time everything will get back to normalcy it will be too late. They are mainly worried because if content gets released on OTT platforms then there will be a shortfall for theatrical films.”

Anil Thomas feels that theatre bodies and film producers will have to find common grounds. “In the long-run for all of us to survive, there should not be a showdown and all. We have to find a solution. I am also releasing my film Soothy Sujathayum on Amazon Prime,” he said.

Film director Kunal Kohli said: “Let INOX release what per cent of their revenue is ticket sales vs F&B. No one goes to a theatre to eat, right? Start sharing that revenue with producers as well, before accusing them of trying to survive in a world pandemic never witnessed before by mankind.”

A user said: “Well sir it is all about business. Don't forget how many people rely on these cinemas. If everything changes suddenly, who will be responsible for those people who will lose their jobs? Though everything is becoming online, but don't forget the whole chain.”

Replying to this, Kunal said: “There is an even longer chain of workers making the films. They also need to survive. Pls read my tweets properly. Theatres like I said WILL survive. Films WILL release in theatres. Some have chosen to go digital. Nothing wrong with that. Need to support them as well.”

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