OTT release won’t disrupt cinema ecosystem, theatres to rebound

Larger-than-life movies will continue to thrive

MUMBAI: The Advertising Club Bangalore recently organised a webinar ‘The Future of Cinema’ that delved into various aspects of the cinema business and how the industry will deal with this pandemic. The webinar had Friday Films founder producer actor Vijay Babu, MMTV COO PR Satheesh, Interactive Television founder Ajay Mehta, Qu be Cinema CEO Harsh Rohatgi as panellists and the discussion was moderated by Wavemaker South VP Kishan Kumar.

Amidst this pandemic, Babu announced that his film Sufiyum Sujathayum, which has Jayasurya and Aditi Rao Hydari in lead roles, will premiere in Amazon Prime Video. Babu was praised and criticised for his decision.

“The last few days have been the toughest period of my life. I had to answer questions from various parts of the industry. Because it is the first film that directly went to an OTT release. We make thousands of movies. Since the birth of the Indian film industry, this is the first time that we have been in lockdown. According to multiple reports, loss to the Indian film industry could be between Rs 1500 to 2500 crore,” Babu said.

According to him, during this lockdown period, between various languages, there must be 400 to 500 movies that might have completed their shoot or are in some stages of production. This means the money has been invested already. 

“In my case, the film was completed in January. I was expecting to release the movie during Ramzan. And also every movie has a shelf life. Even if the cinemas are open in September or October there will be a lot of issues that we will face. How to bring back audiences to the theatre is the biggest issue. Will a big-banner movie or a leading actor be able to bring back audiences to the cinemas? Most certainly the answer is no. There will be a wait-and-watch situation,” he added.

Rohatgi said that India released 1700 to 1800 movies last year out of which 1600 were local productions. Roughly 40 to 50 movies are waiting for release once the lockdown is lifted, which will create a rush. There will also be limited inventories in theatres. These inventories will be taken by big-budget movies once the theatres are opened. Seats will be sold for a larger number of weeks. He points out that this will create challenges for small and big-budget producers. In this case, even if 10 to 15 movies are released on OTT platforms, it should not be a problem for the cinema ecosystem.

How do you maintain balance between satellite and OTT? Is the acquisition strategy going to change and what are the inventory challenges? These questions were raised by Kumar.

Satheesh adds, “Theatrical experience is not going to go away. As far as our strategy is concerned we have been looking at broadcast plus OTT and the opportunities are now rising. Vijay Babu’s point of releasing first on OTT doesn’t mean that he will not go to theatres again. There is always an audience for theatre, OTT and television. Also, challenges are always going to be there; some producers might take a different route but it is not necessary that all will do the same thing. Everyone will have a different strategy.”

Mehta said that in India OOH entertainment options are very less. The role of cinema is very prominent. He mentioned that if you look at US’s data for the last ten years one of the top grossers are franchise films. It includes superhero films, animation movies; these movies need larger-than-life cinematic experience. OTT and television can be substitutes for some of the content, but larger-than-life movies need cinematic experience. He concluded by saying that franchise films will continue to thrive.

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