Amid Covid fears & theatre slump, what Radhe’s simultaneous release portends

Multi-release format will not work in India like other global markets, experts believe.

NEW DELHI/KOLKATA: After a number of filmmakers sought the direct-to-digital route to cope with the shock of the Covid2019 pandemic, it was expected that movies will return to theatres once lockdown restrictions eased. But the second wave of the novel Coronavirus has walloped the hopes of the comeback of cinemas. It seemed likely that many of the pending big releases would again be postponed. However, in a first for the Indian film industry, a movie is going to have a hybrid release. Radhe, which features Salman Khan in the lead role, will hit theatres on 13 May, while also simultaneously premiering on Zee5 and Zee Plex under pay-per-view plans. 

Zee Studio CBO Shariq Patel said that the studio sensed the need to release the film on OTT, as it will give audiences the flexibility and convenience to watch the film online from the comfort of their home. 

Simultaneous release of a film in theatres and OTT is a completely new trend in India. A few weeks back, Godzilla vs Kong distributed by Warner Bros was released in a similar manner in the United States. This unexpected move turned beneficial for the movie, as it enjoyed decent box-office collections in both domestic and international markets. 

However, in India, the scenario could be different as most of the single screens and multiplexes are shuttered due to the second wave of the Covid2019 pandemic. A minority of single screens are currently functioning with just 30 per cent occupancy. As Radhe will be released only on a limited number of screens, industry experts are not expecting a box-office storm from this Salman Khan-starrer. 

"It is completely about OTT. As more than 80 per cent of the theatres are closed, I am not expecting a decent collection from the big screens,” said Elara Capital vice president & research analyst (media & consumer discretionary) Karan Taurani. “I consider the premier of Radhe as a complete OTT release. If the situation persists like this, makers of movies like Sooryavanshi may also seriously consider an OTT or hybrid release. Moreover, the content is also getting old." 

Despite creating high hopes, direct-to-digital releases have not performed well. But as more people are again being compelled to stay at home, Zee5 might gain from its latest movie rights.

"It is early to say since we don't know how wide would the film release theatrically, which depends on the pandemic situation in May. In case the situation improves and the film releases wide like any other Salman Khan film, the impact may not be that much as audiences would want to watch the film in theatres,” Ormax Media partner Gautam Jain noted.

However, in case of a restricted release, it will have a positive impact on the platform, he added. Since this is one of the big tentpole and awaited movies, he said the industry can expect a few announcements of a similar nature from other films.

“I would imagine that Zee Studios has obviously realised that theatre revenue is going to be subdued for the rest of the year. It is very unlikely that theatre revenue will pick up for the next few months, the situation will remain like this maybe till the end of this year. Therefore, the only alternative left for them is to look at revenue coming from OTT or TV or any other partnership in terms of monetisation,” Kurate Digital’s Uday Sodhi surmised.

On the other hand, Taurani felt that the pay-per-view model will not work in a country like India, where the concept of the TVoD model is still taking baby steps. 

"We believe that the TVoD model is still too nascent for a market like India and one cannot expect any big positive surprises. We had already anticipated that certain large films may go direct OTT or TVoD route given the current rush for content coming into cinemas whenever they open up; expect some more small/medium budget films too to hit the direct OTT route as all may not wait for cinemas to open up," he explained. 

Taurani also noted that one big film that fares well at the box office could lead to shifting of bargaining power in favour of exhibitors. However, theatres in India should start functioning properly to expect such a scenario. 

Talking about the expected normalcy timeline, Taurani said, "The unlock time with 100 per cent occupancy this time around may be much faster – three months (June) as compared to six months last time when cinemas opened only in October and got 100 per cent occupancy towards February.'' 

In the meantime, Zee5 will attempt to maximise and exploit whatever opportunity is available. A movie like Radhe will be great for its subscription side as more people are sitting at home and will like to consume more OTT content; and top of that, the film’s star Salman Khan has a loyal and extremely massive fanbase.  Therefore, any big movie release will boost subscription to some extent. While ZeeL’s Zee Plex is available on DTH platforms, it is going to be more interesting for the television side as TV content is in short supply, Sodhi added.

However, it is the overarching belief among experts that multi-release format will not work in India like other global markets. "It would be difficult to continue a multi format release in future as exhibitors would want a clean theatrical release window for films, especially the big tentpole event films," Jain noted. Sodhi is also of the same view that these models are born out of crisis but will not continue once the situation stabilises.

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