The world of cinema has not lost its charm but with the Internet making streaming services possible, digital platforms are impacting consumption patterns and business of movies.
Digital streaming services are storming movie-goers in India. How is this impacting the theatrica experience? Not so long ago, going to the movies for an evening of fun and entertainment was the thing to do. Not even cable television, which brought us American television shows and reality TV, was able to take away from that all-encompassing, immersive experience that often included family, friends, a partner or a spouse.
From the business perspective, distributors and exhibitors had no problem balancing their books, thanks to the Indian audience's love affair with Bollywood.
Now, the Internet is changing all that.
The world of cinema has not lost any of its charm but with the Internet making streaming services possible, digital platforms are impacting content, consumption patterns and the business of movies. All one needs to get one's fix is a mobile phone. It's nothing short of a revolution.
When international digital platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and Indian ones like ALTBalaji made their debut, they were initially viewed as an additional source of entertainment. But they gave the audience a chance to experience programming in a whole new way. And, as the audience's appetite for digital increased, streaming platforms went from offering shows and serials, to original series and releasing movies after their run in cinemas.
Now they're upping their game. They are reaching for the Holy Grail – original movie content.
Should Hindi filmmakers be concerned? While the cinematic experience is still unbeatable for certain films, are smaller-budget films more suited to the digital medium? Does it give them a chance to reach more people and make more money? Or are cinemas still the better way to go?
We spoke to a diverse range of people on this subject.
Ronnie Screwvala, Producer, RSVP
Our film, Love Per Square Foot premiered in 160 countries. That is an absolute first for a Hindi movie and gives it a head start. It's been less than 72 hours so one cannot quantify the response, except to say feedback has come in from around the world. Audiences of South Asian origin have seen this like a premiere movie they can watch on a week night or weekend in their home, so that's good.
Overall, on a digital platform, it's not about the first weekend or first week, but about how the viewership gains strength. Offline promotions in the media start only next week, to build on the strong word-of-mouth. This is a very different approach to marketing versus that for a theatrical release.
Releasing it on Netflix in this way happened not by design. We never set out to make a movie that we thought should premiere on a digital platform. We showed it to platforms and potential partners. There is no trend or pros and cons here. There is no pattern here. Movies are meant for viewing by an audience and eventually they will be screened as the audience desires.
Apoorva Mehta, CEO, Dharma Productions
OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, etc are the harbingers of the here-to-stay digital age. User content consumption patterns have undergone a drastic change with the lean towards digital platforms. This is becoming evident. As for content creators, depending on the scope of the project and budget, releasing an offering directly on digital platforms is far more feasible as opposed to releasing it in cinemas. These digital releases also allow filmmakers to experiment with newer content, which may not have a pan-India appeal or when they find it difficult to sustain heavy marketing and promotion costs.
Vijay Subramanium, Director, Content, Amazon Prime Video India
Our goal is to change the way Indian customers consume premium entertainment in India, and to change the way content creators create content for consumers in India and across the globe, by focusing on what the audience wants and delivering it consistently. We know that not having the latest movies and TV shows is an unmet demand; there is no affordable or reliable service where customers can get movies within a few weeks from their theatrical release or US TV shows on-demand. Hence, we are focused on securing latest content with the earliest possible window.
Manav Sethi, CMO, ALTBalaji
For filmmakers, the web platform is absolutely more beneficial. The movie theatre business is a capex intensive business and hence has limited reach. The unit cost per consumer is also high. From a filmmaker's POV OTT platforms give them reach in excess of 100 million in one stroke and gives them the ability to gather huge data, as the consumer is diverse and consumption patterns are available unlike an offline movie release. Also, small budget movies don't get the number of screens that they want, as P&L doesn't stack up from exhibitors' POV! But OTT platforms work on long tail and hence it's a win-win situation for both if the content is good.
Subhash Kapoor, Director
Digital content is the future, it is changing audiences' viewing habits all over the world. It is an attractive platform for filmmakers where they can tell stories without worrying about box office content, censorship or investing a lot of money on promotions and advertising. It also gives you an opportunity to tell stories that may not have been possible in a theatrical release. I see it not only as a welcome change but also a medium that is going to revolutionise how varied content is consumed.
Sumeet Vyas, Actor-Writer
Traditionally speaking, everyone who makes a film or acts in it wants to see it on the big screen. That is one thing you don't get when you release on a digital platform. But there is so much more you get in return.
The biggest gain, especially for small-budget films, or small slice-of-life films, is that there is way less pressure on becoming profitable because web platforms do not involve the large marketing spends that a film incurs when it seeks a theatrical release. Better still, when you release a film on digital platforms, chances are more people will watch it there than watching it in the theatre.
Also, you don't have to struggle to get screens. It is very difficult for small-budget films to compete with big-budget films in terms of screens.