Barely a month after the release of Akshay Kumar’s satirical comedy Toilet: Ek Prem Katha in film theatres, fans were able to watch it in the comfort of their homes on television. The Independence Day release that made close to Rs135 crore at the end of its theatrical run had already premiered on state broadcaster Doordarshan by mid-September followed by Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd’s movie channel, Zee Cinema, two weeks later. Farhan Akhtar’s film, Lucknow Central, a mid-September release, too was aired on Viacom18’s flagship Hindi entertainment brand Colors in mid-October.
The Hindi film industry, which had once regarded a six-month period as the ideal window between theatrical and satellite TV premieres, is rethinking the game.
“I think it (the shortened window) finds its rationale in the economics of the business. A couple of years ago, film companies, whether in India or in Hollywood, found that the cost of production was becoming very high and it became more and more important to capture as many revenue streams as possible as a result of which the windows (between theatrical and other premieres) started to collapse,” said Subin Subaiah, co-founder of video-on-demand streaming service Spuul.
“Revenue leakage was happening in the six-month period between theatrical and satellite release because the pirates were having a field day and any dollar that the pirate makes is a dollar less earned for the production company. The window between theatrical and satellite has definitely shrunk in the last two years, on an average, to about two months and is shrinking further,” he said.
Subaiah added that the simultaneous release of several recent films including Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Harry Met Sejal on digital and satellite television platforms points to several looming realities. One, that it’s a very competitive market and the volume of content is extremely high. Two, if production houses leave their content unused for more than three to six months, its relevance starts to diminish given that it’s no longer spoken about as much on social media. Third, there is great pressure on both filmmakers and actors to not lose out on any fans; and the largest portion of the movie-watching group today comprises 18-35 year olds who are all on mobile devices and tablets.
“These are people who may not be watching the content on satellite but are watching it on other devices and they should not be ignored. They are the ones who are going to be paying for your next movie,” Subaiah said.
To be sure, the television networks are threatened. Not only is there ample content that may not be suitable for family-centric Hindi entertainment channels but the greater challenge comes from the fact that over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms are immensely enthusiastic about acquiring film content in India.
“In many cases now, the OTT bid price (for a movie) is close to the satellite price, if not more,” said a senior executive from a media and entertainment conglomerate that runs a clutch of movie channels, on condition of anonymity. For example, Amazon Prime Video, which has picked up the streaming rights of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati for Rs20-25 crore, will get to release the film before satellite TV partner Colors. The US-based streaming service has also signed a five-year deal with actor Salman Khan to premiere all his upcoming films before they are showcased on television.
“It’s the first two years for subscription-based video-on-demand platforms in the Indian market. They are quite aggressive and want all films to be premiered on their service,” the person mentioned above said. “Today it’s possible that if as an acquisitions head at a television channel, you don’t pay top dollar, you may lose the film to an SVoD (subscription based video-on-demand). So of course they (television channels) are threatened.”
Challenges remain for the new entities.
“Digital has definitely shortened the window for satellite TV premiers, but television is still the first choice (for filmmakers) due to its reach and vast audience base,” said Apoorva Mehta, chief executive officer, Dharma Productions. “India is broadly divided into different clusters and people’s preferences are difficult to change overnight. Although in the long run, we will see a shift towards OTT platforms and they will become the preferred choice over satellite premiere too but the process is going to be gradual.”
The greatest impact is on the theatre-going culture.
“It becomes tough to encourage a theatre-going habit when the consumer knows that within 30 or 60 days, she could watch the movie either on an SVoD platform or on TV. Right now, it’s not just about windowing on TV, it’s also about window on SVoD,” said Amrita Pandey, vice-president-studio, Disney India.
The norm in mature markets is to give every tentpole film at least a six- to eight-month theatrical and transactional window before it is available on television and SVoD services, Pandey said.
“A broadcaster or an SVoD service may bid aggressively for a shorter window, but the producer and studio community should in the long term, think about what is the optimum window for theatrical in our market and encourage the habit of going to the theatre. There is disruption in the way the consumer is watching content but we have to strike the right balance across all windows of consumption, besides making compelling content, so that it gives people reason to come to theatres,” she added.