amir Khan’s blockbuster sports drama Dangal, which earned Rs387 crore from its domestic theatrical release, has raked in additional revenues through other avenues.
The Nitesh Tiwari-directed film was first sold to Netflix for Rs60 crore. An additional Rs20 crore came from Zee Network for airing the film on its flagship television channels and then on its digital platforms OZEE and Ditto TV.
Other films, too, have benefited from the alternative avenues. Karan Johar’s 2016 Diwali release Ae Dil Hai Mushkil may not have exactly set the cash registers ringing with its modest box office earnings of Rs112 crore, but Amazon bought the rights to the romantic musical for Rs12 crore. Satellite TV partner Colors paid Rs15 crore not just for airing the movie on its television network but also syndicated it to its online streaming platform Voot and to another OTT (over-the-top) service, Spuul.
Clearly, whatever the box office fate of the film may be, the idea of exclusive digital rights is passé for now.
“One reason is cost. At the end of it, everybody’s got finite money including Amazon and Netflix,” said Rajiv Vaidya, chief executive officer at Spuul. “And if we look at it from a content producer’s point of view, it’s like asking why they don’t release their movie in one theatre only, instead of 4,000. Because it has a larger audience (that way).”
Until last year, Vaidya added, nobody asked for exclusive rights because of exorbitant costs. Ever since Netflix and Amazon came in, they started insisting on exclusive content for a minimum of two to three years during which the film could not even be sold for television, jacking up prices in the process. Soon, however, emphasized Utpal Acharya, founder of film production, distribution and marketing company Indian Film Studios, producers realized the impact this was having on satellite TV rights and the market they offered. That led to the currently prevalent model where either Amazon or Netflix locks up the digital rights for anything between two and 12 weeks and then the satellite TV partner takes over with its own OTT platform besides syndicating to other streaming services.
“70% of the digital revenue is still being paid by either Amazon or Netflix but the load is shared better now,” Acharya said, referring to the practice of first bringing the film on the international platforms for a short, exclusive period extending to a couple of weeks and then going to satellite partners.
“Plus all film content has limited shelf life. And no platform has a foothold in all countries and markets, so it’s one way of maximizing your returns. As of now, neither Netflix nor Amazon has captured the masses in India. So it’s only a matter of time before they start sharing more and more,” Acharya.
The critical question on what then distinguishes one platform from another, with all content being mostly same, Vaidya says, the boils down to marketing and consumer experience.
“If you look at it from the point of view of a content producer or licensor unbundling the rights on digital platforms, the thought process clearly gets driven by the desire to maximize revenue and yield for those rights,” said Vikram Malhotra, founder and chief executive officer at Abundantia Entertainment that has backed projects like Baby and Airlift.
If one looks at the digital platforms currently functional in India, Malhotra said, there is first a set of OTT platforms reaching out to a certain premium audience that is willing to pay for content. Then there are the AVOD (ad-based video-on-demand) platforms which are largely the broadcaster-led applications and have a larger reach and size than the premium/SVOD (subscription-based video-on-demand) players. Finally there are the multi-channel aggregating platforms like YouTube or a Vimeo which are large-scale distributors.
“In the next two to three years, they are going to create a pyramid of distribution like the kind that exists in mature industries and markets where there are going to be multiple points of distribution and access that are going to flow the same content to multiple users and consumers,” Malhotra said. “I don’t think statistically it will result in more money but it will open up newer avenues of content distribution and I think everybody is going to be very flexible about it. They could be in the market seeking all digital rights, or they could be seeking a certain format only. But ultimately, they’ll all start playing to the strength of their business model and platform.”