Covid-19 and Entertainment:
COVID-19 has made a mess of 2020 and has been cruel to a lot of them. However, for a select few this has come as a blessing in disguise. I am not talking about Mukesh Ambani or Aditya Puri, but the producers of some inferior Cinema that have gone on to make good profits at the cost of unaware OTTs and the ‘Work from Home’ poor souls, who switched on their respective gadgets for a break to catch on these movies.
Direct release on the small screen is not new to Indian Cinema, a quarter century ago Mahesh Bhatt started the trend with ‘Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee’ which was directly released on Zee TV, after it struggled to get a theatrical release.
In 2013, Kamal Haasan tried a different strategy, he wanted a simultaneous theatrical as well as Direct to Home release for Vishwaroopam. Theatre owners subsequently threatened to drop the film from the theatres altogether fearing reduced foot falls and this plan was shelved, thus releasing only in the theatres not before it went through a different struggle with a few protest groups.
Cut to 2020, with the advent of COVID-19, the avenues of entertainment slowly started dwindling with malls, theatres, airports shut and with travel curbs confining people between the four walls of their dwelling places.
A few of them saw an opportunity here to get rid of their stock on which there was an Investment, thus beginning the trend of direct OTT releases due to the impact of Covid-19 which bought them sizeable profits. There was no noise from March until mid-April, when producers were hopeful of a return to normal life soon. Lockdown after lockdown only made matters worse and the pandemic only grew stronger with time spreading across major cities, thus making return to normal life a long-drawn process.
Amazon was quick to act with 2D Studios (owned by Actor Surya), for a release of their venture ‘Ponmagal Vandhal’ starring Jyotika. Presumably made on a budget of 4.5 Crores (one look at the movie and one needs to search for every penny spent beyond 2.5 crores), this was picked up by Amazon for a whopping 9 crores.
In the days that followed, a slew of movies started hitting the OTT space, with bigger productions like Gulabo Sitabo, which was made on a budget of 45 crores and sold at a profit of around 20 crores to Amazon again. With Disney+Hotstar coming into this space with a splash, breaching the 100-crore barrier and having picked up some huge productions, the game is getting even bigger.
Who were the losers in this gamble? Theatres (Food & Beverage sales rather than ticket sales for obvious reasons) and the Government which is losing on the revenue from GST on the ticket sales. So far going by the quality of the movies that have come on air, OTTs are the new distributors in distress.
There could be much better movies from smaller production houses and rookie directors, that find it hard to get a theatrical release. What could have been a blessing in disguise for such movies, looks like a blank here too considering even OTT’s are looking out for bigger productions and bigger names. A small movie like ‘Choked’ is a very good example.
With stakes this high, we can soon see the ‘pay-per-view’ model becoming more prevalent. This model which mostly started off for professional Boxing, soon branched out to Wrestling and other sports. Soon even movies followed this path with a similar model known as ‘Video on demand’. However, keeping the prices competitive is the key here to ward off any kind of piracy.
Currently, India has 22 OTTs catering to different viewers, right from movies, web series, soap operas, and some specifically for adult and regional content. If you think this space is getting saturated, remember in 1990 all we had was one channel and today we have close to a thousand. This was probably the biggest positive outcome of the 1990 Gulf War.
Let’s see how this game evolves in the days to come, with the theatres all set to open doors with 50% capacity.
Trivia: Streaming media became practical only because
of data compression. A breakthrough in this technology was first proposed in 1972 by Bangalore born Nasir Ahmed along with Chennai born K.R. Rao and T. Natarajan.