OTT VS THEATERS

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My Two Cents

It has now been almost four months since the whole country has been in a lock-down. No doubt, a lot of businesses and industries have taken a hit and that is no different for the entertainment industry. There hasn’t been a new film release in over four months. Theaters have been shut. Shooting has been shut, and all these things have affected the business overall.

At the same time, OTT has now become an avenue where people are releasing their films. This obviously hasn’t gone down well with the theater and multiplex owners who think of this as an additional loss on what they are already facing right now. But as a counter to this, I wonder where was their outrage when films like DRIVE, LOVE PER SQUARE FOOT etc were released straight on OTT in the past.

Anyway, coming back to the bigger picture that it is the producers’ and the studios’ prerogative to exploit the film or their intellectual property at their on behest. They are feeling the pinch of the pandemic as well; when there are no films releasing, when there are no profits coming, and they are already sitting on ready films accumulating various kinds of cost as well.

Digital, in the last few years, has been one of the most prominent ancillary rights that a producer parts way with. There really is a lot of money that has been made selling the digital rights, as an avenue and in the last few years itself it has emerged as one of the biggest forefronts of producers making money off their project. When OTT platforms are coming out and willing to pay that premium for a film, that was not released, on their own platform is a good thing for the studio as they can look to recover their money from there.

The situation that the theaters are in isn’t an ideal situation either. The uncertainty about when the pandemic would end and things will return to normal is a big problem to all the businesses and industries, not only in India but worldwide. Some theaters in the west have opened since the last few weeks or so but the numbers of the films have been negligible or next to nothing. This just goes to show that normalcy in a movie going audience in a country like India is an uphill task. It is sensible that the producers are trying to figure out a way around this situation rather than sit on it and accumulate cost of money, etc which is only adding to the overall cost of the film.

At the same time, it is understandable that running a theater/multiplex chain is a risky business as well. There are various overhead costs that these theater/multiplex owners have to bear. But having said that, if they would have found an option to cover these costs or to find a way, so to speak, then would have definitely utilized that as well. Producers have done the same. They found a solution to their problem and they are making use of it.

At the same time, there are producers of major movies who are still not allowing their movies to be released on an OTT platform but are waiting for the traditional way and expecting normalcy to resume soon enough. But my question is how long can they actually keep waiting. Right now India is hitting highest numbers of positive Covid-19 cases every single day, with no respite things look gloomy right for one and all.

We have to understand where we have to draw a line. It is unprecedented right now for anyone to have any normalcy in their approach. Be it from someone small to someone big, every one is looking after their own interests and trying to save themselves and then look to see if they can help someone else. Because if that doesn’t happen, everyone is going to drown no matter what. If someone can save themselves first then they can help and pull the other one out from the water. The most sensible thing will be to come together and figure out a way forward for the future.

Another thing to ponder over is that, even if the theaters do open in the future, will they be opening at a full capacity? And if they are not going to open up at full capacity then what kind of losses are the producer going to face? The studios’ and the producers’ revenues are interlinked with theater, satellite and digital release anyway. This will have them take a larger hit on a number they were already getting and the movie doesn’t do well at the box office because of people still scared to venture out and theaters mot getting enough footfalls, it will obviously be a deterrent for the producers as well.

Bottom line here is that a dialogue needs to start between the studios, producers and the multiplex/theater owners. The situation seems like it is only going to get worse now. Even in America, the theaters are suffering a lot but at the same time the studios are suffering as well. They have films ready that can not be exploited. Even they are releasing these films straight on OTT platforms. One film I can think on top of my head right now is Disney’s ARTEMIS FOWL, made with a budget of over $130 million, which they released on their own OTT Disney+ in USA, and subsequently released in India on Disney+ Hotstar.

People are trying to find a way around this situation. No one is really doing it for fun. It’s because they really have no other way out, this because the situation is so alarming and unprecedented to the core. The problems are huge and everyone is just doing their own bit to try and make it out of this alive and well.

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