A poster of Salman Khan’s film 'Radhe' (Image courtesy: Zee Studios)
When the big-budget venture Radhe starring Salman Khan leaked online immediately after its release on media company Zee Entertainment's over the top (OTT) platform ZEE5 and its pay-per-view platform ZEE Plex, it raised concerns for both streaming players as well as the film industry.
Producer and film business expert, Girish Johar said that while Zee did file an FIR against the leaking of Radhe on various platforms, the company acted late.
"It (Radhe leaking online) oiled the piracy machinery. The team that handled the release of the film should have preempted (this) because the point with piracy on social media or platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram of the world is that it is so easy to do it (leak a film online) and it (pirated version of a film) spreads like wild fire. People who didn't want to watch the film were also getting the (movie) link," Johar said.
He said the Zee should have registered the FIR much faster. "The milk was already spilled by then and it was a little late to react. Salman has a mass hysteria so the learning from the theatrical releases is that the (audience) pull is for the first few days. So, even for the online version later when the ruling came in, I think by then it was late. The effort was a little late."
It is estimated that Zee incurred losses of around Rs 80 to 100 crore due to the release of Radhe online and some percentage of it was because of piracy.
While experts said that it would be difficult to estimate the exact losses Zee incurred due to Radhe leaking online, a recently released EY report pointed out that the second wave of COVID-19 had accelerated digital piracy.
According to EY India, Partner - Forensic and Integrity Services, Mukul Shrivastava, content creators can lose three to four times more due to piracy than what they earn through monetizing the content.
London-based Digital TV Research, a company which tracks OTT and television space and provides business intelligence for the TV industry, in a recently released report said that OTT players in India may lose around $3.08 billion by 2022 on account of piracy.
Another report suggests that video streaming platforms are losing 30 percent of their annual revenue to piracy.
In fact, Shailesh Kapoor, CEO, Ormax Media, a media consulting firm, said in a blog that while popular web series Scam 1992 on SonyLIV was watched by 23 million in India, the platform had around 2 million subscribers. He said that even if subscribers watched with their family, there are still around 16 million unaccounted viewers for the series.
Along with SonyLIV, many other OTT players are dealing with the issue of piracy. In a report, Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player, had said that one of the platform's popular show Aashram starring Bollywood actor Bobby Deol would have registered 20 percent more viewership if not for pirated version of the show available online.
So, what can OTTs do to curb piracy in India which is one of the worst affected markets?
Trying to tackle piracy
"Most OTT platforms are by default set up to prevent forgery through proprietary codecs, and the fact that the content is being served in a walled garden of an app or a browser window. It is a deterrent for casual pirates, which is where the real damage could occur - these are the common individuals who would in the Napster era exchange files over P2P networks," said Utkarsh Sinha, MD, Bexley advisors, a boutique investment bank focused early stage deals in tech and media.
Experts also noted that someone trying to take a screenshot of a Netflix show on mobile will see a black screen. On YouTube many would have already seen videos infringing copyright laws have been taken down.
However, Sinha said that "for the committed pirate, you can never ensure that piracy doesn't happen. All it takes is one recorder, and an HDMI cable. So erasing piracy is not possible, making it undesirable and unnecessary is the way out."
In addition, Johar pointed out that along with technological advancements, OTTs should also look at legal framework like producers filing John Doe for a theatrical release.
John Doe means that when a producer is anticipating largescale piracy, a lawsuit is filed but when the suit is filed the plaintiff does not know who may cause infringement of his/her material. The nature of this order is called John Doe when the producer would not know the identity of the person who would cause the breach but has a reasonable doubt of violation of law.
In 2018, Yash Raj Films (YRF) had filed John Doe suit before the Madras High Court to prevent piracy of its release Hichki, starring Rani Mukherjee. And this allowed makers to take a series of actions against piracy and any person or entity indulging in the piracy of the film.
Johar thinks that OTTs need to do more work to curb piracy. "Miscreants will be there so you cannot curb it 100 percent but it has to be made difficult for them."
Sinha said, "Radhe's
pirated cut should not be a deterrent for producers. Whether a movie came out on film last decade or on DVD, its pirated copies would always be available. What's more critical is how well the OTT content is being monetized. And I feel a credible alternative has been created which can threaten the traditional theatre exhibitor / distribution model."