The one thing the film industry would unanimously agree on is that 2018 saw digital platforms scaling new heights and now have something for everyone. From exclusive content to originals, OTTs (Over The Top) this year showed that the video subscription ecosystem has matured.
Talking to Moneycontrol, Sethumadhavan Napan, COO/Producer, DAR Motion Pictures, said one significant development that the film industry saw this year is the “strong emergence of the digital/OTT platforms as a viable alternative to theatrical exhibition on the one hand, and, also at the same time, a strong revenue stream for the theatrically released films as well.”
Adding to this, Neeraj Roy, Founder and CEO of Hungama Digital Media said, “It (OTT) has made both consumers and creators stand up and take notice. It has also started to make the creators introspect. With digital medium, the attention span of the audience is getting shorter.”
Platforms like Amazon and Zee5 were the leading players in buying digital rights for successful Bollywood films in 2018. Amazon Prime Video picked up the streaming rights of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's magnum opus Padmaavat for Rs 200-250 million. It also released the film before satellite TV partner Colors.
According to reports, Amazon has bought digital rights of as many as 13 highest-earning films out of 25 films between June last year and this year.
Digital rights have become an important pie of the revenue mix and they provide between 10-30 percent of a popular film’s total revenue, an EY 2018 report, titled 'Re-imagining India’s M&E sector', said.
The report also pointed out to another interesting fact that India has the second largest online video viewing audience. This audience is expected to reach 500 million by 2020 from 250 million in 2017.
Therefore, even studios are reducing their dependence on box office and focusing on video streaming platforms.
“What we're witnessing right now in the Indian film industry is a complete revamp by major production and distribution houses. They are now exploring newer avenues by branching out from being just a film studio to now making their presence strongly felt as a digital company," said Sunil Lulla, CEO at Balaji Telefilms.
“These players are now investing in films which are made at a low cost, have a high return on investment and are suitable for digital platforms. According to me, this is an excellent strategy because it fits the digital pipeline; reduces risks and the dependence on the performance at the box office,” he added.
Apart from studios, emerging talents are also one of the biggest beneficiaries of the growth of digital platforms. Actors like Pankaj Tripathi, Radhika Apte and Ali Fazal, among others, have become internet sensations — all thanks to web originals. In fact, an established actor like Saif Ali Khan became the talk of the town not because of his films, but because of his web series Sacred Games, that was a shot in the arm for the actor's career.
“The Indian web series space grows from strength to strength with content being one of its core drivers. What also gives these amazingly written shows a major fan following are the actors who have created a name for themselves with commendable performances. Mithila Palkar, Sumeet Vyas, Sunny Kaushal among many others are some of the fine performers who’ve made inroads into the film industry as well. OTT is seen as a stepping stone for many talented artists across the spectrum,” said Lulla.
“While mainstream cinema is still dominated by superstars from whichever regions they belong to, on digital platforms it is about performances from actors, creators,” added Roy.
It is an ongoing debate whether digital platforms are a threat to theatres. But these platforms are definitely an opportunity for those stories to come forward that never saw the light of day due to exhibition challenges in India.
"Yes, OTT platforms have seen growth this year, we have seen films like Love Per Square Foot & Lust Stories going in for a direct release on these platforms. There are also concepts originally meant for feature films like Ghoul getting converted into miniseries. A lot of good talent from the film industry is now working for projects (films and series) for digital/OTT platforms, so it's a good sign of things to follow," said Napan.
Films that work on tight budgets are not in the position to spend Rs 2-3 crore for a release across 200 screens. For such projects, digital platforms are a boon. In addition, digital/OTT rights make up around 5.5 percent of films’ overall revenue, EY report said.
“Small, content-driven films continue to battle big-ticket, big-star offerings for theatrical space and grabbing eyeballs in a cluttered market where the shelf life of movies is extremely limited. But in an age where content can be watched at one’s own convenience without paying exorbitant ticket prices, these films stand a much better chance on the digital space,” said Lulla.
The film segment is also witnessing a conscious move towards segregating content based on suitability for theatrical release versus other release windows based on multitude of factors. Similarly, opportunity to showcase content on digital window will resurrect projects which were considered unsuitable or unviable for theatrical release or those which can resonate with global audiences.
“Regardless of how a film performs at the box office, be it a blockbuster or an average performer, what OTT platforms certainly do is that they provide a platform for the audience to watch the movie again or catch the movie for the first time,” added Lulla.
Technology to boost the growth of OTTs
Whether OTTs are likely to erode into the footfalls of theatres, Roy said, “I think it would be early at this stage, but what I wouldn’t rule out is that the pace of adoption is going to be very rapid.”
“For mainstream films and a certain type of films where you go to theatres for the experience, it will continue to be in the physical world. However, the pace at which flat screen TVs are coming into homes and, at the same time, technology allows you to flick from a phone to television via a Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick, I would certainly say the exhibition business in the next two years is going to be up for a very major overhaul,” added Roy.
He further said, “Once the numbers of these platforms grow, my belief is that in four to five years from now, there will be about 500 million consumers who will be willing to pay Rs 100 on a monthly basis for a variety of services and by 2023, it may be a Rs 60,000 crore market, which will be four times the size of the Indian film industry.”
He also mentioned, “By end of 2019 India will get 5G licences and when you come into 5G environment you are talking about bare minimum Rs 100-Rs 200 for 1GB that environment is going to be disruptive and that will also make a lot of these platforms (OTT) have the ability to buy the rights of films and there could be instances of them competing with almost neck and neck with theatrical releases.”
Regional films are carving a niche for themselves even in the web world
If regional films carved a niche for themselves in the Indian entertainment industry, they did the same on video platforms in 2018.
“Along with the number of viewers in metros who like to consume content in Hindi or English growing, there are many who enjoy watching regional shows and movies as well,” said Bimal Unnikrishnan, Content Head at Viu.
According to Siddhartha Roy, COO, Hungama Digital Media, “Regional content will be contributing as high as 40-45 percent of consumption (in the coming years).”
This year, OTT platform Hoichoi, that focuses only on Bengali content, announced to double its programming with 30 new shows, 12 original films, and an acquisition of 200 Bengali movie titles.
Digital platforms are also turning out to be a safe haven for Kannada films. And this is as an encouragement for the segment that faces a tough competition from its peers in the south Indian film market.
Both Amazon and Netflix are acquiring Kannada films before their theatrical release. Amazon also launched a Kannada movie library on November 1 this year on Karnataka Day. With this, Kannada has become the sixth Indian language content on Amazon. “In the age of digital streaming and video on demand platforms, the Indian film industry enjoys a large following in the Indian diaspora, thereby creating an opportunity for OTT players to tap into this market,” said Lulla.