OTT vs. Theatres – Who will win?

Jurassic Park released in 1993 and I remember watching in awe how a digitally mastered Dinosaur fought humans in the epic film when I saw it at one of the biggest screens in the erstwhile Madras at Devi Theatre Complex, Mount Road. Much was spoken about how the film was conceptualized and produced. For reasons unknown to me, I skipped The Lost World as well as the other sequels which released in later years. I decided to make do with it and therefore tuned in the films one after the other on our Smart Tv at home. The film is hosted on the Hungama App and I was asked to subscribe to watch the film. The cost of an annual subscription was Rs. 1,299 for which I get to watch – to begin with all three releases and thereafter, an unlimited dose of films hosted on the platform. The cost was almost the same as a movie outing for four of us or perhaps a Continental Meal at our favorite restaurant in town. We went ahead and watched the films on our 42” Tv and I was again in awe of the concept. But something was missing… the grandeur and the experience of watching it on the big screen. 

Last month, I wrote about the much-debated topic of a direct debut on OTT platforms of new Feature films skipping a formal Theatrical and Satellite release. This was in the making for a long time now, but certain Producers have taken this bold movie during this Corona lockdown. I guess there are two reasons here – obviously to capitalize the ensuing commercial opportunity of digital viewership which has been soaring ever since the lockdown commenced across India on 25 Mar. 2020; Secondly, this is an alternate way of movie production which caters to a certain segment of entertainment seekers who probably prefer to watch new content at the comfort of their homes. 

I wrote in my previous article about my experience of watching an FDFS on an OTT – Ponmagal Vandhal and am eagerly awaiting to watch “Penguin” feat. Keerthy Suresh which is a trilingual slated to release later this week. However, the movie watching experience on an OTT is much different than watching one on a big screen. Sans the loud claps, whistles and the thunder of ardent fans, the aroma of popcorn and snacks, the buzz of movie-goers and their commentary during and after the screening, the thrill of watching a film in rapt attention in a “dark environment” – I guess some of these can never be experienced while watching on a 36” LED Tv or a 11” Tablet device, let alone anything smaller than that. The only convenience is, perhaps a choice of comfortable clothing and a cozy corner to watch the movie at a personal choice of time with chips! 

I recently watched World War Z & Operation Chromite on OTTs. How I wished I could have watched them on the BIG screen for the sheer love of cinematography! The small screen experience is unparalleled to the paraphernalia of watching something like this on a Multiplex Screen where one can notice smallest details and nuances.

I wonder why the Theatre Owners have taken off against small time producers who make a marginal profit (perhaps not!) by producing films like Ponmagal Vandhal which would anyway not make BO profits. Ideally, I see this as a one-upmanship by the Theatre owners – I guess they now have the choice of “releasing only certain select films” on the Big screen post the Corona lockdown, thanks to new guidelines of movie-screening including seat-distancing and a lower revenue per seat. That the average seat occupancy at most of the 11,000+ theatres in India all through the week in only 40% is another story for me to write. Over 2,000 new feature films across a dozen Indian Languages fight for screen space annually with Tamil Nadu even trying a Q system for releases while Bollywood biggies announce a release date 12-18 months in advance to block the screens. Tamil and Telugu film Industry produce around 300 films each per year and small films jostle for mind space and screen space along with the biggies. 

There is already quite a buzz around Gulabo Sitabo feat. Amitabh Bachchan. But I guess am going to skip yet another Hindi film and another AB film. Like how I haven't watched Sholay! 

Instead of bargaining on Commissions & Revenue Share with the Producers & Distributors until 8 hours before a film’s release, Theatres can now command a “price” for releasing the films. This way, the long-standing dispute between the two parties would only solve once for all. Smaller producers can make films for OTT platforms and the bigger ones for the Mass Heroes & their masses of Fans can aim to produce and release in the big screens. 

Afterall, this is another classic case of David Vs. Goliath. The Exhibitors are the latter, of course.


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