Digital mediums: Boon or bane?
As streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hotstar are recording rapid growth in their subscriber counts, we take a close look at how this is affecting the movie-watching experience
Telugu audience like going out to watch films in theatres. Of late, that liking has been on the rocks amidst growing concern that people are heavily warming up to over-the-top (OTT) streaming services like Hotstar, Netflix and Amazon Prime. The existence of theatres appears more threatened now as this digital revolution has changed the way movies are being made, and the way we watch them. While the video-on-demand era has turned out to be an exciting one for movie aficionados, the industry people opine that it's disrupting the cinema business.
Veteran producer KL Narayana asserts that a structural shift is taking place in the entertainment industry -- from watching films in theatres to online viewing and explains that the flexibility of watching what we want to, at our convenience, is working wonders for the OTTs. “Box office revenue has taken a hit due to piracy and other issues. The footfalls in theatres have stagnated too. Films are no longer watched in single-screen theatres/multiplexes alone, but also on your smartphones, tablets, and iPads. There’s clearly an appetite for unique content among such consumers,” says Narayana.
He agrees that the survival of films in theatres is in limbo and says that the digital platforms are a boon as well as a bane for the filmmakers. “The system has proved to be a double-edged sword. The distributor model is still the biggest source of revenue for producers, but if theatres were to witness a drop in footfalls, it could be a concern as it's potentially killing a traditional movie-watching experience. At the same time, keeping our content away from the digital subscribers could lead to a long-term loss in revenues. I believe the digital rights will fetch more than satellite rights for Telugu films in the days to come,” he adds.
Seasoned producer KL Damodar Prasad believes that only films with strikingly unique content can survive the game. “The lackluster reception to several films should push our writers/directors to develop their content and improve their filmmaking standards. The audience needs good content, and they will watch irrespective of the medium in which it's available.”
He observes that the old business models are being transformed and the technology is changing the fundamentals of the revenue stream for many production houses. “Earlier, the film industry relied on cable television and satellite market. As the digital revolution appears to be gathering momentum, the increasing choices on the Internet and also the shifts in viewing habits have changed the dynamics. A producer, who is struggling to release his film sees greater monetisation in inking a deal with these OTT platforms as they have got sizeable subscriber bases,” notes Prasad.
The Ala Modalaindhi producer believes that streaming could be a profitable way of delivering small films that won’t be guaranteed the traditional theatre release. “Out of 200 odd films releasing a year, people always worry about the prospects of 20-25 big films and write off small movies. But they should realise that these 170 odd films are driving the industry. The makers of these small films have now decided to go the digital route instead of seeking a conventional theatrical release,” says Prasad.
Tollywood box-office tracker, Deepak Kodela, is optimistic of a turnaround. “Every platform has got its space and cinema will continue to rule the roost. The bygone year has witnessed some memorable hits. This year too, we have got some hits like F2, Yatra, 118, Lakshmi’s NTR, Majili, Chitralahari, and Jersey. We also have some exciting line-up of films which will draw a huge crowd to theatres. Several multiplexes are equipped with innovative technologies that take your cinematic experience to the next level. So, certain films have to be watched only in theatres and I’m guessing many films will do well.”
But it still remains true that the digital revolution is creating unprecedented circumstances in the industry as the model these OTTs are following is inadvertently putting pressure on the filmmakers. Some OTTs have been in the habit of releasing a film online while it was still showing in theatres thus causing a drop in ticket sales. This situation was resolved recently, and the OTTs have agreed to release a film only eight weeks after its theatrical release. Damodar Prasad says, “We aren’t sure if the collections have increased due to this regulation. There are some loopholes which need to be fixed. Personally, I think a big-budget film can be made available online after 50-60 days and for small films, the clause should be at least 30 days. I believe only time will tell if the growth the digital industry has recently experienced is short-lived or the beginning of something truly different. Right now, the future of the entertainment industry is still clouded by uncertainty.”