Digital release of movies before release in Cinemas

May 19, 2020
Digital Technology

By Meril Mathew Joy and Anirudh Sethi

COVID-19 Pandemic has caused a huge setback to Bollywood Industry, especially considering that the movie releases have been postponed due to restrictions on opening of Cinema Halls/ Multiplexes. The Bollywood movies set in line with major releases since March 2020, such as Sooryavanshi, K.G.F Chapter 2 etc., are now under major concern for revenue generation against release of these movies. Every movie has seen a timeline during which it attracts public attention and generates its revenue and profits, however this pandemic has restricted all such options for the Production Houses, Distribution Channels, and other players. With such circumstances forcing the Bollywood Industry to go under losses, no viable option to keep the chain intact looked possible.

Announcement of digital release of movie ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ on OTT Platform

In a recent development, Filmmaker Shoojit Sircar has announced the digital release of his movie ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ on Amazon Prime (an OTT platform). The movie starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana is one of the most awaited movies’ of 2020. Soon after Gulabo Sitabo, Amazon Prime Video announced that they would also be digitally releasing the Vidya Balan starrer Shakuntala Devi.[1]

After the announcement made for ‘Gulabo Sitabo’, the theatre owners including big players like INOX and PVR, have shown extreme displeasure and disappointment on such steps taken by the Production Houses. In a statement issued by INOX, dated May 14, 2020 (the statement can be found here), the theater chain has shown extreme dissatisfaction on the production house (without naming the production house) decision to resort to OTT platforms for release of movies. INOX emphasised on the partnership between the Cinemas and the content creator which is prevalent since long time and that such partnership has also mutually benefitted each other in generating revenues. However, INOX pointed out “In these troubled times, it is disturbing to see one of the partners not interested in continuing the mutually beneficial relationship, especially when the need of the hour is to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, and bring the film industry back to its vibrant best. Such acts, though isolated, vitiate the atmosphere of mutual partnership and paint these content producers as fair-weather friends rather than all-weather life-long partners,”

INOX in furtherance to its displeasure has also stated that it will now examine its options and reserve all its rights in dealing with such fair-weathered friends including taking retributive measures. INOX further appealed to the content creators to not skip the theatrical run which is age old established relationship, which is in best interest of the stakeholders in the value chain. The theater chain has tried to generate faith in this windowing pattern by stating that “this windowing pattern has done wonders in terms of revenues for the content creators and all other stakeholders, as it offers them the opportunity to extract the best from all available mediums which includes cinema, OTT platforms as well as satellite.” Similarly, PVR Pictures CEO, Kamal Gianchandani has also shown disappointment as the content creators/ production houses did not regard the request of multiplexes to hold back the film releases.[2]

Explaining the decision, Ronnie Lahiri, co-producer of Gulabo Sitabo, told HuffPost India that “We’re facing a once-in-a-lifetime phenomena, not seen since World War 2. These are the times when things change. Initially, people have apprehensions but one has to adapt. That’s how human civilisations have prospered. The minute we stop adapting, we’re done. Instead of waiting for the situation to get better, you tackle it with other alternatives.”[3] He further added that “See, it’s not always about commerce or business. A film is a labour of love and you want people to see it as soon as possible. We were originally supposed to come on April 17 in theatres. In this bleak time, if we can entertain people who are only thinking about the pandemic, then why not?”[4]

Whether digital release of movies by content creators is justified?

At this point it is very difficult to decide whether the decision of the content creator/ production house to move towards OTT platform is justified. On one hand, the concern of content creators is that the movie kept in storage may not yield benefits when situation comes to normal, as at that time, many production houses will be looking for dates for releases and the movies may not find sufficient time in theaters to generate its revenue back. On the other hand, the theater partners are perturbed with the thought that they have put in profound investment in making the theater experience much better for the public, which results in making the content shown in theater more appealing for entertainment of the public. The partnership between the two i.e. content creators and cinema chains, is very essential relationship not only for making the content an experience for the audience and generating business but also for the reliance of many people on such relationship for employment and survival.

As per reports, few other movies like Anurag Basu’s Ludo (Netflix), Akshay Kumar starrer Laxmmi Bomb (Disney+Hotstar), Nagraj Manjule directorial Jhund, Janhvi Kapoor’s Gunjan Saxena biopic, and Ishaan Khatter-Ananya Panday film Khaali Peeli (Netflix) are also considering a digital release.[5] With many content ready for release on the OTT platform, it will now be interesting to see whether the production houses/ content creators will still focus on OTT platforms for movie releases especially considering that the cinema chains have expressed discontentment towards such action and have also considered retributive actions.

Another question that is to be considered is whether partnership between content creators and cinema chains can be retained when there is no alternative for movie release in these unprecedented times?

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