Footfall across theatres in Tamil Nadu is decreasing: Piracy or digital streaming websites to blame?

Sreedhar Pillai

Feb,07 2018 16:00:31 IST

Kollywood is finding it difficult to keep pace with the way the film business is being taken over by streaming websites in terms of entertainment content. The most significant shift in recent times has been the time taken for a recent movie to release on digital platforms/streaming websites (28 days).

Films like Aruvi and few others have been released on streaming sites while the film was still running in theatres. Today, younger audiences are more interested in streaming content that is accessible on their smart phones or tablets.

The consumer's tastes and demands have changed, but Tamil cinema is unable to cope with it. Abirami Ramanathan, veteran exhibitor and distributor, says: “ The footfalls across theatres in Tamil Nadu have been falling and recent January releases have not lived up to box-office expectations. The main reason for that is the easy availability of new releases legally on smart phones within 25 days of its India theatrical release. A lot of the regular theatre audiences have made a shift to viewing new releases on the streaming sites; hence there has been a drop in footfall.”

Image for representational purposes only. Image from Reuters.

Image for representational purposes only. Image from Reuters.

Non theatrical content like Madhavan’s Breathe, which was premiered on the digital platform Amazon Prime, has hooked the youth to smart devises. Madhavan, speaking at the launch of Breathe, said: “Streaming services are the future. I believe theatrical audiences have come down as even the biggest films are being watched in theatres by just 2% of our population.  Today everyone’s primary source of entertainment has become their mobile phones.” This has send shock waves among theatre owners in the state. Ramanathan agrees: “As it is, the life of an average film in theatres is the opening three days, or maximum 10 days for a hit film.”

Last Friday, Vijaykanth’s son Shanmughapandian’s new film Madura Veeran was supposed to have a streaming release on a US based digital platform Tentkotta, on pay-per-view basis in North America. This, on day of its theatrical release (Feb 2) in India. The industry got its act together and raised a hue and cry; subsequently, the digital release was abandoned by its producers. Theatres in Tamil Nadu made it clear that they won’t release the film unless the simultaneous digital release in North America was dropped.

However, several new Tamil films are first releasing on digital platforms ahead of their satellite television premiers in India. Digital rights are fetching the producer 40 to 60 % of the satellite rights and are a new revenue stream. Ramanathan says, “We have nothing against a producer selling digital rights but make the window of theatrical and digital release atleast 50 to 60 days. The footfalls are bound to come down further if the release window time is reduced, as people will anticipate its release and watch it on their smart phones.”

A spokesperson of Tamil Film Producers Council said: “We had no issue with satellite television premiers of new Tamil films after a minimum theatrical run of 50 days. The trouble with legal digital platform releasing films immediately after theatrical release is that pirates will come out with HD prints the next day. The downloading of films from satellite telecast is not possible. However when it’s offered through digital platforms they are  immediately downloaded as HD print and copied as pirated DVDs. Recent confiscated pirated DVDs of Aruvi, Aramm and Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru, which were all premiered on digital streaming sites first, proves our point.”

G Dhananjayan, leading producer, adds: “Streaming videos of films is a new business opportunity, which Tamil cinema is trying to exploit. However, the downside is that with large scale publicity on the film getting released in digital video, the middle segment audience, who are choosy about watching films in theatres due to high costs, are vary of visiting theatres. They wait for the digital streaming, which gets converted into pirated DVDs in no time and are made available in the market. The key is keeping the window time between theatres to digital appropriate, which to my mind should be more than 30 days and nothing less.”

Updated Date: Feb 07, 2018 16:00 PM