Producers, exhibitors divided on OTT/satellite streaming of Tamil films as Kollywood embraces digital platforms

Kollywood have announced that they would procure big-star films on Minimum Guarantee (MG) basis only after seeing the movie in preview screenings to minimize or avoid losses at a later date.

Surendhar MK March 10, 2020 14:26:45 IST
Producers, exhibitors divided on OTT/satellite streaming of Tamil films as Kollywood embraces digital platforms

A recent presser organized by The Tamil Nadu Film Exhibitors’ Association and the Chennai, Chengalpattu, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur Distributors’ Association stating that they would cooperate with producers only if there is an 8-week window between theatrical and streaming release, and a 100-day window for satellite premieres has turned the spotlight on the rapid growth of OTT platforms and their penetration in Tamil film industry.

While streaming platforms have shown a significant rise in terms of viewership and subscribers base in India in the last two years, it’s become imperative for the stakeholders to keep pace with changing trends in the industry where fortunes change every Friday. The official online streaming premiere of films within a month of their theatrical release date on popular platforms like Netflix, Zee, Amazon Prime, and SunNxt has put the exhibitors and distributors anxious. Big star films like Kaithi and Pattas are among these early birds on streaming portals, while other big-ticket films such as Viswasam, Bigil, and Darbar have also made it to streaming portals on or before their 50th day of theatrical run.

Producers exhibitors divided on OTTsatellite streaming of Tamil films as Kollywood embraces digital platforms

Karthi in a still from Kaithi. Image from Twitter

The federations have also announced that they would procure big-star films on Minimum Guarantee (MG) basis only after seeing the movie in preview screenings to minimize or avoid losses at a later date. Firstpost spoke to prominent producers, distributors, and exhibitors about these striking resolutions passed by the association to analyze how feasible the demands are and whether it could be implemented in the future.

“The 8-week gap is the norm that’s being followed in Telugu and Hindi by the biggest films and producers. We are asking the producers here also to follow the same. Instead of 30 days, we ask for 56 days (8 weeks), and it's a reasonable request. The extra revenue that producers might get from an earlier streaming release is nothing but a loss in potential theatrical revenue," said Ruban Mathivanan, Exhibitor, GK Cinemas, Chennai.

Distributor Harshath of Sakthi Film Factory says he is perfectly fine with the premiere of films on online streaming 30 days after the theatrical release if it results in better revenues for producers. "And most films nowadays exhaust their run within a month; only the really successful films play in multiplexes even after a month. As a rare case, we had Viswasam and Kadaikutty Singam, which were strong even in single screens and mass belts for close to 50 days before they were premiered online. On the other hand, to make longer runs more productive for producers, multiplex chains should give better terms to producers from the third week of a film's run. Currently, they offer just 30% of the net collections to producers. The producers of sleeper Hits (the films which pick up gradually) like Oh My Kadavule and now Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal will suffer such a fate in the film’s long run," Harshath told Firstpost.

Ace producer Gnanavel Raja of Studio Green says such big decisions and announcements are always better made after a joint meeting and discussion of all the stakeholders in the industry, including producers, distributors, and exhibitors. "My films such as Singam 3 and Thaanaa Serndha Koottam were premiered online after 50 days of the theatrical release, and their satellite premiere was fixed at a two-week gap after the online premiere. I feel that's an ideal window, and it won't impact anyone in our business chain. That's the norm being followed in the other big industries too.”

Ruban says although people may choose to experience repeat viewings on streaming platforms for big-star films, they might decide to directly see it first on streaming and avoid visiting the theater when it comes to small movies. "We must remember that many small films get picked up on streaming platforms only after good buzz in its theatrical run. I fear that the theater-going habit will gradually die down in the long run if this 30-day streaming release trend continues. For producers who complain that we charge a bomb in parking and F&B counters and earn a lot from these avenues, I strongly say that only a few multiplexes and malls do so; the majority are still affordable. Coming to a film’s satellite premiere after 100 days, I feel that's irrelevant for us. An earlier streaming premiere is directly linked to theatrical revenue, and we are pushing for a longer window. Anytime after eight weeks is good for both streaming and satellite premiere," contends Ruban.

When asked about the Minimum Guarantee method followed for high-profile stars, Harshath says, "Only four to five big star films get MGs from distributors, and I think the producers or heroes of those films won't feel the need to show their films to distributors pre-release in any preview screenings. MGs are being offered based on the level of expectation and trust from the film, and one can't expect screenings of such high profile films. We generally see all other films before deciding to distribute them."

Harshath further added: "One more point I would like to emphasize is if people actually pay for streaming and legally see films online, it's all well and good. But a vast majority of people see films on pirated sites and torrent downloads; these illegal versions are nothing but ripped versions of the top quality prints which are premiered officially. A quicker streaming release, unfortunately, acts as a seed for such piracy too."

The final mandate on this debate isn’t simple to arrive at, as one size doesn’t fit all. What works for one producer needn’t necessarily work for another, as their budgets, capabilities, requirements, and constraints are different. Kamal Haasan’s pathbreaking pitch to release Vishwaroopam directly on DTH platforms back in 2012-2013 created a huge furor in the industry back then, and nothing productive came out of it eventually. An official meeting is expected to happen between producers, exhibitors, and distributors soon to discuss the issue and come up with an amicable solution.

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