It was April 17 and a major Bollywood movie starring the biggest Bollywood star was set to premiere in over 2,000 theaters in India. However, cinemas have been shut since March, as part of the lockdown and restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The producers decided for an OTT platform movie release on Amazon Prime Video.
The popular platform acquired the family comedy movie’s global rights and released it in more than 200 countries. The movie was set out to digitally reach more than 4,000 towns and cities across India.
The option of OTT platform movie release seems to have become the only option for film producers during these unprecedented times.
The film mentioned above had been ready for release in February. By April, the producers claimed that they could not afford to delay its release. OTT seems to have emerged as something of a life-saver for many producers in the film industry. At the same time, the trend of making digital premiers has also created different opinions among movie producers and owners of multiplexes and theaters in a country that sees the most number of movies produced every year. Most filmmakers have reported a loss of millions of rupees every day because of reasons like:
- Cancelled shooting schedules
- Rising costs, especially due to interests
- Costs of expensive sets lying idle due to the pandemic restrictions
What is an OTT Platform?
An over-the-top or OTT platform is a streaming media service that offers content to viewers via:
- Internet bypassing cable
- Satellite TV platforms
These platforms did certainly cause a disruption in the entertainment industry. It has especially received so much adoption because of the massive growth in the smartphone market. Some of the other factors driving its growth include:
- Internet connectivity becoming affordable and more reliable
- Increased penetration of internet connectivity
- Change in preferences of the audience
- Standard of living
OTT platforms provide a more personalized experience and this seems to be working in the favor of OTT platform movie release in these challenging times.
The OTT Market Size
The Boston Consulting Group reports that the OTT market in India was sized at $500 million in 2018. It was reported to grow to $5 billion, ten times, by 2023. The agency assigned convenience and low costs as the main reasons for driving the big growth in this segment.
The global OTT streaming market was sized at over $104 billion in 2019. It is expected to have crossed $161 billion in 2020. It has experienced exponential growth recently because of the global pandemic and lockdown. Subscription to different OTT streaming channels has increased dramatically. It is expected that it will grow at a CAGR of 14% between 2021 and 2023.
The Pandemic & Its Impact on Movie Releases
The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent restrictions on business operations has been a crisis for movie theaters. Many production companies are looking at this challenge as an opportunity of sorts. OTT platform movie release provides these companies and producers a chance to expand their sales platform options. Among other benefits, it gives them more power to bargain with the conventional distribution network.
The pandemic has increased indoor activity by several times compared to the pre-Covid-19 era. This has created huge growth in demand for content and video on demand (VOD). This is a positive development for everyone including producers of content and OTT platforms, as it has given a boost to VOD revenue.
At the same time, the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic has been estimated to affect the earnings for advertising players. This creates a challenge for broadcast channel operators because they rely on revenue from advertising. When it comes to theater and multiplex operators, short-term impact on revenues is certain as the audience is serious about avoiding crowded places, no matter what the government policies are about opening up cinema theaters.
However, it is the production firms that will benefit from OTT platform movie release. The others who will be benefiting include subscription-based OTT firms and advertising-based platforms like TV channels. The overall impact will be based on the profit structure of the relevant player.
A Seller’s Market
As theaters have had to shut doors because of the pandemic, many previously planned movie releases had to be delayed indefinitely. Most of the producers are now planning OTT platform movie release to be the only viable option to stay afloat. The film industry seems to have acknowledged the fact that the content consumption pattern among viewers has changed dramatically. It is also beneficial for the industry that the general perception of exclusive movies on video streaming services has changed a lot in recent times.
Many film producers and production companies believe that OTT platform movie release will become an integral part of their business model even after this crisis comes to an end. Thanks to these challenging times, the industry has suddenly realized that their sales production options have expanded. If not for this unfortunate pandemic, the industry may have taken many more years to embrace the benefits of this platform. The result is that everyone is expecting the emergency of a seller’s market.
What are Filmmakers & Producers Thinking?
Many filmmakers have expressed their views about experimenting with other platforms for a film release. It is well known to everyone that theaters will not be able to open for many months or even up to the end of this year. As the number of cases of Covid-19 increase in the country, the reopening of multiplexes and theaters have become the last of the topics on the priority list of state governments. So instead of making losses by delaying movies for an unprecedented time, film producers are seeing OTT to be the only platform to reduce their losses.
While reducing losses is the primary concern for filmmakers, OTT platform movie release doesn’t typically mean a loss. It is expected to help filmmakers cover their damages and generate revenues to allow them to work on other films. Besides, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other major platforms do have the capital to purchase the rights.
Filmmakers believe that once multiplexes will be open, viewers will be back to watch their favorite stars on the big screen. Besides, many movies are expected to be ready for screening. It is expected that 6 movies will be in the line for release every Friday. This will make it easier for filmmakers to not just reduce their losses but also to get around the competition. Many believe that theaters are still the best platform for watching films. However, how the audiences will turn out after their experience with OTT platforms is difficult to say.
Eventually, it is the OTT players who have emerged as the big winners because they have been able to experience exponential growth. OTT platform movie release has also allowed Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hotstar, and other streaming services to access more content. According to Velocity MR, Netflix and Amazon Prime have experienced two-thirds growth in their subscriber base because of the Covid-19 restrictions.
Digital Release – The New Trend
The 2020 FICCI-EY report claims that more than 50 movies were released on the OTT platform in India last year. This was before any cases of Covid-19 were reported. Many believe that OTT platform movie release is a trend and it is here to stay. Interestingly, many of these films were low-budget movies. Film producers now realize that OTT can allow access to a larger and broader audience for small budget films without any big-star names.
One of the biggest advantages of OTT platform movie release is that it helps cut costs in the areas of advertising and printing. Releasing at theaters has always been an expensive deal for filmmakers. It has additionally been a challenge for small-budget filmmakers due to a lack of interest shown by distributors. A smaller-budget film doesn’t in any way mean that the content is of lower quality. Many of the recent successful flicks on the box-office have been relatively smaller-budget movies with lesser-known names.
It will be a mistake to claim that OTT platform movie release is a new trend. It has been there before this crisis, but it has now become almost a necessity for filmmakers. Last year, the streaming subscription revenues almost doubled. In addition, to live entertainment, many OTT platforms are creating films and web series that have gained widespread popularity. Video streaming platforms have made watching movies more affordable, convenient, and readily available. Viewers can watch their favorite content on-the-go and on multiple devices.
Theaters, when they open, are expected to still draw massive footfall. But OTT platform movie release is expected to stay here forever. It is a completely different game and allows content creators to follow their unique strategy to stand out from the crowd. The film industry has seen the era of VCRs and DVDs, but theaters have survived them all. It is expected that theater and digital release are here to stay for their own respective merits. Both the platforms are expected to create opportunities for filmmakers to stay afloat in case similar crises were to befall humans in the future.