A lot of the filmmakers are planning to release their films on various OTT platforms, while some have already gone ahead and done it, in the present circumstances when all cinema outlets have been closed down since March 14 this year due to the COVID-19 virus.

This closure has also made people seek other sources of entertainment. While compelled to sit at home with little else to do, people have taken in a big way to watching content on OTT platforms, and there are scores of them available, some come as an extension of their television or video content, for which they already held the rights, and others with sanctioned content made in India. That many of them have unlimited international content is a plus for those who like to explore such content.

The television channels are not much of an alternative since the closedown, as the closedown also includes production activities and the channels are compelled to rerun old content.

OTT streaming, available on one’s smartphone, made it possible for one to catch any content while on the move. But, with the closedown, one can enjoy the same on the television screen as well. And, in the era when the TV screens are available in huge sizes, it serves as a mini cinema at home.

In the column B-Town dated 10.5.20, I had mentioned that multiplex properties are wearing a desolate look. There is no source of revenue even as fixed costs stay.

The filmmakers’ decision to opt for OTT release for their new films has not gone well with the multiplex owners. The first reaction came from the multiplex owners’ body (MAI), which was a kind of request to the filmmakers and those concerned to hold their films till the cinema halls reopened post COVID-19 lockdown and restrain from going for OTT platforms.

That should have been enough and not many would have opted for the OTT alternative unless their circumstances so compelled them and that it was economically viable, for not all films can recover their costs from OTT.

But, somewhere along the line, one multiplex chain management, INOX, decided to be rude and go on to threaten with ‘retribution’ to such filmmakers who bypass the cinema run and opt for OTT.

The INOX press release starts with expressing ‘extreme displeasure and disappointment’ at producers’ decision to ‘deviate from the globally prevalent content windowing practice’ (meaning cinema screen) and finds it alarming and disconcerting! (Well, like cinema, OTT is also a globally prevalent practice now, isn’t it?)

The release calls those who opt for OTT as fair-weather friends and goes on to add: ‘INOX will be constrained to examine its options and reserve all rights, including taking retributive action…’

Did it not strike to INOX that the producers who are going in for OTT may also have weighed/examined their options? Probably not. Because multiplex managements think they hold a sway over the film industry. Not surprising, because, they have dictated terms all along and always got their way.

The producers of ready-to-release films may be going for the OTT because they are in a position to realise their blocked investment here and now. Since, the multiplex owners want them to hold back the films till the screens reopen, are they offering any sort of relief to the producer? Say, better terms so the interest on investment is covered? Why don’t multiplexes offer a Minimum Guaranty (MG as it is known in the film trade) of fixed purchase price, with profit-sharing after recovery of MG?

Nothing of that sort, just retribution! And, such a unprofessional stand taken by INOX when pictures of its workers is trending on social medias showing staffers carrying placards asking for outstanding salaries since lockdown! It was probably outsourced and the contract got over? What a coincidence!

Even when a big studio like Yash Raj films demanded better terms, failing which they went along to release their film “Tashan” sans multiplex screens, the studio had to make a compromise a week later when the film turned out to be mediocre. Had the film proved a hit, promising a longer run and revenue, would things have been different?

In the South, too, some makers have decided to go with OTT. It would be wise of INOX not to threaten South makers because, unlike Hindi film producers, the South is solidly united.

The PVR statement in this regard is more business-like and stresses on the advantages of a theatrical release, while also conceding that the exhibition trade has always faced competition from new platforms.

Not taking kindly to the threatening tone of the press release issued by INOX, the Producers Guild Of India, in a statement released, has stated: ‘ …it is disappointing to see abrasive and unconstructive messaging..’ The Guild statement has kept its reaction within the limits of decency.

The INOX release comes out as a rare unprofessional communication in the corporate world. Films will continue to be made, and the ones who now opt for OTT are not the last of the lot.

(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)




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