OTT vs Theaters – What’s The Future?

Many OTT platforms have come up these days but none of them are as popular as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar. We have other platforms like Zee5, MX Player, Alt Balaji, Hoichoi and Telugu exclusive platform, Aha as well. Ram Gopal Varma also started his own OTT platform – RGV’s World on Shreyas ET app. Now, due to Covid-19 pandemic, the theatres have had to be shut down from March and no one is sure, when they will open. For another 3 months, most of the trade analysts believe the theatres won’t be able to restore operations. So, what’s the future of the Film Industry, when theatres eventually re-open and with so many OTT platforms available for public just on their mobile phones?

Let’s look at the Past first

– In 1909, a producer named Raghupathy Venkaiah saw films being projected by British and American studios in other countries and decided to bring that to Telugu states as well. Colombo, Madras, Mumbai already had small-scale studios that produced films but Telugu films were first produced by Mr. Raghupathy.

– Raghupathy Venkaiah used to tour around the state to different district capitals and to cities with projection materials. He used to publicise his arrival before he would go to any place and at the place where the projection used to be set-up was determined by the big families or officials at the place.

– In 1931, H.M Reddy, another Telugu producer and director, introduced Talkie films in Telugu and he used to tour around the state as well, just like Drama companies. He used to a carry a print that did not have any sound track added to it and at the projection place, people used to live dub and perform for the viewers.

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– As that setup seemed too trying and talkies started attracting crowds, few people came together to build theatres in major district headquarters. Like this, Touring Talkies system was replaced by distribution and exhibition system. Now, producers did not have to go every place with their prints to showcase films. Studio system in Madras saw arrival of Telugu Studios as well like Vauhini, Vijaya.

– By 1940’s, the projection system and sound system have improved to new level and cinema halls have become a flourishing business with theater or stage drama losing it’s sheen. Slowly, different people started building theatres in rural areas as well. Still, the number of theatres were less compared to today.

– The emergence of Popular stars like Chittoor Nagayya, Bhanumathi Ramakrishna, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Anjali Devi, NTR, SVR helped studios to keep producing films and even independent producers saw films has a lucrative business opportunity. Hence, exhibition system, that is, building new theatres for films started growing by leaps and bounds.

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– New innovations to sound system and projection have forced theatres to develop facilities like 35 MM projection, 70 MM projection, IMAX and Digital sound, Surround Sound, Dolby Digital, Atmos.

– But the success rate of films which never crossed 25-30% even at its peak, threw some theaters out of business. As the success rate fell to 10%, many theater managements had to seek intervention from Government.

– To determine rents and regularise income, Government came up with slab system and that further threw the theatre management’s into doldrums. Tax imposed by Government on theatres has always been high and that lead to domination of only few wealthy groups in the business.

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– Rise of Satellite TV, saw theatre Business losing more money consistently with public showing interest in watching TV serials and programs at their homes on easy chairs than driving to theatres.

Present: (Recent past and Today)

– Multiplex chains where 2 or more films could be played at a time, started growing and this brought some crowds back to theaters, even though Satellite TV is still ruling the entertainment market.

– Wealthiest Corporate groups and International chains entered the business looking at multiplex boom in the cities. PVR Cinemas who started out as one to two theater chains in Delhi, today became the pioneers in Indian Multiplex theater exhibition.

– Single theaters started vanishing with corporates investing more in multiplexes. Hence, producers who turned into distributors and exhibitors, started turning the single theatres, they took on lease or bought into multiplexes on a large scale.

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– Even the owners of buildings who have acquired permission to build shopping malls, started giving at least one floor in their buildings to multiplexes, and these have become the driving force for public to visit the malls on the weekends.

– Multiplexes opened the market for different language films and metropolitan cities, big cities have become potential markets for other language films, mainly Malayalam and Tamil, in Telugu states. These multiplexes started encouraging filmmakers to use subtitles, so that, people who can’t understand the original film language also enjoy the film.

– OTT platforms started emerging with Youtube, Netflix showing to the world that even though people stopped showing interest in watching films at theatres for many reasons, they still have great appetite for content produced on digital platforms. This gave opportunity for flailing producers in a swarm of uncertain theatrical exhibition system to try out different stories.

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– But the adult content saw more takers on OTT platforms than the regular ones. The market is still uncertain about what works on OTT and what doesn’t. There are pioneers like TVF, who are able to produce varied successful content but Telugu producers haven’t been that lucky.

– In 2020, suddenly Telugu Film Industry saw Covid pandemic force them to stop operations. Theatres had to be closed, fearing mass transmission of the disease.

– OTT platforms have become the only option for people to hope to find some kind of content as the production of content even for Satellite TV, had to come to an abrupt halt.

So, what’s the future?

– Theatres have to accommodate social distancing according to the regulations and recommendations of virologists across the world. This could increase ticket prices and even the prices of snacks.

– Public are shaken up by the pandemic and while the fear of catching the disease will prevent them from going to theatres, the increase in inflation rate, increase in unemployment and global economic crisis will force public to find alternative entertainment platforms than theaters, if the rates of tickets and snacks, don’t come down drastically.

– Industry to survive in this crisis will need governments to reduce the tax rates and will ask for subsidies to continue production, as survival of many people is at stake here.

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– Youth who are bored with lack of fresh content on OTT platforms could go to theaters and even people who can’t stay indoors for long might try to watch films at theatres but the economic crisis will force families and mass crowds to stay away from them.

– OTT platforms will try to attract producers with fat checks but as they need hits and new subscribers pouring in from time to time, they will try for increase in direct production than acquiring content from various sources in coming years.

On the whole, we can say that the future seems to be open for theatres and OTT platforms to co-exist but theaters will be forced to reduce rates and this could lead to producers to think about contained production to recover budgets in the future.

Also Read: Best Telugu Web Series To Watch On Aha Video