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Major multiplexes ask Punjabi films to wait longer for OTT release

Major multiplexes are asking Punjabi film producers and distributors to sign a letter before the release of a film agreeing to an eight-week holdback before streaming a film on an over-the-top (OTT) platform, said Zee Studios in a letter to the Producers Guild of India.

While the letter says “major multiplexes”, film trade analyst Komal Nahta in a note said that PVR, INOX and Cinepolis India are asking the Punjabi film industry to wait for eight weeks instead of four weeks before releasing a film on OTT.

Zee Studios, in its letter, said that the Punjabi film industry releases over 70 films a year, and with lower revenue shares and an extended window, it ends up on the losing side due to a monopolistic scenario created by the multiplexes.

PVR and INOX declined to comment and Zee Studios did not reply till the time of writing this article.

While the situation is tough for the Punjabi film industry, the industry remains divided over the eight-week period for a film to stream on OTT after its release in theatres.

Impact of eight-week window
“This (returning to eight-week window) is not likely to have a negative impact on Punjabi films. A healthy window is imperative not only for the exhibition sector, but also for producers. By giving a healthy window, the message the film industry is sending out is that the movie is not coming to a streaming platform anytime soon and can be watched in cinemas. And every ticket sold in theatres is revenue, not just for the exhibitors but also for the producers and distributors,” said Akshaye Rathi, Director of Saroj Screens, a film exhibitor.

He added that there might be short-term issues, but in the long term it will benefit exhibitors as well as producers. “The Hindi film industry already has an eight-week window. Regional industry will also come back to eight-weeks,” he said.

Hindi and Hollywood films have been following the pre-COVID OTT window of eight weeks after August 1, 2022.

While the south films earlier were negotiating for a six-week window, it is also following eight weeks, said producer and film business expert Girish Johar.

But he said that one-size-fits-all may not be the right approach for the film industry. “The scale of Hindi films is big. Their market is big. Even an average Hindi film can sustain an eight-week window. But that is not the case with Punjabi films or other regional markets. Every regional industry has its own dynamics.”

He said that many films do not continue for more than two to three weeks in theatres. “In that scenario, giving a window of eight weeks does not make sense. Because then when the film releases on an OTT, producers will again have to invest in marketing, which will not be viable. It will be an additional cost to the producers. For a hit film, maximising all windows makes sense. But for an average film, investing again in promotions is a losing exercise. And that is where the issue is.”

Bringing uniformity
According to Johar, exhibitors are taking this step to bring uniformity in the industry.

Returning to the pre-COVID window will help in encouraging the habit of going to movie theatres to watch movies, said Rathi. “This is also one of the steps that needs to be taken to get footfalls back to pre-COVID level.”

He said that minimum of eight weeks is rational.

Punjabi films see slow recovery
The Indian film industry has lost an estimated 2.4 crore audience to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by media consulting firm Ormax. Punjabi films lost over 7 percent theatre-going audience, from 37 lakh in 2019 to 34 lakh last year, the report said.

In terms of box office contribution, Punjabi films saw a 41 percent drop as earnings came down from 2 percent at Rs 249 crore in 2019 to 1 percent at Rs 147 crore last year, says a Group M – Ormax report. Punjabi box office saw muted recovery post-pandemic, failing to touch the Rs 200-crore mark it had achieved in 2018 and 2019, the report said.

Experts pointed out that as the Punjabi film industry is not as strong as it was in pre-COVID times, the multiplexes have taken this decision to ask the industry to follow the eight-week window. This will let audiences go to theatres to watch Punjabi films instead of waiting to watch it on an OTT.

The debate continues
However, Johar said this move may prove detrimental to cinema business as makers of Punjabi films may go to OTTs directly. “OTT may give a little premium and take the film. As it is, OTTs are focusing on getting more regional content. So, cinema owners may lose a larger chunk of theatre-going audience.”

On the other hand, Rathi said that the eight-week window will only have a positive impact on Punjabi films. “By having a longer window, we are giving the audience a larger intent to watch films in theatres. More revenue at the box office is more revenue for producers. If a movie generates strong box office, then it commands better value for streaming and satellite deals, as OTTs and broadcasters link their acquisition cost to box office earnings. The Punjabi film industry will only command better premium from OTTs.”

The long-standing debate on theatrical window and its impact on the film industry continues. However, the industry is fragmented on this issue, said Rathi.

“There are many in the exhibition sector who believe a longer window like in Hollywood of six months is rational, whereas some believe four weeks is healthy. So, it is very erratic within the exhibition sector. We all hope to find a middle ground,” he said. Money Control

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