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Southern film premieres keep streaming platforms going

With all production for original web shows at a standstill and a limited bank of ready projects, OTT (over-the-top) streaming platforms are keeping the content going with the help of premieres of south Indian films that had arrived in theatres earlier this year beginning January.

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The absence of Bollywood films in cinemas for the last one year has restricted platforms’ options to get them after their releases in theatres.

Disney+ Hotstar has got Tamil film Sulthan and Amazon Prime Video is premiering Dhanush’s Karnan and Telugu films Vakeel Saab and Jathi Ratnalu . Netflix has grabbed Malayalam political thriller Nayattu. All major services are also trying to cash in on the southern industry’s increasing bent towards direct-to-digital releases with prevailing uncertainty over re-opening of cinemas and release of films.

“The southern film industry has realized the gravity of the situation given that this is the second year in a row that filmmakers are waiting for a clear theatrical window,” film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said, admitting that filmmakers and production houses from the south were the first to take advantage of reopening of theatres earlier this year and started bringing out new films.

In fact, several films now making their way to video streaming platforms had set the cash registers ringing at the box office too, managing impressive returns even as the covid-19 pandemic raged on.

Like Bollywood, the hardcore commercial films are waiting it out for theatres, Johar said, but niche, intelligent cinema is always a good way for OTTs to increase subscriber base. “They have also learnt they need to pick those medium-budget films to gain more foothold in the market especially at a time when all shoots are halted and content is scarce,” Johar said.

Ajit Thakur, CEO, Telugu streaming service aha Video had admitted in an earlier interview to Mint that streaming services like theirs had pivoted to a direct-to-digital film release model during the lockdown last year. “The strategy, going forward, will be dual. Certain star films are better suited to theatres and should go to them first while more nuanced films can come to OTT platforms,” he had said. aha has just premiered Telugu language thriller Thank You Brother, that went directly to the streaming platform.

To be sure, most OTT platforms have found large audiences for vernacular language content. Gaurav Gandhi, director and country general manager, Amazon Prime Video India, had said in an earlier interview to Mint that the first batch of movies (premiered on the service during the lockdown last year) had been watched by viewers in 180 countries across 4,000 towns and cities with 50% of the audience for south Indian language films coming from outside their native states.

“Regional content is the core strength of most video streaming services now,” Mehul Gupta, co-founder and CEO at SoCheers, an independent digital agency said adding that the fact that the game has changed to focusing completely on Indian programming is evident in how all international streaming services are bringing out countless local originals every month, compared to about two a year around 2017. This despite the fact that they have a vast library of English and foreign language content. Live Mint

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