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Southern filmmakers look at direct-to-TV premieres during covid

Bypassing theatrical release in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic may be common by now but some filmmakers, especially in the south, are preferring a television premiere instead of streaming movies on OTT (over-the-top) platforms as an alternative.

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Vijay Sethupathi’s Tughlaq Darbar, Reliance Entertainment’s Mandela and Aelay and Tamil film Sarbath are among titles that saw a release on satellite television, cashing in on holiday weekends when broadcasters are known to grab family audience eyeballs and good festive advertising. The strategy works better for small-budget films that make profits by way of satellite right sales followed by a digital premiere, not being able to command the high rates that OTT platforms are willing to pay as they vie for big star, mainstream movies for direct-to-digital release.

“Means of commercial exploitation and norms of windowing (for premieres on different platforms) are evolving in India, especially for some of these films that were meant to have a theatrical release,” said Shibasish Sarkar, group chief executive officer at Reliance Entertainment.

The TV premiere is viable for small-budget films, Sarkar said, which can then be followed by an OTT release, since the sales together help them easily recoup their ₹3-4 crore budgets. For the bigger budget films, especially in Hindi, streaming platforms are willing to pay nearly double the rates offered by TV channels, up to ₹60-65 crore in some cases, explaining why the more mainstream vehicles would prefer to go first to OTT if theatrical release is not possible.

“Plus, the reach of pay television is higher and you can reach millions of homes at the same time through appointment viewing,” Sarkar said adding that the channels also invest in proper marketing techniques.

Independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said streaming services are eager to acquire ready films including those in regional languages but a lot of enthusiasm is limited to the big titles with familiar faces. The small films ready for release but stuck because of the covid-19 pandemic, have no choice but to turn to emerging, niche platforms that do not offer the same kind of rates. In such a scenario, TV premieres are a good option, especially to be able to reach out to family audiences.

Further, movie premieres especially on holiday or festive weekends can bring advertising for broadcasters who may be able to recoup one-fifth of their investment in a single telecast. Movies on television saw an 11% spike in advertising volumes in 2020 as compared to 2019, with the festive months of October and November witnessing the highest share of average ad volumes, according to data from television advertising measurement firm TAM Media Research.

As per an August 2020 report on television viewership in India by TV viewership monitoring agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), film channels commanded a 29% higher viewership than pre-covid at the peak of the lockdown, which later stabilized to 24%. A senior executive from a broadcast network said many audiences in small towns do not take to niche content on OTT platforms and in the absence of other entertainment avenues like movie theatres, turn to TV channels in large numbers. Live Mint

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