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Why more streaming platforms may enter film production

The recent foray by American streaming site Amazon Prime Video into Bollywood film production with Akshay Kumar starrer Ram Setu may be a precursor to other platforms entering the business soon, said media experts.

While Amazon may be seen as extending an olive branch to the government after the recent complaints and FIRs against its web series Tandav, it goes without saying feature films make more sense as they are certified by the censor board before being released and may steer clear of controversies. Besides, experts point to a strong business case for streaming platforms entering feature film production.

“By making advance payment for a film whose digital rights they may have later acquired, platforms will now get a share of all other sources of revenue, too, including domestic and overseas theatrical, satellite and music rights,” Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema explained. Further, the film will remain exclusive to the OTT platform for perpetuity instead of rights expiring, as is often the case, while many other rights such as satellite will keep getting renewed every few years, adding to their revenue.

Owning a popular IP (intellectual property) also helps diversification, be it through animation, comics, gaming or merchandise. Many big stars who are required to make these universally appealing films, will only come on board for theatrical, and not web projects.

Amazon declined to comment on Mint’s queries on the strategy behind film production. Netflix also declined to participate in the story.

“Movies and cricket are the biggest needle movers in India, which is a market that all foreign studios and investors deem lucrative,” said a senior executive at a streaming platform who isn’t authorized to speak to the media. Platforms such as Netflix and Amazon have already been following the film production model in some sense, the person said, since they tie up with individual producers such as Excel Entertainment or Dharma Productions who may pitch scripts or concepts to their creative team. All they have to do now is become more hands-on with production instead of outsourcing it.

“Also, these platforms that are backed by data and science have already been employing artificial intelligence techniques so they have a sense of what works for which market, and can map and target audiences better,” the person said.

Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India that owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films said this is a clear indication that platforms are willing to participate in the upside and downside of theatricals and will customize windows for digital premiere depending on the individual film, and market it accordingly, giving viewers the ability to watch movies wherever they want.

The move also augurs well for the Indian film industry that could do with the deep pockets and technological expertise that foreign entities bring to take its many stories, often rooted in local mythology and history but with global appeal, to wider audiences.

To be sure, Amazon’s announcement of Ram Setu reflects a similar sentiment, with the official release calling it a film “that brings forward a story deeply rooted in Indian cultural and historical heritage”. However, the irony of the situation is not lost on Indian audiences who saw both government and judicial interventions in cases accusing streaming platforms of destroying Indian culture and hurting religious sentiments through several web shows.

“It was more like making amends for what had happened with shows like Tandav and the backlash that had followed to necessitate saying that they believe and are coming out with a film like Ram Setu,” said a media analyst on the condition of anonymity. The downside, the person added, is that a bunch of platforms may now make content for both cinemas and digital media and may dole out similar stuff killing both creativity and variety which may not be a welcome trend. Live Mint

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