By Markand Adhikari
The pandemic has changed what we consider ‘normal’. It has disrupted life and the world had to make many adjustments. Some of those adjustments are temporary, and we will return to normal once the pandemic is over. But some changes are going to be long-lasting. The cinema-and-OTT combination that has emerged since the outbreak of the coronavirus is likely to continue for a long.
People have now started talking of “before Covid” and “after Covid”. The big-screen cinema experience seems like “before Covid”. The theatre experience is much more than just watching a film. It is often a family outing or time out with friends. It is a full package of a memorable experience down to popcorn and what not. But lockdowns, movement restrictions, and infection fears have put curtains on that experience. Since the first lockdown began in late March last year, theatres and movie plexes have largely remained shut. They did open after the unlock last year, but few people rushed to watch films.
It was during the first lockdown that people turned to TV screens and mobile screens for their dose of entertainment. While TV has attracted a regular audience for both entertainment and news, it was the OTT platform that made the mark. Several OTT players had already entered the scene, but it was during the first lockdown that they gained popularity.
Meanwhile, many Bollywood films were waiting for theatre release, but considering the uncertainty of the Covid-19 situation, they started releasing on OTT platforms and found their audience there. More ambitious movies with big budgets, however, waited for the big screen.
A new trend has emerged thus: Most films are going to the OTT if that makes sense for their budget and financial equations, whereas big-budget, big-banner and blockbuster films would go to theatres (provided there are no lockdowns). The market seems to have found a balance in this combination, and there is nothing wrong with it – in fact, it’s a win-win formula.
Some concept-based films, with strong storylines, projects helmed by younger people, “hatke” films – in short, what used to be called ‘made for multiplex’ movies, will definitely get their audience on OTT. An OTT viewer too is looking for only the film experience and not the whole experience of an outing with family. For the producer, the OTT is the right platform to reach out to this target audience, and there is no need for spending on theatre release and distribution.
On the other hand, there are movies that people definitely want to watch on the big screen. That thrill and romance of the big screen are not going to fade away. The only difference now is that film buffs are going to be concerned about the infection risk and may not be able to go out and watch as many films in theatres as they used to. Till the shadow of the pandemic is completely lifted, if the situation permits and theatres are open they will go and watch movies, but they will be very choosy. They would like to watch only those films which are not going to disappoint them.
This is the combination that has emerged – not only in India but also in Hollywood and elsewhere, and it will continue at least for the foreseeable time. It is actually very beneficial. If there were no OTT technology, the creative talent involved in the film industry would have been stifled, and the market for the film industry would have languished. The ‘double bill’ will ensure that OTT will promote new talents and new experiments, which will contribute to the cinema in due time, and of course, the films released through theatres too will find a second audience later on OTT. Each side will consolidate the other, and the financial aspect too will soon fall in place.
Meanwhile, I should add that this is an optimistic view. It assumes that the Covid-19 cases remain under control, there are no lockdowns, and the theatres resume screening films. There is understandable anxiety in the industry. Shootings had resumed after the unlock, but the second wave sent the crews packing again. Let us hope that we are able to guard against the next wave, thanks to vaccines, precautions, and lessons learned from the past experience.
(The author is Chairman and Managing Director, SAB Group. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)