Amazon Prime Video Gulaabo Sitabo

Despite the film industry having come to a standstill, it’s been an eventful week. Amazon Prime Video announced that a string of anticipated films – including Gulabo Sitabo and Shakuntala Devi – that were due for theatrical release, will now release exclusively on their platform.

This move confirmed fears that have been brewing for some time now among exhibitors, that in a world where uncertainty is the only constant, producers will opt for a direct digital release rather than hold firm with theatres which show no signs of starting back up anytime soon. This expectedly led to a string of debates, Twitter spats and strongly-worded statements by multiplex chains and producers.

While many are taking sides, we wanted to look at the finer details and wider implications of this development and how it could shake things up going forward. So here are 8 questions we had about the impact of films getting a direct to digital release:

How much are streaming platforms acquiring new movies for?

Previously, a big-ticket mainstream film would sell its theatrical rights to an OTT platform after its theatrical run and box office collections. For some big films, the deals are also pre-decided. But how does direct acquisition of a film that has stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana work? Is it twice what it would have been? Is it simply the cost of production with an attached mark up? Are projected box office figures taken into account? Since there’s no precedent to this, it will be interesting to know how these deals are being arrived at.

Could this be the thing that has OTT platforms breakout as a mass medium?

Streaming is still considered to be a medium restricted to urban centres and upper-middle-class audiences. It hasn’t broken out into every corner of the country like cinema. But in a world where even big films with leading stars like Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb (which has reportedly also been acquired by a platform) are going to OTT platforms, could this be the definitive swing that makes the wider cinema audience take to streaming in a big way?

How will this affect subscription prices?

It has been pointed out that annual subscriptions to some streaming platforms is cheaper than the travel + popcorn + ticket for 1 theatrical film viewing. But if mainstream Bollywood films going to streaming becomes the new normal at some point, is there a possibility that our subscription prices will also increase? Or will the increased cost to the platform be off-set by the increase in the number of subscribers?

How will this impact piracy?

Film piracy is rampant in the film industry and has long been considered a significant force in curbing potential box office revenues with many films getting leaked online soon after their release. But in a world of films going directly online, where it’s presumably easier to rip movies (most pirated websites have the latest Netflix content days after they release) could this lead to an uptick in piracy?

Could this change the kinds of films being made?

Platforms have already been commissioning straight to digital films for some time now. These are designed for digital viewing and don’t fit the set theatrical structure such as the use of interval cliff hangers. But if uncertainty in the exhibition sector continues in the long run, could we see a lot more films being produced and designed for direct to digital release? Could smaller, mid-budget films start being seen as ‘OTT films’ and the theatrical tag be attached only to tentpoles?

Shakuntala Devi

What does success look like for straight to OTT films?

In an industry where success is determined by opening weekend figures and lifetime collections, what does success look like for films that release straight on OTT? Streaming platforms famously never reveal viewership data on their content. When an actor’s fees are determined by opening collections, how will the industry gauge the success of these films?

Will this change the demand for theatres?

The fundamental questions that has the industry buzzing and exhibitors worried – could this move lead to a new normal and where the audience gets used to having access to big releases at their fingertips? Remember Jio’s announcement of its First Day First Show?

How this will impact the viewing experience?

The big screen experience is sacred for many of us – it gives us the joy of being wholly invested in what’s happening on the screen for 3 hours with an interval in between. Streaming makes for a more casual viewing experience. It lends itself to bad habits such as pausing, skipping, taking frequent breaks, watching movies in parts and so on. Could this move permanently alter the way we consume and engage with movies?

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