Earlier this week Zee announced the launch of Zee Plex – a pay-per-view 'Cinema2Home' service that will release upcoming films online. With the new service, customers will have to pay per film rather than having to subscribe to an entire streaming service. Bollywood film Khaali Peeli, starring Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday, will be the first title that will launch the service on October 2nd. Tamil film Ka Pae Ranasingam, starring Vijay Sethupathi and Aishwarya Rajesh, will be the next.
Over the last few weeks, the pay-per-view model has come into increasing focus. Zee's announcement comes fresh off the back of Disney's recent decision to release their big blockbuster title Mulan directly on their streaming service Disney+ in the US, making it the biggest film to forego a theatrical release thus far. To watch the film, released earlier this month, existing Disney+ subscribers in the US have to pay an additional $30, three times the cost of the average movie ticket. While Mulan is only accessible to existing Disney+ subscribers, to watch Zee Plex's releases you don't have to be a pre-existing ZEE5 subscriber. A representative from Zee said that the price of watching Khaali Peeli and Ka Pae Ranasingam is still to be fixed.
On the implications of the Mulan model, trade publication Variety's wrote the move is a gamble for Disney given it's restricted to Disney+ subscribers, an issue Zee Plex doesn't have. "Of course, Disney hopes Mulan will pull in new Disney Plus subscribers, but no one knows exactly how many people would subscribe to a streaming service in order to also pay more money for one movie…But if it does pay off Mulan could make history" the report says, suggesting this could be the first of many digital pay-per-view blockbusters to come.
According to Screen Rant, Mulan made $33.5 million in its opening weekend alone, was seen in around 1.12 million homes in the US, and sharply increased Disney+ downloads by over 68 percent. So far, every big-ticket Indian title has had a direct to digital release across the three major platforms – Netflix (Gunjan Saxena), Amazon Prime Video (Shakuntala Devi, V) and Disney+ Hotstar (Dil Bechara). There is little information on what these platforms are doing for these films and vice versa.
The pay per view model may be more appealing to Indian consumers. At a time where there are more streaming platforms than people can keep track of, allowing viewers to pay only for what they want to watch rather than tying them down to yet another subscription could well be the way to go.
However there are still unanswered questions of how Zee Plex will function. For example, how will it impact producers' revenues? Would it take us closer to the traditional box office model where producers would be paid in line with (digital) collections?
Much of Zee Plex's success will hinge on its price point and whether it chooses to align with movie ticket prices. Will it be cheaper or follow the Mulan route and cost substantially more? If the new service works well for consumers, producers and platforms alike, more studios with their own streaming platforms could consider this release model even post the pandemic.