Producer, director and distributor CV Kumar, known for bankrolling Attakathi (2012), Pizza (2012), Soodhu Kavvum (2013), and directing films such as Gangs of Madras (2018) and Maayavan (2017), speaks about his new pay-per view channel and why Master can’t have an OTT release. Excerpts:
You have started a new pay-per view channel called Regal Talkies. In the press release, you said that it is “the right platform for small-budget Tamil films”. In a way, this is an extension of your production philosophy. You got famous by distributing and producing small films. What was the reason for bringing the same philosophy to OTT platforms?
In this case, that wasn’t the philosophy. It is a necessity here, because there are no positioning platforms for small budget Tamil films. Even if the content in a small film is good, it is a big thing if they agree to screen it for a single day in the multiplexes. Getting a show is a big thing, and getting the peak timing slot is an even bigger thing. Only 86 shows played in Tamil Nadu on the first day of Pizza. We can’t blame theatre owners, because they don’t know about the content and they have a huge infrastructure and they need to look at their own recovery. But if you see, in its third week, Pizza was running in almost 800 to 1,000 screens. But our revenue doesn’t increase to more than 25 percent! For big budget films, they get a 50:50 share on the first day, and by the third week they give 30 percent due to the decrease in audience. The scenario changes completely for small budget films. There is no footfall in the first week. So only after the audience spreads the word and talks about it, does a film get life in the second and third week, but then the revenue decreases drastically, or the film isn’t running in theatres. Secondly, if the theatre’s own expenditure and the market expenditure to bring the audience are counted together, even if small budget films opt for a theatrical release, for example, I spend two crores on publicity for a film, I only get 2.75 crore back as share. My revenue is only Rs 75 lakh to Rs 80 lakh. We have to get OTT, digital, satellite, overseas and multiple language remake rights so that we can break even. The reason for this is because even though the time taken to distribute a film is more, there are many ways to do that. So, if I create a set of audience, about 5 to 10 lakh people, I can reach out to them with a mail or a message, without spending much, and again collect a good sum of money for a producer from this platform.
When you released Pizza and Attakathi in 2012, was the advertising expenditure less than what it is now?
In fact, it was even more. I have mentioned it in many interviews before, that Attakathi’s production cost was Rs 1.75 crore, and the marketing cost was Rs 3.5 crore. In the case of Pizza, it was Rs 1.5 crore for production and a similar amount for marketing. Soodhu Kavvum cost Rs 2.5 crore to produce, and I spent a similar amount for marketing. Nowadays, there are no deposits from theatres, even for the big films. OTT platforms buy the film pre-release if it is a huge artiste’s film, but for a smaller artiste, they tell us to go in for a theatrical release and buy it for 30 percent of what the theatrical revenue was. So, if I want a theatrical run first, I need to spend Rs. 2.5 crore. So, after spending Rs 5 crore, only half of this total sum will come from theatres, and e, and then I have to get the remaining money by recouping from various sources and then move towards the profit. This is the situation in Tamil cinema. I won’t say this is anyone’s fault. It’s a systemic problem. Everyone needs to look after their own safety. This is why we need alternative platforms.
During the lockdown, people are watching good content that they like and want, and pay a particular sum and subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. Some watch it all for free on YouTube without paying a single rupee. How are you going to get this audience to your pay-per view platform? What is your strategy?
We aren’t looking for a Rs 5 crore or Rs 10 crore collection for the movies that release here. We are expecting some amount of clients, and I’m sure that I can get those numbers, because Tamil people all around the world are equal to the population in Tamil Nadu. And those people already have the habit of watching movies and shows on OTT. Out of the 15 crore population, if I can get one lakh people as my pay-per-view audience, it will still be a huge success for me.
Now if you keep the cost of each ticket as 100 rupees, how much does 1 lakh people equal?
Rs 1 crore.
So, does that mean your film should have a budget of less than Rs 1 crore?
I mean the initial audience. Over a period of time, they can grow up to 1 or 1.5 million. I definitely can’t get 10 lakh people tomorrow. Even if 5,000 people pay and watch the movies in my app on the first day, that’s a huge success for me. This medium has never been tried in India before. So, baby steps are to be taken. I can’t claim to get 10 lakh people in one day. Also, the content they get here can’t be found anywhere else. So far, more than 5,000 movies have been made in Tamil cinema. Most of them are available on YouTube, but does everyone watch them? There are a lot of hit movies available on YouTube, but the audience does not watch them; they seek something new. The thrill of seeing something new can only be got while watching new films. When I’m giving new content that is good, it is easier for me to travel with my app.
Using the same logic, let us talk about Master. Let us imagine that this virus goes on for a year. I’m the producer and I can’t sit on that movie anymore. If a family of four goes to watch a movie in the theatre, it equals four tickets. But, I release Master on OTT and charge Rs 500 per ticket. Will the pay-per-view strategy work out for such big films too?
Absolutely not! Such big films cannot work out on OTT because movies like Master would have been sold for Rs 70 crore to Rs 80 crores for post-release OTT itself. The same amount would be received from satellite as well. Along with this, they would have earned another Rs 150 crore from theatrical release. But if you directly go to OTT, they might get only Rs 100 or Rs 120 crore. Rs 30 to Rs 40 crore might be recovered.
Another big problem is piracy. Small films like ours won’t be downloaded and pirated. The mass audience prefers the big films. For big movies, the drive is there to watch it on the first day. That will be missing for smaller films.
Secondly, the audience who wants to watch such films will pay and watch. They know the value of this content. They are enough for me. This won’t work for big films. It’s a big surprise if this works out for films with a budget of more than Rs 5 crores. Unless, after two years, the entire population warms up to this. Until then, this format is best for movies made within Rs 1.5 crore.