The journey of myNK, a new world cinema streaming app, unfolded much like a movie itself. About 23 years after they graduated and headed in different directions, adman Deepak Jayaram got a call from his former college roommate, tech expert Nitin Narkhede. His proposal: an app that could stream movies on the same day they hit theatres. Jayaram was instantly intrigued. Two months later, in October 2017, the two quit their jobs and got to work.
Anurag Kashyap, who went to school with Narkhede, was less convinced. Sitting inside the filmmaker’s massive DVD library one day, the trio had a breakthrough when Jayaram was able to identify only 20% of the titles there. “Anurag was suddenly like: Then this is where we start. The consumer is interested in these, he isn’t getting them, he has to go to torrents and other illegal sites. There’s a market for it, film festivals have increased in the country, there are titles that come in but only some people get to see them. We wanted to create a system that would eliminate intermediaries and bring the consumer and creator together,” says Jayaram. That’s how myNK or ‘my network’ was born.
The beta version of the app launched in April. On it, you have two options to watch a film – you can buy a ticket, which gives you a one-time view, valid for 48 hours. Pay a little more and you can own a reel, which is the equivalent of an online DVD. The latter allows you to issue tickets of your own. Should someone else happen to buy a ticket you’ve issued, you get a percentage of the price. (The rest goes to the rights holder of the film). “By the end of the year, we should have the equivalent of a movie stock exchange, where you will have the option of pricing the tickets you sell. Sell enough and you could make your money back or even make a profit,” says Jayaram.
Critically acclaimed titles from 34 countries in 23 different languages. Jayaram estimates that 60% of these are feature films, 30% documentaries and the rest, fiction and non-fiction series to be uploaded soon. There are titles from 1985 to 2018, most of which have not been released in India. Around 110 have won awards, 24 at the top 4 festivals – Cannes, Berlin, South by Southwest, Tribeca. There are 15 Dutch-language films and 20 Portuguese films, all of which have English subtitles.
On myNK, you pay per movie you watch and not per month or year. The platform runs on a TVOD or transaction-based model, as opposed to SVOD or subscription-based models like Netflix or Amazon. So if you’ve loaded your online wallet with cash but are too busy watching the IPL to catch a film this month, don’t worry. Your credits will still be there next month, says Jayaram.
Titles are, on average, Rs70 (for a ticket) and Rs110 (for a reel). It’s easy to earn your money back – referring a friend adds money to your wallet, as does writing a review for a film you’ve watched. If you’ve bought a reel and decided you don’t want it, you can resell it for a fraction of the cost.
Coming soon: More titles, series
MyNK has acquired 200 titles, only half of which are currently on the platform. By the end of the month, Jayaram says you can expect to see ‘some of the most interesting ones yet’. As for whether these will include Indian films, he remains non-committal. “We’ll put up interesting content as and when we come across it. Over the past month, Anurag has told us of a couple of Tamil films that haven’t got a theatrical release in India. Now we have to find them.”
Also new: series. Here, you have the option of paying for just one episode at a time. Don’t like the pilot? You don’t have to pay for any of the other episodes. “You also have the option of buying entire seasons at a discount,” he says.
Currently, the app’s wallet comes pre-loaded with Rs1000. Once the payment gateway becomes functional, your balance will stay the same but you might not be able to apply these credits to all titles owing to contractual reasons.
By the second half of July, the app will also be accessible via the web, useful if you prefer watching films on a bigger screen. The team is also testing out a feature that enables users to cast movies on their smart TV.
Going Dutch in India’s towns
Currently, 5,000 people from over 100 towns, including Guntur, Kadapa and Thrissur, are on the app. Jayaram estimates that 10% of them have come through referrals. What are they watching? Dutch films (with English subtitles) are surprisingly popular.
Expect more content as the virtual community grows. “We can then go to the suppliers and say, ‘I have a market of about 10,000 people who want to watch this film, give it to me.’ These guys sit with titles and don’t give them to India. What they do get to India makes money but there’s no money coming back to them so they probably decide to not to put too much effort into it. But if we can get 10,000 people to watch a title, that’s a fairly decent market,” he says.
Amsterdam-based advisor Wendy Bernfeld, who has 25 years of experience in digital rights management, and a five-member team in Mumbai curate content, with inputs from Kashyap. The process involves finding out which titles suppliers have the rights to in India, which film festivals they are going to attend, tracking them down there and often, just asking. “From August last year, we’ve looked at about 8,000 titles. A lot of them we wanted, but were unavailable. But it’s led to conversations in which suppliers say they can’t give us X title but can give us Y,” he says. It’s not always smooth sailing – Jayaram says that in three cases, they’ve lost out to bigger streaming platforms.
One thing myNK can provide that other platforms can’t is transparency, says Narkhede. MyNK is powered by blockchain (records linked via cryptography). This helps suppliers who want live updates of how their film is doing on the app. “When you create a ticket, you have to enter your password and this creates an immutable record on the blockchain. As compared to putting a film on other platforms and waiting for a traditional audit report, here what you get is live updates of how your film in terms of tickets sold, tickets created, how much money it has made. If we have to tweak something in terms of how it is being marketed etc, this will help. This is not just in real time but it is also transparent – none of us can touch it,” he says.
Jayaram points out that of the app’s top five titles, the first is not the highest rated, but has made the most amount of money – a data point that the director, producer and accountant may all look at very differently.
5 titles Anurag Kashyap recommends:
Fish Tank (2009): 15-year-old Mia lives in the housing projects of Essex. She finds herself conflicted by her attraction to her mother’s new boyfriend. Directed by Andrea Arnold, the film won the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
Mea Maxima Culpa (2012): Alex Gibney exposes the abuse of power in the catholic Church and a cover-up that runs from Wisconsin to Ireland all the way up to the Vatican in his powerful Emmy-winning documentary.
The Student (2016): A high school student becomes convinced that the world has been lost to evil, and begins to challenge the beliefs of those around him. Kirill Serebrennikov’s film won the Francois Chalais Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Burma VJ (2008): The Oscar-nominated Burma VJ documents the 2007 uprising through The Democratic Voice of Burma, a group of 30 anonymous video journalists.
Departures (2008): Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009, Yojiro Takita’s Departures deals with Daigo, a cellist whose dream is shattered when his Tokyo orchestra suddenly folds. He moves to his hometown where living is cheap and finds himself working as an undertaker’s assistant.