The hottest topic in Indian cinema is Jio Fiber’s recent proposition called ‘First Day First Show’, which allows premium customers to watch movies on the day of its release. This, for obvious reasons, has created a huge debate among theatre owners and distributors. Imagine a Vijay or Ajith film releasing on digital platform along with the theatrical release, that too on the same day! An important question to prod is: Will Jio be able to drive fans away from the theatres?
Call it coincidence, the shares of multiplex giants PVR and INOX dropped by 4% a day after Jio announced its FDFS plan, likely to roll out in 2020. Taking a firm stand against the plan, PVR, in a release release stated: “For decades, theatrical release window has been a valuable model for exhibitors and producers alike. In India and globally, producers have respected the release windows and kept a sacrosanct gap between the theatrical release date and the date of release on all other platforms, i.e. DVD, DTH, TV, OTT etc.” If at all Jio pulls it off, it needs to build a huge library of films in multiple languages, which, at the moment, looks a tiring process. Jio Studios, which is currently making middle-level films in Hindi, has to capitalise on star-vehicles. Only then will it expand its market in the country. However, theatre owners have made it clear to the producers that they will not screen movies that simultaneously release on digital platform. It’s up to the producer to take the final call.
A couple of years back, Kamal Haasan tried releasing his Vishwaroopam via direct-to-home (DTH) platform. He gave up on the idea after facing much flak from theatre owners and the then State Government. Speaking on this issue, Rakesh Gowthaman of Vettri Theatre, says, “As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, the love for big screen is deep rooted and that can never change. Which is why single screens are still dominating revenue centres. The audience gets an immersive theatrical experience, thanks to Dolby atmos, 4K projection and so on. How many people can afford all these at their home?
It’s going to be very difficult to crack Tamil Nadu market since there seems to be an influx of multiplex audience in the State. The digital rights, too, are reserved for ‘hero-centric’ or offbeat films. Recently, Amala Paul-starrer Aadai was released on Amazon Prime just 25 days after its theatrical release. OTT giants like Netflix and Amazon are not keen in buying movies that are box-office disasters. So, if Jio starts its FDFS plan, it needs the backing of star-driven films to make the platform popular among the masses. Considering their market value, how many Tamil cinema stars would be interested in this idea?
According to a report by FICCI-EY, the theatrical revenue in India touched ₹10, 210 cr mark in 2018 and is estimated to grow up to about ₹13,000 cr by 2021. Trade analyst Taran Adarsh says, “Initially, when I heard about the announcement I was shocked as theatrical release window is still the biggest value chain in India and brings the bulk of revenue. Theatrical experience cannot be replaced at home. And I’m sure the exhibitors will not screen such movies. There should be a healthy window between theatrical release and other platforms. They need to co-exist.” However, a leading distributor says,“We have to change with times. Three years back, satellite rights of movies was a big thing. But today, movies are sold to OTT platforms. So it will be only a matter of time before Jio gets into the act.”
A multiplex analyst concluded by saying: “There is nothing new in Jio Fiber’s move to screen films simultaneously on the release date. Internationally it has been tried out by HBO and Netflix. There is no economic rationale as each window of release platform (theatre, digital, satellite) brings revenue to the producer. Why should he club them together and reduce his net revenue? The yield-per-person who is consuming content is the highest in theatricals, when you compare to the yield in television, OTT or any other platforms. In theatres, the consumer pays per use for a particular film, while in other platforms it is part of their subscription package. Funnily enough, cinema hall is the prime hangout spot for family audiences.”