After a lull, cinemas in the country are attracting footfalls as people are flocking back to the big screens. Latest releases like Jailer and Gadar 2 are raking in crores at the box office. In 2022 alone over 800 movies have been released in the four South Indian languages (Statista). But not all of them enjoy a successful run on the silver screen and many depend on satellite or OTT rights revenue to break even.
There are an estimated 100 movies in each South Indian language that haven’t found takers for satellite or OTT rights – roughly half the number of movies released last year.
On the reasons behind this, a channel executive noted that this is not just the case down South but also with Hindi cinema.
He explained, “Movie ratings have come down drastically on television, OTT being one of the reasons behind it. Another reason is there are a certain kind of movie genres that used to do well on TV especially those targeted at a family audience. Of late, the movie content especially Tamil and Malayalam have become very realistic, which is not TV-friendly unfortunately, and that has an adverse effect on the channel ratings. ‘World Television Premiere’ ratings don’t work like before, which is the case with both small and medium budget movies and even big-ticket movies – unless it is a Vijay, Rajnikanth or Kamal Hassan movie.”
Mass Production and Democratisation
Another channel executive points out that excess movie content is also one of the reasons behind the accumulation of movies with no takers for satellite rights.
“Once the movies are released, there is a certain window by which they have to find takers for satellite rights. Sometimes the content line up is too much that even the OTT platforms are reluctant to acquire those movies. Movie production is not a task like in yesteryears; any one with few crores can produce a movie today. Previously, movies were made for theatrical releases following a certain standard and quality and were focused on elements which will touch the family audience. Today, because of the OTT boom there is an attitude by the producers that any kind of content will be picked by the OTT platforms, hence there occurs a compromise on content quality. Television premieres are focused on the rural audience as the urban population is skewed towards streaming platforms – due to which we are not able to garner ratings for movies like before. It’s always sensible to invest that kind of money in serials or any other original shows focused on a family audience rather than acquiring movies,” he added.
Pan-India and pan-South Trend
According to Vijay Babu, actor and founder of the Malayalam film production company Friday Film House, it’s not just the case with satellite rights but OTT as well. He contends that pan-India or pan-South India movies are to be blamed.
“The film production cost has skyrocketed because the artiste remuneration has gone high over the last two years. Every actor is demanding a share because that’s what they think their OTT value is. Look at the major OTT platforms and the number of movies acquired by them. There were over 175 (Malayalam) movies released last year and only around 40 of them have been acquired by these platforms – the same situation prevails in case of satellite rights as well. Looking at the way it is going, pan-India and pan-South movies are already giving subscriptions to OTT platforms and they are eating into the budget of region-specific movies on TV,” Babu said.
He added, “Nowadays, every South Indian and Bollywood superstar is keen on making pan-India or pan-South movies. The makers are looking at India as a region. Look at Jailer. It’s a Rajnikanth movie, but has superstars like Mohanlal and Shivaraj Kumar from Malayalam and Kannada, hence the movie is getting a bigger release in those languages. You look at the television premieres during the festive period. Previously, during the Onam period, there used to be 10 to 11 movie premieres and the channels used to compete to acquire the movie rights. For this year’s Onam, there are only three to four movies on one of the major Malayalam channels. It’s again because of the OTT boom. Another reason is that when a pan-South movie is bought by the channel, they have to shell out between Rs.50 to 100 crore which has to be recovered. Then where will they have the budget for regional movies?”
“Till the pandemic, satellite rights were the fixed income for the movie producers. We used to break even when the movies were acquired by channels. With the pandemic boom, OTT started taking the place of channels and most of the channels have OTT platforms. Major satellite channels were stubborn on acquiring both the satellite and OTT rights of the movies – that’s more profitable for them. But there are movies which have gone to major OTT platforms and have garnered a good amount of viewership. Due to this, the satellite rights are offered at a very minuscule amount, which might not be accepted by the producers or the actors, that might be one of the reasons. Another reason is that there is a demand-supply issue. There is too much content available today. OTT has to be blamed for that. They set a trend that content with basic quality can find a place on the platform, hence there were too many being produced. But when things didn’t work for OTT platforms, they stopped the acquisition which led to a content pile up,” said a South Indian producer.
Making the Connections
SR Prabhu, Founder at Dream Warrior Pictures, a South Indian film production company, noted, “It’s about the timing. There is a set of audience that has moved to digital from satellite movie viewing, but there exists another set of movie viewers on television. The satellite market is highly dependent on advertising revenues and post pandemic, ad budgets have moved to digital. There is a change in trend, based on which the business avenue is altering. That might be the reason why movies are not having takers for satellite rights.”
Tamil film producer G Dilli Babu cedes that there exists a crisis in terms of finding takers for satellite rights.
“I believe it’s all about the connections. If the movie makers have the right contact with the satellite and OTT platforms, then the content can be sold easily. There isn’t a problem of too much content, the only problem is that they are not able to find the right people to pitch the projects to, especially the small and mid-level movie producers,” Babu added.
The Tamil Film Producers Council is trying to help, he said.
“I am heading the satellite and OTT division (of the Council). We started an initiative by collecting all the information about the movies which haven’t got acquired by a channel or OTT platform, which amounts to around 100. We have called satellite and OTT buyers for discussions and are going to come with a proposal in terms of the accumulated content,” he added.
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