By Markand Adhikari
The pandemic has changed what we consider “normal.” Life has been disrupted and the world had to make many adjustments. Some of those adjustments are temporary and we will return to normal once the pandemic is over. But some changes will be long-lasting. The combination of film and OTT that has emerged since the coronavirus outbreak is likely to continue for a long time.
People have now started talking about “before Covid” and “after Covid”. The big screen cinema experience looks like “before Covid.” The theatrical experience is much more than watching a movie. It is often a family outing or a break time with friends. It’s a complete package of a memorable experience that includes popcorn and other goodies. But lockdowns, movement restrictions and fears of infection have put a curtain on that experience. Since the first lockdown began in late March last year, cinemas and movie theaters have largely remained closed. They opened after unlocking last year, but few people rushed to see movies.
It was during the first lockdown that people turned to television and mobile screens for their dose of entertainment. While television has drawn a regular audience for both entertainment and news, it was the OTT platform that made the mark. Several OTT players had already entered the scene, but it was during the first lockdown that they gained popularity.
Meanwhile, many Bollywood movies were waiting for their theatrical release, but considering the uncertainty of the Covid-19 situation, they began to premiere on OTT platforms and found their audience there. However, the most ambitious movies with big budgets were waiting for the big screen.
So a new trend has emerged: Most movies go to OTT if that makes sense for your budget and financial equations, while big-budget movies, big posters, and blockbusters would go to theaters (as long as there are no closures closed). The market seems to have found a balance in this combination and there is nothing wrong with it; in fact, it is a win-win formula.
Some concept-based movies, with strong storylines, projects directed by younger people, “hatke” movies, in short, what used to be called “made for multiplex” movies, will definitely attract their audience to OTT. An OTT viewer is also looking only for the movie experience and not the full experience of a family outing. For the producer, OTT is the right platform to reach this target audience, and there is no need to spend on theatrical release and distribution.
On the other hand, there are movies that people definitely want to see on the big screen. That big screen excitement and romance is not going to fade. The only difference now is that moviegoers will be concerned about the risk of infection and may not be able to go out and see as many movies in theaters as they used to. Until the shadow of the pandemic fully lifts, if the situation allows and the cinemas are open, they will go to see movies, but they will be very selective. They would like to see only those movies that will not disappoint them.
This is the combination that has emerged, not just in India, but in Hollywood and elsewhere, and it will continue at least for the foreseeable time. In fact, it is very beneficial. If there were no OTT technology, the creative talent involved in the film industry would have been stifled and the film industry market would have languished. The ‘double bill’ will ensure that OTT will promote new talents and new experiments, which will contribute to cinema in due course and, of course, films released in theaters will also find a second audience later on on OTT. Each side will consolidate the other, and the financial aspect will soon fall into place as well.
In the meantime, I must add that this is an optimistic view. Covid-19 cases are assumed to remain under control, there are no closings, and cinemas resume showing films. There is understandable anxiety in the industry. The shootings resumed after unlocking, but the second wave caused crews to repack. Hopefully we can protect ourselves against the next wave, thanks to vaccines, precautions, and lessons learned from past experience.
(The author is President and Managing Director of SAB Group. Opinions are expressed in a personal way and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online).