Content is churning! Will it be Theatre vs OTT vs Satellite or a win-win-win-win for all?

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‘Content is king’ is an often-cited quote globally. Mostly used in the world of online marketing, it has now started making significant inroads in the offline context too. Positioning of content here is being attempted to be analysed with reference to the entertainment industry-predominantly the movie business. An attempt is being made here to understand whether the multitude of platforms on offer have created a confusion in content creation and its viewership.

Journey of content creation became structured when live performances started taking place in theatre. It gave rise to one of the biggest content creators like William Shakespeare, Kalidas, Banbhatta etc., who would script and produce plays or dramas that would be performed for the live audience. It was a win-win situation for the content creators as also the content adopters aka the audience. Depending upon the quantitative-ness of the content, the audience would readily pay the price for entertainment (tickets). The producer would make as much money depending on the quality of his production. The outreach about the product / content through word of mouth publicity and other mediums of advertisements was the deciding factor in drawing the audience to the performance arena and monetising the process.

The trajectory of growth for the arena of performance moved from open air theatres, to closed stages to the silver screens and now the myriad forms of screens in various shapes and sizes where people continue to devour content till their eyelids shutter the experience. With such diversified options to showcase the content and the geographical barriers having been diffused owing to advent of diversified platforms, state of uncertainty continues to confound the producer as also the platform owners. Too complicated!

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Let me try and put my thoughts again. So, today when a content (movie) producer is ready with his product, he knows that the world is his audience, but what is the platform to choose to catch the eyeballs! Consider the options: cinema halls, streaming platforms and satellite TV channels, to reap revenues from. Sounds exciting and salivating, but in what sequence, what revenues and the biggest question is when?

Until the recent past, a producer would first approach a film distributor for a theatrical release. This has been the strategy for the longest time in the recent past. It was / is supposed to reap the maximum revenue. Also offering the best entertainment experience for the audience. Then came the era of getting ‘bonus’ by selling the same content to satellite TV channels for re-run(s) at a price. This was a reasonable revenue source for the content creator and an alternative for people who would have missed watching the film in theatre, to get a chance to watch it in the luxury of their homes. It also led to emergence of the producers as TV Satellite channel owners as well. For them, owned channels provided them an everlasting platform to continue to run their content.

The biggest confusion / debate started with the advent of the streaming platforms. And it has expanded its tentacles to engulf the whole of the world as the covid-19 pandemic hit the world. The theatres aren’t allowed to open. Even if they were to open, people would be skeptical to watch a movie in a ‘crowd’. So, the content creators immediately jumped sides. The films have started releasing directly on the OTT platforms.

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Are the content creators getting the same revenue or are intimidated to stay relevant in the game? The theatre owners feel shortchanged; as if they have lost the sheen!! Would they embrace the content creators when things would get normal? If yes, what about the OTT platforms? And still, if the OTT platforms are obliged or theatres are obliged either ways, what about the viewership on the satellite TV channels.

Let’s analyse Pros and Cons of each platform?

Cinema Halls

Pros
– Content creators expect the maximum returns
– Audiences enjoy the most on a big screen / theatre experience.
– Considered As the best form of fun outing with family.

Cons
– The producers have to spend on the distribution function – reels, HDs (hard disks), logistics, etc.
– Limited screens to accommodate all the releases.
– Audience has to go to a cinema hall where the movie is played, at a specific time and at a significant cost.

OTT Streaming platforms

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Pros
– Once the deal goes through, the content creators don’t need a gestation time
– Platforms add to the marketing of the movie
– Audience get to watch the movie at anytime, anywhere and at a significantly low / negligible cost

Cons
– The revenues are subjective of the type of deal and may not match the expectations
– The movie watching experience is compromised in various ways and may reduce the impact of the content.

Satellite TV Channels

Pros
– This remains as a bonus in either case for the producer
– The content producer may look at a significant revenue
– Here too the audience can watch in the comfort of their homes

Cons
– The producer’s revenue is subject to the deal and could sway either ways
– The marketing and viewership are dependent on the channels programming lineup and strategy
– The audience need to necessarily have the particular channel in their bouquet of channels
– Mostly the movies have ad breaks that mire the experience and the continuity
– This is over and above the subscription fees that one pays to watch the channel.

COVID-19 has impacted the process of content creation in a manner which the content creators could not have dreamt about. For the content creators who borrow finance at exorbitant rates to complete a product, the content not reaching the target audience adds to the financial burden and from that perspective the advent of OTT could be a god sent opportunity. Coupled with it, one tends to get a global audience without spending anything further in terms of logistical costs.

No wonder, OTT platforms of the likes of Netflix have also started to further decentralise the process of content creation by inviting the audience to share the ideas and develop it as an end to end solution. This has the potential to break the caucus which has a stranglehold on the business of film making and which presumes that they only have creative juices flowing in their veins in profuse abundance.

Well, the jury is still out, but it is abundantly clear that the appetite of the audience has been whetted and it indeed would be a herculean task for the supposed conventional platforms of content distributors to entice the audience once again to throng the haloed portals, which in the pre-COVID era was considered Mecca for entertainment!

– With inputs by Nalin Rai

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