There is a new tide seeping into the world of showbiz, with Warner Bros. planning to simultaneously release films in theatres and on OTT platofrm. The decision is subject of much discussion and debate. Many industry insiders have called it a disturbing move for the film trade. In India especially, they feel there will be opposition as well as repercussions if the idea is tried out.
Last week, the Hollywood studio shook up the film industry when it revealed that its 2021 slate, including blockbusters such as “Matrix 4”, “Dune” and “Suicide Squad”, will simultaneously release in theatres and on its streaming platform HBO Max.
As of now, the plan does not have a direct impact in India, with the streaming platform in question yet to be launched in the country. However, Bollywood is watching. While most are optimistic such a trend will not come into India, there is a lingering fear among many cinema theatre owners that the Warner decision might have a ripple effect.
“I don’t foresee it coming into India. It is a very disturbing trend, that is indirectly killing the theatrical business. That will have solid repercussions. I don’t foresee it happening in India because there will be a lot of opposition from the exhibitors,” trade analyst Taran Adarsh told IANS.
In the same vein, film trade analyst Girish Johar told IANS, “This trend is very disturbing in terms of the entertainment industry going forward because theatre is a big revenue earner for us. We will have to analyze how it pans out into India. At the moment, it is more for the US market.”
“But having said that, we all know, Hollywood leads the way, in terms of the windowing revenues and theatrical plans and everything. So it’s a big jolt for the exhibition industry,” he added.
In many ways, the Covid-19 pandemic has turned out to be a major inflection point that is changing the way people consume entertainment content, registering a moment of evolution and a new reality. An outcome of this is the trend of direct-to-OTT releases.
Now, as theatres try to revive from a standstill, people are still avoiding the cinematic experience, and the new reality has made studios look for different release models. The move of the Hollywood studio trading box office for streaming revenue has not gone down well with many.
Hollywood bigwig Christopher Nolan, a close associate of Warner Bros., has heavily criticized the idea, calling it a messy move.
“In 2021, they’ve got some of the top filmmakers in the world, they’ve got some of the biggest stars in the world who worked for years in some cases on these projects very close to their hearts that are meant to be big-screen experiences,” Nolan told etonline.com.
“They’re meant to be out there for the widest possible audiences… And now they’re being used as a loss-leader for the streaming service — for the fledgling streaming service — without any consultation. So, there’s a lot of controversy. It’s very, very, very, very messy. A real bait and switch. It’s sort of not how you treat filmmakers and stars and people who, these guys have given a lot for these projects. They deserved to be consulted and spoken to about what was going to happen to their work,” he added.
Johar feels the move “sidelines the theatrical revenue bit completely”.
“We have to make it more robust rather than make it weaker. They should ideally have waited and delayed their releases, rather than go for this move. If this does pan out successfully, I am sure other studios in the West will follow suit, and then it will be a countdown for the Indian industry,” he shared.
According to trade expert Rajesh Thadani, it will all boil down to the content, in the end.
“Some people would prefer to watch movie on the big screen, and others on the OTT. It all depends on the content,” he said.
Most, however, agree this has been an unpredictable step in a year when everything has been dictated by uncertainty. Whether this rings the death knell for multiplexes, only time will tell.
–ians, Sugandha Rawal