Cinemas vs OTT Platforms: The Paradigm Shift in Viewership and Film Exhibition

Just as the human species had spent many millennia of living with an exaggerated sense of self- importance, there came into existence a microbe which brought businesses across the world to a standstill and caused all human beings to be sequestered in their own homes. While some people felt caged, a few others found this to be the long awaited sabbatical that they had been yearning for and a break that they could utilize to strengthen the bond with their family members, re-kindle the long lost romance, try their hand at a new hobby or develop a new habit.

What remained a constant requirement for most people, in addition to the basic essentials, was their hunger to keep themselves entertained and the mind stimulated enough. With this insatiable craving for entertainment came the right solution and the perfect gift of entertainment at home in the form of over-the-top (OTT) media platforms or online film streaming portals. This historic worldwide lockdown has propelled the opportunities and need for OTT media platforms with good content online, further.

We were already in the world of ‘at-home-services’ long before the lockdown started. We lived in an age where everything right from ready- to- eat food, salon services, or even toilet paper was being delivered home. So were entertainment options! With tedious working hours and fast paced life, leaving less time for family and entertainment, an increasing number of people were opting to watch movies at home, an easy option that would save them the time, effort and money being spent to get to the movie theatre, park their vehicles, ticketing, etc. With many portals offering the option of streaming movies on more than one device, this option even took care of organising 2 or 3 different sets of viewers segregated according to their age or movie preferences. What’s more, one can even binge-watch an interesting series for hours together or choose to watch 2 movies back-to-back picking from a range of old and new collection, different languages or genres. While some may argue that watching a movie in the theatre is a beautiful experience in itself, this one pandemic has amended the way people perceive or view things.

Cinema has been a big part of the Indian subcontinent post-independence and this is one of the few countries where film stars have been revered. Films in India were always meant to be watched on the silver screen and everything was most certainly meant to be larger than life. What a man couldn’t achieve in real life, he could see on the big screen and secretly enjoy! However the trend has shifted in the recent years with more Indians disagreeing even with their favourite film stars, should they choose to do something that doesn’t go down well with the masses. With the internet age came the age of more disposable income and more exposure for the otherwise content Middle Class. With the exposure arose the need to view more content oriented movies of good quality. The current generation no longer seems interested in larger than life characters or extravagant dance numbers by skimpily clad women against the backdrop of expensive film sets. Sleaze is something everyone has free access to and not something that people look for while watching movies any more.

What they want to watch is good cinema with characters that they can sometimes relate to, coupled with the convenience of watching a film at home, guzzling that glass of wine on a Friday night or after a long day. The tussle between the OTT media platforms and film theatres had already started and with this pandemic, the OTT platforms seem to be winning the tug-of-war. Many portals are now investing in buying a range of successful movies and even investing in new content. More number of films were being commissioned by these portals as compared to a few years back showing a clear spike in the number of subscribers. This has also opened up additional avenues for Producers with good content who struggle for theatrical release. For many investors who bet their monies with Producers or new Directors, the digital space has proven to be their guaranteed source of return which the theatres have been unable to guarantee in many years. With a more secure avenue guaranteeing the investors their monies and with more relaxed censorship rules allowing content with nudity, gory violence, explicit scenes or taboo subjects, OTT platforms have enabled directors to garner more interest from investors along with giving them more creative freedom.

Whilst it may seem like a development post the COVID-19 scare and worldwide closure of entertainment zones, this big shift was already underway with the virus only accelerating this process. There had already been an increase in the number of subscribers on all portals with the numbers increasing each month along with the increase in the number of successful web series and content. Additionally, OTT Media companies offer more transparency to Producers regarding number of subscribers, viewership of films, genre preferences with demographics and other insights as these are recorded on the digital portal. Producers and Distributors have always had to plan or carefully schedule movie release dates based on a lot of factors like the number of films being released, available number of film screens, feasible slots that don’t fall on other important events or shows, holiday season and avoiding the release of 2 big budget movies to ensure they don’t eat into each other’s pie.

However, this issue has been eliminated to a large extent with the possibility of multiple movies being released on the same day as these can be released on different online portals without an impact on the viewership. This modus operandi saves a lot of time and energy for all parties involved while keeping the world entertained. For now, while small and medium budget films might find this profitable enough to keep afloat, this will certainly have an impact on the mega budget movies which usually pay their top notch actors and directors disproportionately high salaries. With the recent pandemic and a 300 percent increase in viewership of digital content streamed online, audiences seem to be in no mood to return to the theatres for the next few months. This new consumer behaviour pattern will lead to more web content creators and more good online content.

Eventually the movie-goers might return to the theatres but the OTT media will still continue to show growth and be a strong player. What the industry needs is a restructuring and to rethink the way it currently operates with a reasonable reduction in salaries of actors and directors, transparent and digital reports from cinema theatres and a more organised way of gross & net collection reports to safeguard investors. Further, the film distribution chain has to come up with mechanisms to maintain transparency, make the reporting process seamless and ensure that theatrical business remains lucrative for producers & investors. Only time can tell how this will pan out in the long run. For the next few days at least, the audiences will continue to enjoy watching their favourite films in the comfort of their homes.


Deepa Iyer

Investor and Film Producer

@Deepa_S_Iyer on Twitter and Instagram



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