OTT Vs Theatres: Doing A Double Take

Going out to mingle and unwinding by watching movies is still ingrained in the communal diaspora of our country. Time shall play witness to how much the audiences will continue to clasp the growing popularity of OTT platforms

As unprecedented as the pandemic, the film and television industry witnessed a bolt from the blue in more ways than one. Whether the production or distribution front, each spared no effort to survive. Perhaps, what created a faint scar in the film industry was the rising popularity of the OTT platforms. With several producers opting for direct-to-digital release, owing to monetary and logistical factors, the industry witnessed a massive rift. What added a greater trouble for the theatre-owners was that revenues were completely zero during the pandemic, while the fixed costs remained. As a natural consequence, several multiplexes called out on the film industry for not standing by their partners in times of need, while OTT enjoyed a 100% increase in the streaming subscription revenues last year.  

Now with recent developments around the vaccine, experts believe that the uncertainty over theatre viewing is short-term, and it will pass soon. “The shift from cinemas to OTT screens has been a prevalent one. However, with vaccine coming around and business opening up again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see cinema enthusiasts flock to their favorite cinema halls to watch big blockbuster movies,” asserts Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta A2 Cinemas. 

Such an unusual time has sprouted varying shifts in consumer behavior and business realities, agrees Divya Dixit, SVP, Marketing, Analytics, and Direct Revenue, ALTBalaji. She adds, “These unprecedented times have seen an influx of consumer-centric trends, which have enabled audiences with a chance to watch the latest releases from the comfort of their homes. However, Cinema halls, like many other businesses, have already geared up for their post lockdown operations by putting a system in place.”

But Was OTT Able To Milk The Opportunity? 

Audiences have always maintained a belief in big-screen entertainment. However, OTT viewing offers a distinctive set of advantages as well. With convenience and personal intimacy being at the core, OTT platforms have become the new TV channels in most urban households. However, time and again, cinemas too have proved their eternity in terms of want and need.  

Currently, while both the mediums of content consumption are holding on to their individual USPs and formats, they maintain to be different in their purpose and consumer variables. With the content consumption patterns and habits evolving, overall content consumption durations are increasing, storytelling manners and formats are evolving and movie entertainment is gaining in appetite, thanks to the huge amount of creative hunger in our country. 

Asking the industry experts on whether OTT was able to turn the lockdown to its advantage, Saurabh Varma, CMO – INOX states, “No doubt, a lot of programs and content on these OTT platforms have notched up very good numbers, but a closer look at these number do not actually sound like alarm bells for cinemas.” 

Atul Mohan, Editor, Complete Cinema also admits that OTT did not do the expected magic, and that the quality of content it proffered was below average. “The majority of the film content that has come out is nothing short of rubbish. Had many of these films released on the big screen, they would have been slaughtered. And what did OTT do? Pick up the rubbish.  

But then, every platform has a certain viewership, certain limitations and they also need a showcase of films. People working in these platforms also need to acquire movies to show they are working,” he points. 

Giving credence to the 2020 FICCI-EY report, Dixit sides on OTT reaping benefits during this time. She comments,” Around 50 small and low budget films were released directly on OTT platforms in India in 2019. Streaming subscription revenues also grew by over 100 percent in the last year alone. While theatres were shut due to the lockdown, the emergence of the digital medium has been noteworthy. However, Cinema halls, like many other businesses, have already geared up for their post lockdown operations by putting a system in place.” 

Digital Dependance 

Digital has always been a core medium for marketers. However, throughout the lockdown, communication through digital platforms had become a staple for most of them. Whether engaging with audiences on social media platforms by conducting live sessions and other contests or interacting with patrons for a smooth run of processes, digital gave a helping hand to everyone drowning.

With acceleration of digital in full speed, Mohan elaborates on whether marketers now need to rethink strategies in the digital-only scenario. He suggests, “Marketers should think of such scenarios if the film’s cast, crew and the subject is designed for OTT. Certain subjects like Coolie No 1, Khaali Peeli etc are not designed for OTT. You cannot sell a vadapav to a burger consumer. You need to sell five vadapavs as opposed to a single burger to make the money. 

Secondly, the cost of the film needs to come down and that is not with the marketer. It rests with the makers of the films, the actors in such films etc. For example, the Varun Dhawan starrer October in which he took a pay cut could have been an OTT premiere.” 

From a time when only 7% of marketing budgets were allocated to digital, it has come a long way now that digital gets at least 60 - 70% of the same budgets. It is a considerable change in how marketers across industries depend on digital including AI, gamification, virtual reality, and personalization for consumer engagements rather than using ambivalent media or TV. Dixit adds here, “With producers to market and distribute their film via new communication channels, this emerging trend has certainly opened new avenues for the movie business. Additionally, owing to the rapid internet proliferation and digitization in the hinterlands, the demand for regional content has seen our platform’s viewership rise exponentially. This will result in continuing to be a digital-first platform, along with further deeper penetration in hinterlands and wider acceptance across the globe.” 

Varma on the other hand, suggests that marketers should not be all digital-focused, as the industry has already started witnessing advertisers’ interest towards cinema advertising post the resumption of operations. 


Co-existence To Continue 

Both the mediums serve content and are heavily dependent on consumer interests. The relevance they carry in terms of their features attracts audiences equally. It is safe to assume that consumers today have a platter full of options and the freedom to choose any of them as per their interest. 

Puri believes that cinemas and OTT will strive to exist in parallel for the unique experiences provided by both platforms. He adds, “We have been constantly collaborating with OTT platforms for an opportunity to crossover between OTT screens and cinema halls. While the opportunities are plenty, we’re waiting for the right one to come by. The media industry has been one that coexists with mutual benefit. The TV, OTT, and Cinema halls will find their own niche and continue to entertain their respective target audiences for years to come.”  

However, Varma doesn't contemplate any collaboration between the two in the near future. “Considering that both experiences are distinct in nature and mode of consumption is vastly different, hoping for a collaboration is difficult to envisage at the moment,” he asserts. 

Mohan also agrees, “When one views the other as a parasite, there cannot be a symbiotic relationship. But who knows – about to be divorced couples stayed together during the pandemic and reconciled. That can happen with the theatres and the OTT as well.” 

To conclude, theatres and OTT are two completely different mediums of entertainment and will continue to co-exist in the future as well. Either of them taking the trophy home looks uncertain. Both are expected to stay in vogue, and will continue to offer distinct experiences to audiences in our country, while benefitting creativity and innovation.