Film producers see over-the-top as an option to survive

Film producers view over-the-top as an option to survive; theatre owners see red

Representative image/Pixabay Image

With no clarity on when cinema theatres would begin screening movies due to COVID-19 scare, Tamil film producers are looking at releasing their films directly on over-the-top (OTT) platforms.

Pon Magal Vandhal, starring popular actor Jyothika, will be the first Tamil movie to be directly premiered on Amazon Prime, one of the popular OTT platforms, in mid-May, according to industry sources.

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The sources told DH that talks between OTT platforms and producers to acquire rights of five more Tamil films are at an “advanced stage” and in all probability, these movies will also be released directly on these platforms rather than on the silver screen.

Some producers, who have been struggling to get slots for their movies in cinema theatres for several months, have been grabbing the opportunities that come their way from OTT platforms, which view coronavirus lockdown as an opportunity to tap into the Tamil film market.

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The sources added that there are high chances of movies stuck for a long time like comedian Santhanam-starrer Server Sundaram and a movie of actor Trisha getting released directly on OTT platforms.

While this has brought cheer to producers of movies, who have been worried about their investment, there is a section which sees red – theatre owners.

Theatre owners feel premiering movies directly on the OTT platform would take away their business and would push their business further into the drain. Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners’ Association has also threatened to stall the release of movies produced by 2D productions, owned by Jyothika’s actor-husband Surya.

In a joint statement, over two dozen producers said as people who have invested their money they have “all the right” to exploit the film in every possible way to recover the investment made in order to continue in the business. A top producer told DH that OTT platforms are a blessing in disguise for those who make movies with a shoe-string budget of less than 5 crores.

“Most theatres won’t give any slot for screening these movies. We know how small-time production houses struggle to get their movies released. The COVID-19 scare has given them a new lease of life. And they will be more than willing to sell their movies and get the return of their investment. What is wrong?” the producer asked.

However, Tiruppur Subramanian of the Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners’ Association feels different. “If all movies are screened on OTT platforms, what will we screen when we open our theatres? We have no objection if small films are screened on OTT. But a Jyothika movie will draw people to theatres and if it goes on Amazon Prime (Video), what do we do? Already we have suffered losses and we cannot cede the space to others,” he told DH.

Though producers sell movies to the OTT platform on the pre-condition that they can be made available for customers a month after its theatre release, this is the first time the production houses have agreed to release them directly on these platforms.

Almost all six movies, including Pon Magal Vandhal, that now look set for OTT premiere are low budget movies and producers feel OTT could emerge as another option for such films that find it difficult to get into theatres.

“Around 200 to 225 movies get released in the Tamil language a year and if 25 or 30 movies are directly released on OTT platforms, what is the problem? We are not going to release all movies on OTT. In fact, we want OTT platforms to acquire more movies which are stuck due to the lockdown,” T Siva of the Tamil Film Producers’ Council told DH.

Insiders say OTT platforms movie rights for direct release will be of great help to newcomers who would want to showcase their talent.

“This would lead to these OTT platforms producing movies on their own which would help a lot of newcomers who are tired of making numerous trips to production houses. This is a clear path for aspiring directors as they know which door to knock,” an insider told DH.