Cinema, shrunk to the small screen

Cinema, shrunk to the small screen

Online streaming services

All areas of life have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and each of them is trying to cope with the situation in different ways. Economies are in a downfall, social life has been hit and most activities have slowed down or are at a standstill. Those in areas like education, sports and entertainment are trying to find new ways of doing things. Sports events are staged in empty stadia, and education is going online. Entertainment has an especially important role in a locked down society and so it has to change and refashion itself. Cinema, the biggest entertainment medium, has been particularly affected because halls and multiplexes are closed and could remain so for many more weeks. Over the top (OTT) media services have boomed as a result, and film producers are looking for alternative ways to reach their spectators.  

A section of film producers have decided to release their films on digital platforms, and this has become controversial. Theatre-owners and distributors have opposed it, and in some places talks are going between the two sides. Seven films which are set to be released online include two major Bollywood movies — the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Gulabo Sitabo and the biopic on mathematician Shakuntala Devi, with Vidya Balan in the lead role — and five films from the South. The exhibitors want these and other films to be released after the cinema halls are ready. But the producers have invested big money in the films and cannot wait indefinitely for the halls to be ready. When they reopen, a number of films may have to be released together and that will affect the box-office revenues of all or some of them. Some producers fear that they may suffer losses.  

Both sides have valid positions and it is difficult to say whether there will be any meeting point. Exhibitors might feel digital viewing of films would permanently damage the established business model, and thus their interests. If online viewing becomes popular now, it will not completely go away even after the coronavirus threat goes away. But it should be noted that only a section of the film-going public may be able to watch the films online now, and the thrill and excitement of watching a movie in the hall will not end. That is because movie-watching has a social dimension to it because of the very nature of the art. But the world has to be ready for disruption of habits and businesses as other cataclysms have done in the past. 

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