Movie channels: Tough times ahead (Column: B-Town)
<br>Now it is the time to look into the existence and relevance of the TV channels dedicated to telecasting movies. When television arrived in India, it wielded the power to keep the viewers glued to their seats. It mattered little what was being shown on television.
The film industry, annexed television as its extension. A Sunday feature film became a source of extra income for the film producers. Then came along the private channels, initially dedicated to movies besides an odd one opting for news telecast. The movie channels had a captive audience while the news channel was a novelty, a concept strange to Indians. It needed to cultivate its viewership.
Not surprising, most operators opted for a movie channel, either as a solo or to supplement its other channels. The content was readily available as well as fresh regular supply assured.
The film business moved on from recovering its investments on a film from its public exhibition in India and the overseas markets that Hindi films enjoyed. Films reached its audience in a leisurely manner, town after town, through touring cinemas, army camps, 16mm rights for festivals and so on. The time period of 18 months was considered apt for a film to recover its cost and bring in profit.
Over a period, auxiliary mediums that developed and helped subsidise the recovery further. Music rights added to the producers' kitty but one company enjoyed a monopoly on music in India and that was not a favourable situation for the filmmakers. Radio paid one rupee a song per play!
The film's opening response and the word of mouth that followed set the tone. A good monsoon was a must for a film to do its round of the circuit. Well, that is the way films were exploited and recoveries made, over a period.
The reason to mention these side effects to a film's performance is because, the movie channels bought movie rights in advance, a film's performance at the box office determined its final price. If it did well, the previously agreed-to price was honoured. If not, the price was renegotiated.
These movie channels were welcome as they brought huge revenues for the filmmakers. Times had changed, as compared to Doordarshan paying three to five lakh per telecast (middlemen who fixed the approval of your film came at a huge cost). These private channels were competing with each other and paying in many crore.
As of this date, there are close to 40 channels surviving on Hindi films, with other few showing film-oriented fare. Over the last decade or so, the bidding for star cast Hindi films has stopped. In fact, there came a time when there were no takers for even top rung star films.
While, a lot many non-film based television channels have quit, film based channels have had few causalities in comparison. But, things don't look rosy anymore. There is no supply of new films and few channels have a repertoire to still draw viewers. Zee, which runs multiple movie channels, has an advantage on this count. It was the first in the market and cornered a lot many old films.
Shemaroo, which has one of the best repertoires of Hindi classics besides content in Gujarati and Marathi, has launched its TV channel. This is in addition to the OTT platform under its label.
As things stand, majority of Hindi movie channels are surviving by telecasting dubbed films from the South. They are fun to watch but the channels seem to be repeating them rather too often. Less said about the English movie channels the better.
India Premiere was a popular phrase when these movie channels showed a new film. Sadly, there are not going to be any ‘Premieres' on the movie channels. A lot many new films will be premiered on OTT streaming platforms. Only after that will these films be passed on to the TV channels.
The recent example being “Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior”. The film released theatrically on January 10 this year. This was followed by its release on Disney+ Hotstar on March 6 and the television premiere happened only as late as August 15 on the occasion of 74th Independence Day.
In some cases, the OTT platform owners also happen to own a TV channel, which assures an automatic supply of new features to these channels.
As for the films that bypass theatrical release and are streamed straight on OTT, the same thing will apply. They will be offered to movie channels after a duly considered time gap.
There was a system of syndicating films between movie channels. That is to say, the channel which acquired the premiere telecast rights of a movie would get to milk it first, after which it would also circulate the film to other channels. That kept the supply going for each channel. The same practice will have to be followed.
Since the introduction of OTT streaming platforms, as the movie channels don't command the eyeballs they did, the acquisition price has gone down majorly. OTT platforms are known to pay a fair price already.
What is the future of movie channels now and, more so, in the days to come, as the online streaming deepens its roots with more subscriptions? After all, India offers a huge consumer base and to sustain, business can be aimed at volumes at affordable costs.
That way, a movie will be there to be watched at leisure with no ad breaks ad nauseam.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)