The pandemic and the ensuing shutdown of theatres and multiplexes has raised many questions about the distribution model of films in India. For a nation that’s super obsessed with films, India has fewer screens than 10000 for a population of 1.39 billion. That makes it a very underserved nation in terms of entertainment options. The faulty distribution model is also why many Bollywood films don’t get the screen time they deserve and suffer financially.
What India needs perhaps is a hybrid distribution model such as the pay-per-view plus theatrical release. At the average single ticket price for a multiplex, a pay-per-view allows families to watch premieres at home. This guarantees assured fees for producers that are paid by the platform upfront. It also serves the underserved areas in the country and outside that don’t have theatres and multiplexes. They can now experience the magic of the first-day first show.
After all, theatrical releases have a limitation in terms of the number of screens that they can hope to reach on their premiere. Thugs of Hindostan was the film to have reached the maximum threshold of 5000 screens – the maximum any film has achieved so far in India.
However, the hybrid model may not be for everyone. Big-ticket films can still hold on to the promise of blockbuster success by limiting their presence only to the bigger screens. The long drought will certainly ensure that moviegoers return to cinema halls with a vengeance. For instance, Roohi which was released within the short window post-lockdown when theatres had opened, made a massive Rs. 18 crores just within the first 10 days at the box office.
Measuring box office success is also the norm in an industry like Bollywood where stardom is weighed by the box office revenue. Salaries that stars demand are directly proportional to the revenue they can manage to garner at the box office. It’s also the theatrical success that established the Rs. 100 crore club and setting higher benchmarks with movies like PK, Dhoom 3, 3 Idiots that kept breaking the records of their predecessors.
With a pay-per-view model alone, this success may take some time to achieve. Take, for example, Bahubali 2 which crossed Rs. 1000 crore at the domestic box office alone with its multi-lingual releases. A digital release with the promise of a wider audience and can surpass these expectations if combined with the theatrical release.
Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai revealed figures of 4.2 million viewers which may reach up to 15 million viewers over its lifetime that is the equivalent of Rs. 375 crores. But for Zee which spent Rs 200 crore on the rights, patience is key for the returns to be fructified. The hybrid model may become the norm once theatres are back to full form. It is only the hybrid model that can offer consumers more choice and also widen Bollywood’s reach to the interior-most sections of the country.
In international markets, the transactional video-on-demand model is already a successful revenue stream. However, content consumption in India is atypical and the success of pay per view as a sustainable model requires stricter piracy control and buy-in from cinema stalwarts.