What’s Happening to Medium Budget Cinema?: Bobby Bedi

By Pickle  May 6, 2018

The delivered to your device film and ‘delivered to your device drama series’ is the future shape of medium budget cinema, even though revenue models remain unclear, says Bobby Bedi

Slowly but surely there has been a seismic change in the film business.  It started, as all successful changes start, with a change in consumption habits. For some decades there was a subset of cinema that was finding its feet. This included home video, DVD, ‘made for TV’ films, etc.

While this kind of cinema had its heyday in the West, In India it was a nonstarter.
In the last decade we saw nothing of it.  Ninety-five percent of it never released, or if it released, it failed at the box office. Smaller successes too yielded nothing for the producer. The pirates took it all. Even the rare success was illusionary.    A Rs.50Mn film took another Rs.70Mn in P &A. To recover Rs.120Mn, the film needed a box office of Rs.30Mn. One look at the past 10 years box office shows that hardly any Rs.50Mn film got there. The probably was so low that these films were not just worth funding.

The other significant difference between what was happening in India vis the rest of the world was that Indian TV channels never accepted the concept of a ‘Made for TV’ film.    Early experiments in ‘telefilms’ had failed, so the genre was a No-No.    In fact, Indian GECs told producers that even abysmal flops at the box office had a price, but an unreleased film had no value.

Then something changed. A large American video rental company reinvented themselves. Instead of delivering DVDs to people in their home, they delivered them over the Internet. Netflix was such a successful experiment that it started changing the way we consumed content. Peripheral players, big tech giants, new start-ups all joined the movement. YouTube, Apple and then Amazon came into the fray. Even a major retailer joined the fray. Amazon took the conventional physicality of “every shopping mall needs a multiplex as an anchor tenant to drive footfalls” to a digital high and Amazon Prime was born.

In our own little world, we saw the coming of Eros Now and HotStar, some offerings
from the biggies — Amazon, Netflix and Apple — and the movement came to India.

Simultaneously, another new product hit the market. Now that content was being delivered to homes and even individuals directly, the scripted drama series came of age. It wasn’t rationed at the rate of one hour a week but one 10-hour season at a time. Suddenly we could watch what we wanted, when we wanted and for as long as we wanted on the device of our choice. And what’s more we could chose to watch it without advertising breaks. The OTT revolution had started, and a host of OTTs started in India.

This “delivered to your device film” and “delivered to your device drama series” is the future shape of medium budget cinema. It does not rely on expensive promotion, it doesn’t rely on distribution economics, it doesn’t need to kowtow to multiplex time slotting and most importantly, it does not rely on a one or two-week window before it disappears into thin air.

Having painted this utopia, I must caution that the economic model for this is still unclear. The content creator is getting paid, but the OTT channel is still figuring
out its revenues. IT oscillates between subscription and advertising and neither is sufficient.    We hope a balance between the two will evolve in the near future.

Even though revenue models are unclear, the threat to conventional channels
is palpable. GECs and film channels should be worried. Someone out there is offering a better product and delivering it better. More importantly, consuming it is infinitely better. I don’t see this threat destroying conventional channels, just forcing them to become unconventional.  Not just in delivery but also in content.

I have always maintained that a film is like a bullet. It leaves the barrel and either
hits the target or misses. Traditionally this was for a variety of reasons. Either
the product was bad or external circumstances killed it. Many good films failed because of failed communication, competition, poor scheduling etc. The reasons were many. Tragically you could not put the bullet back and fire it better or differently.

With the coming of the OTT, the channel loads the bullet and you hold the trigger.
You fire it up close and you fire it at will. Lousy content will still fail but a good story, well told will always find its audience.

Bobby Bedi is a film maker and museum designer. He is regular to Cannes for over two decades. He produced Bandit Queen directed by Shekhar Kapur which was part of Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight in 1994

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