First Day First Show At Home! (Column: B-Town)
By Vinod Mirani
Among a lot of things announced by Mukesh Ambani at the 42nd AGM of Reliance Industries, one particular announcement raises eyebrows!
Here are the excerpts of the said announcement:
"Today, I am announcing that JIOFIBER plans will come BUNDLED with subscriptions to most leading premium OTT applications. Also, for the first time in India, we are introducing a disruptive concept for watching NEW movies. Premium JIOFIBER customers will be able to watch movies in their living rooms the same day these movies are released in theatres!
We call this JIO FIRST-DAY-FIRST-SHOW."
The announcement, made a few days back, has raised eyebrows in various fields related to the film trade. Nobody seems sure of how to take this announcement. The film industry and its process of taking entertainment content to the ultimate consumer - that is, the film viewer - is well worked out. It has evolved over the period as and when.
A lot of new avenues came along over a period to enjoy content, starting with the television, but the main outlet for films remained the cinema screen. The cinema screen cast a spell on the viewer. In cities and towns, of course, there were cinema halls. But, in the mofussil India, where there were no pucca cinema houses, the screens travelled to them.
There was a concept of Touring Cinema in India where a cinema enclosure was set up in a huge tent or in the open space at a Taluka, which then attracted filmlovers from surrounding villages. The open-air screenings could take place only after sunset but that helped, since by evening more people were free to watch a film. You may compare these to their elite version, the drive-in cinema.
With the advent of superior technologies in film production as well as exhibition, as well as the rising popularity of television, video format and mainly piracy, the single screen cinemas were forced to close down. This also sounded the death knell for Touring Cinema. Filmmaking had become costlier and the way to recovery seemed to be only through multi-screen releases in multiplexes.
Nobody, filmmaker or the film distributor, seemed interested in single screens or the masses that thronged the cinemas. Cinema was now accessible to fewer people, though this fact never reflects on the box-office figures of the many crores that roll out! If it is the 300-crore box office of a single screen now, imagine what the figure would read like if the audience that has been left out is brought back!
That brings one back to Jio's announcement of First Day First Show, the popular phrase that ruled many film buffs' Friday routines. People loved to be the first to catch a new movie on the day of release, Friday, in its very first show, which usually started at noon. (In some circuits like UP, CP, CI, films released on Thursday.)
Since the advent of the video format, there have been lots of disputes between the filmmakers and film distributors. After all, it is a film distributor who gambles on films he acquires for his circuit. The piracy of films on videos added to their risk factor, since there were times when the videos of a new film would hit the markets the same say a film released.
But, it was the mysticism and magnetism of watching a film on the silver screen in a dark hall that triumphed, eventually. People chose the cinema hall over pirated videos. The way devised by the filmmakers was to mete out video format rights within a stipulated period - a few months from theatrical release of a film. Distributors wanted at least 18 months from the date of first release. The respective trade bodies of the producers and the distributors sat across the table and it was resolved that the producer compensates his distributor pro rata according to the cost of his respective circuit price. A bit complicated but the good thing was that, the business continued!
Many new platforms for the delivery of film content have come up since the video days. It started with TV rights, followed by satellite rights and so on. (There was a phrase called Tunnel Rights, which meant that the person who bought your TV or satellite rights was also entitled to the yet-to-be-devised rights that may come up on the same format!)
The new platforms that have joined the business are online content providers such as Zee5, Amazon, Netflix, Shemaroo and many others. But, none of them promise a First Day First Show. They are an addendum to the cinema halls. Filmmakers had lost a lot of revenue to new formats because various categories of rights - such as 16mm, Touring, and re-issue rights - were wiped out. These online content providers were welcome because they were making up for lost revenue. They were not in conflict with theatrical recoveries in anyway.
The thing about all other formats of assigning film rights and viewing a film have been secondary to the theatrical rights, the bread-and-butter of the exhibition trade which, in today's time, means multiplex chains.
This is where the Jio claim comes in. Jio promises First Day First Show at home. How?
Film business has revolved around three sections - the filmmaker, the film distributor, and the exhibitor or cinema owner. One produces a film, the other stakes his money on it, and the third guarantees the generation of revenue or, to say, a recoup of the investment.
There is no room for another entrant here.
So how does Jio plan to achieve this First Day First Show feat? If possible, it would be another source of revenue for filmmakers but, at the same time, it would also eat into the business of cinema halls.
Now, that is where the Catch-22 situation comes in.
If you are streaming a new film First Day First Show at homes of people, you are cutting into the box-office revenue of a film. The catch here is multiplexes don't usually pay anything upfront to the filmmakers or the distributors, while Jio will hand that carrot, for sure!
The showdown will be between the multiplex chains and Jio. The producer, who actually provides the content, will have to remain a bystander!
@The Box Office
* A conflict of two films releasing simultaneously has been avoided for some time now, as both would eat into each other's box office. The multiplex chains would also prefer it that way. However, exceptions are made on release dates like the Independence Day weekend. Independence Day this year fell on a Thursday, and promised an extended weekend and two films - "Mission Mangala and "Batla House", were released opposite each other.
The recent ISRO feat of sending Chandrayan 2 to the moon boosted the prospects of "Mission Mangal" to a great extent, besides the four day extended weekend. The film collected a hefty Rs 96 crore in first four days and went on to add another Rs 30 crore taking its first week total to 126 crore.
"Batla House" enjoyed the benefit of the Independence Day holiday with an impressive first-0day figure tapering down thereafter, to collect Rs 42 crore in its extended opening weekend and finishing the week with about Rs 60 crore.