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Film-makers continue to call the shots as OTTs starved of new content

Some OTT players, though, are not in a rush to ink direct-to-OTT deals.

Short on content, over-the-top (OTT) platforms continue to acquire films at handsome prices and are even willing to share releases. Since January, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+Hotstar have, between them, streamed over 20 direct-to-OTT films across languages. That’s not surprising given they need to keep the viewership rates up; one estimate by Ormax Media says the OTT audience, which grew an estimated 35% year-on-year in 2020 has so, far in 2021, risen at a much slower 8%.

That said, makers of mid-sized films, who don’t have much of choice,will continue to prefer the direct to digital route for the next three to four months, according to Shailesh Kapoor, CEO at Ormax Media. Right now, however, it would appear the platforms are a lot more keen to get their hands on content, than film-makers are on digital releases.

Prime Video is understood to have paid over `50 crore to acquire Farhan Akhtar’s Toofan made on a budget of `25-30 crore. Sherni, produced at a cost of nearly `20 crore, was sold at around `35 crore to the streaming platform. Kapoor observed the jump in OTT viewership in 2020 could be attributed partly to the lack of fresh content on television channels for a good three months. This time around, the slate of TV shows has not been impacted significantly. Also, there have not been too many web series releases on OTT platforms barring the second season of The Family Man.

“In fact, most of the films that platforms acquired had been completed before the pandemic or were completed between September and January,” Kapoor said.

The makers of Mimi have announced that they will opt for a simultaneous OTT release on Jio Cinema and Netflix on July 30. The family entertainer has been jointly produced by Jio Studios and Dinesh Vijan. “This is our first exclusive OTT release and finding two incredible digital collaborators in Jio Cinema and Netflix is very exciting,” Vijan said.

The flow of content is expected to normalise only after a couple of months or even later. Earlier this year, Ajit Thakur, CEO at Telugu OTT app Aha had told FE the platform is in talks with several film producers to bring a clutch of unreleased small and mid-sized films directly to the platform in order to keep the content library packed.

Indian OTT content investments are estimated to have already reached $700 million in 2020 compared to $600 million in 2019, according to analysts at Media Partners Asia. With budgets for originals and local acquisitions trending upwards, OTT content costs are projected to grow at a CAGR of 18% between 2020-25 to reach $1.6 billion.

Shershaah, Shilpa Shetty starrer Hungama 2 and Telugu movie Narappa featuring prominent South Indian star Daggubati Venkatesh are among other films that are set for an OTT premiere in the coming days. Interestingly, among the 13 films acquired (includes recent announcements of movies that are yet to hit the platform) by Prime Video so far, about seven are South Indian movies.
Some OTT players, though, are not in a rush to ink direct-to-OTT deals. For instance, in the East, SVF Entertainment that also owns Bengali OTT firm Hoichoi has reserved its upcoming slate of five movies for the theatres. Cinemas are yet to see resumption of operations across most parts of the country including in major markets like Maharashtra and New Delhi.

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