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Netflix, Amazon give ailing Bollywood production houses a new lease of life

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-02-2017 Lata Jha

New Delhi: Online platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have opened up new revenue streams for Bollywood’s less active or defunct production houses that are grappling with declining sales from satellite TV rights.

The platforms are acquiring rights to stream older classics as well as new titles, said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. Companies such as RK Films, Venus Worldwide Entertainment, Tips Industries Ltd, Mukta Arts and the families of veteran filmmakers like Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra, who own rights to a host of titles produced over several decades, are likely to benefit the most from the growth in online streaming.

“Old classics that one may not get to see in theatres or even on DVDs anymore have found a new lease of life on OTT (over the top) platforms,” confirmed Rajiv Vaidya, chief executive officer of Spuul, an online video streaming service that streams Hindi film blockbusters from the 90s such as Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. “They, however, contribute a small percentage to the overall consumption,” he said.

Older Bollywood production houses today generate revenue from video on demand, IPTV (Internet protocol television), Internet, mobile rights and direct-to-home (DTH) platforms.

“Apart from organized corporates, there are independent producers who, in times of crisis, sold the rights to their films to financiers, some of whom, today, are holding on to nearly 100 titles per person,” said Utpal Acharya, founder of film production, distribution and marketing company Indian Film Studios. Here, it is the financier holding the rights who stands to benefit, not the original filmmaker.

Any old movie isn’t sold in isolation to these platforms, but as part of a package comprising a big tent-pole (blockbuster) and a couple of smaller films. It works exactly like television where satellite rights of a bouquet of films are typically sold for a period of 10 years and the price depends on how much the channel can afford to pay and how confident it is of it gaining viewership.Prices for satellite TV rights have dropped by 40% last year because of a couple of reasons. First, star-led satellite deals such as the one that the Star network has with actor Salman Khan that ensure channels work on a limited budget fixed annually, with no purchasing power for surprise hits. Secondly, box office performance is no guarantee of similar success on television.

To be sure, commitment to a satellite channel ensures visibility on their online streaming platforms too; and every television network today has one—Star India has Hotstar, Sony Entertainment Television has Sony LIV and Zee Entertainment Enterprises owns DittoTV. Independent video streaming platforms include Spuul, Wynk and BoxTV.

“Ninety percent of these aggregators have given their old content to competitive platforms owned by the satellite channels but these are non-exclusive contracts. Whereas Amazon and Netflix are insisting on exclusivity,” Acharya said. “With older content, they don’t have a choice if it’s already committed to a competitor. But the newer content they are buying is exclusive. Netflix buys for 2-3 years, Amazon buys for five.”

Overall, digital platforms in India are looking to invest over a billion dollars per year for a mix of exclusive and non-exclusive content, Acharya added. The focus on exclusivity was a conscious decision for American companies Netflix and Amazon who emphasized from day one that they couldn’t drive traffic without exclusive content.

The new-found opportunity is not just limited to video content. Music companies have found their calling by owning their own YouTube channels besides selling their albums to digital platforms like iTunes, Gaana and Saavn.

These streaming apps, in turn, pay music rights owners a revenue share that comes from a combination of advertising and minimum stream rate depending on the individual song. As of today, the Rs1,000 crore Indian music industry owes its earnings to three big revenue streams— about Rs400 crore comes from audio and video streaming services, around Rs250-300 crore from broadcast license income contributed by music played on radio, television and public venues and the remaining from caller tunes and ringtones. Revenue sharing with these digital platforms ensures a daily income of almost Rs10-15 lakh for the music labels.

“I’m definitely happy (with the new digital opportunities), any new platform or technology coming in means additional revenue for the film industry,” said veteran producer Pahlaj Nihalani who has sold the satellite and digital rights of his films separately. “People want entertainment and any platform is welcome for the same.”

“Television is definitely a significantly larger market whereas OTT is still finding its feet in terms of being able to monetize,” said Uday Sodhi, executive vice-president and head (digital business), Sony Pictures Networks India. “The two are nowhere comparable but the fact remains that old classics are things everybody wants to watch.”

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