Over-the-top streaming platforms are without a doubt the flavour of the season, especially with theatres being shut during lockdown.
As demand for original content remains high, more individuals and businesses are exploring the option of venturing into digital streaming verticals; chief among them are Tamil film producers who see the investment as an opportunity to gain a bigger cut of the profits, something that was not possible when theatres were still in the picture.
The latest to make a ‘digital foray’ is CV Kumar of Thirukumaran Entertainment production banner whose pay-per-view (PPV) streaming service, Regal Talkies, launches on July 8.
Kumar claims that he had been toying with the idea for a while but had not acted on it due to “apprehensions” that the audience may not accept a new platform. “Since the lockdown period has shown there is audience support for subscription-based streaming services, I thought this was the best time to launch,” he says.
Excerpts from an interview:
Is there a need for a PPV service?
There is no dearth for good stories here. However, we are only able to tell these stories within a measure because a feature film is expensive to produce. Publicity cost has increased drastically.
The multiplex culture has given space for other language films to dominate screens. In rural areas, theatres don’t earn revenue unless it is a star’s film. And so without good publicity, it is hard to position a film with good content among the audience; that is, if at all the film manages to get a theatrical release.
Good content films tend to pick up pace with word-of-mouth publicity. Some of your films are examples… like Pizza.
Most small films don’t get a big opening like star films. By the time word-of-mouth and good reviews start to get around, the distributor share would have gone down from 50-50 to 40-60 and 30-70 [percent] in the second week.
Pizza was running to packed houses in some of the biggest multiplex screens, sometimes making as much as ₹1 lakh per show. But, do you know how much of it I received? Around ₹22,000.
So, Regal Talkies is a platform for indie and small-budget features affected by the theatrical release system?
Yes, because the main issue there is that producers don’t earn a fair share of the revenue.
Most small budget productions, my films included, don’t release overseas. It releases on an OTT platform or a PPV service. The Tamil diaspora watches these films through such platforms. It is not that everybody desires to watch only big star films all the time.
Is your target demography the diaspora audience?
My audience will be those who want to watch good content films. Look, there was this film I previewed in 2016. It was made on a budget of nearly ₹1.5 crore but they couldn’t spend any more to promote it. Forget making money at the box office, it was doubtful of getting a theatrical release.
Now imagine such films releasing here and we set a nominal fee of 100. Let’s assume one lakh people watch it. The producer stands to make ₹1 crore. This is the best option for such films.
Who sets the PPV fee?
We consult the producer and set a fee that we deem is fair for the content the audience will watch.
What is the launch line-up?
We will be premiering a film Miruna, a romcom directed by Rakav Mirdath, the writer of Baaram. On July 24, there will be Onbathu Kuzhi Sampath which has Nikhila Vimal in the lead. Besides we have a lineup of existing movies too. The idea is to release at least two or three fresh films every month.
Launching Regal Talkies is a bold move. There is as much to go wrong here as it can go right since it is a cash guzzling venture…
Yes, from the outside, it may seem like the content business is easy going but the data expenses these platforms incur is huge.
Rallying against routine
- Though NRIs and Tamil diaspora subscribe to PPV services to watch Indian films, this practice is still uncommon here. However, the lockdown has shown encouraging signs with subscription services like Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ Hotstar adding more users. Kumar taking this step is bound to raise a few eyebrows within the powerful theatre owners lobby.
- Is he not worried he may face the same backlash as Kamal Haasan (after the actor proposed a DTH premiere of Vishwaroopam) and Cheran (after his 2015 Cinema 2 Home proposal) did? “The dynamics and structure of the producers group has changed. Back then, 80% of our business was theatrical revenue,” he says, adding, “Theatres only contribute 20-25% of revenue today and producers are aware of it. Also, theatres really don’t mind if small films release directly on digital platforms. It is only with the star films they will have an issue.”
There is something called Content Delivery Network (CDN). I need a CDN service like Akamai or Wowza if I am to deliver my content to a worldwide audience; for that we have to commit to ‘X’ TB of data and pay in advance.
For instance, if you spend 2GB data watching a film, I too am expending 2GB data from my side providing that content. Now imagine if 1 lakh people watch that film, I will be expending 2 lakh GB individually… and data charges are huge. I have taken this on with some belief and confidence.
What about your film projects? You had started a slew of them before lockdown…
There are five projects in filming stages. All of them were shot for 10-15 days before lockdown was announced.
This includes a horror flick with Ashwin Kakumanu and Kaali Venkat, and another with Shivada Nair and Ramya Pandian in the lead. There are two fully finished films — 4G with GV Prakash Kumar and Titanic Kadhalum Kavundhu Pogum with Kalaiyarasan. Another film called Jango is in the post-production stage.