Trade Winds Movies

With emerging digital platforms, Tamil cinema scrambles to adapt


As consumer tastes and demands change, Tamil cinema is scrambling to adapt

The business of cinema is witnessing a sea change in all departments and this year is expected to transform the Tamil film industry even more.

One of the most significant shifts has been the window of theatre and digital platform release in India domestic sale coming down to four weeks (28 days).

Speaking at The Hindu Lit for Life, Karan Johar pointed out that a few years back, the superstars ruled, and cinema was the only form of entertainment, but added that having access to multiple alternative entertainment platforms had led to a fall in footfalls in theatres.

Today, younger audiences are more interested in streaming content that is accessible on their smartphones or tablets. For the first time this Pongal, the first day first show of new Tamil releases started only at 6.30 am in Chennai suburbs, against the normal 4 am or 5 am shows. At the same time, there was a lot of excitement on the net to watch the trailer of Madhavan’s digital début with the web series Breathe on Amazon Prime Video.

With emerging digital platforms, Tamil cinema scrambles to adapt

As consumer tastes and demands change, Tamil cinema is scrambling to adapt. Instead of lamenting over the past, producers and exhibitors are showing a greater willingness to experiment. Take, for example, 2018 Pongal releases (Thaanaa Serndha Koottam, Sketch and Gulaebaghavali), theatre owners refused to pay distributors Minimum Guarantee (MG) amounts and instead preferred paying only an advance that could be recovered in the opening weekend.

The practice of paying huge MGs usually leads to losses for theatres, and only helps superstars increase their salaries. Earlier, during festival season, theatres outside of Chennai city used to charge premium for superstar-driven films. Almost all films slated for release in the next two months are not going to be given an MG or a payment advance.

Another significant development in the trade happened over terms and conditions. Earlier, single screens and multiplexes (mostly in Chengalpet area) used to share 65-35, or even in some cases 70-30 of the net amount, with the larger chunk going to distributors. This Pongal, all that changed, with exhibitors insisting on a bigger share, and only signing after days of negotiations.

With emerging digital platforms, Tamil cinema scrambles to adapt

A multiplex in Chennai city started charging two different ticket rates for new and slightly older Tamil films, within the government-stipulated rates. Another multiplex has introduced cheaper tickets during working days to increase footfalls. And if a particular film is doing well, its shows are increased at the expense of films which do not have footfalls. Today, for the first time, single screens are playing multiple films in regular shows, not knowing which will succeed.

A veteran theatre owner says, “The most outdated business model in Tamil Nadu till recently was the film trade. All these years, successive state governments tried to artificially control the trade. The politicians ruling the state, who were from the industry, did not want another star to compete with them, so they created artificial barriers, like keeping ticket prices controlled. It will take a few months to come out of this mess and respond effectively to the digital era. But flexi ticket pricing and huge discounts at concessions is the way forward.”

Following GST implementation, theatre owners want to come clean. Now if a film fails to recover its cost in a particular area, it is adjusted with the producers’ next film by the distributor. In the next six months, production is going to come down, as financiers have clamped down on funding.

Tamil cinema’s over-dependence on theatre collections and big-star films has to change. Currently, for a big film, 80 to 85% comes from theatricals. But this should come down even further, as the market has opened up for other rights. As theatres switch to new business models, the entire structure of filmmaking will change in the coming months.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 7:32:24 AM |

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