Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Video on demand: the time has come

On Sunday Nivedita wanted to see Shrek 3. Just 2 weeks after release the film has been shifted to the morning show. It was already past 10 am... which means she would have to wait another week.

By which time the film may have disappeared altogether.

I really wonder when the day will come, when studios will have the sense to have a simultaneous release : Theatre, DVD and Video-on-demand (Tata Sky/ Dish TV etc).

Of course the critics would say we already have simultaneous release - people download films within minutes of official release. More so, young people.

JAM's recent survey on Downloading (which readers of this blog were invited to participate in as well) found that 58% of you download movies off the internet.

23% of this bunch download films... everyday.

Movie downloads are less popular than music (that's something 88% do regularly). But wait and watch. As fast broadband connections become more common, folks get PCs with bigger hard drives and figure out how to use BitTorrents.

There is no way the tide can be turned, the only thing studios can and should do is swim with it.

What are they afraid of?
a) People won't flock to theatres
Wrong! The need to visit a theatre is not linked strictly to the need to watch a film. People need outings. A place to dress up for and do something at. Yes, stuffing one's face with popcorn qualifies.

b) People will still pirate movies
Yes, some will. But there are plenty of people who are not tech savvy. Or happen to be time and energy starved. When an official release reaches a 'reasonable' price point they are willing to pay.

Take VCDs of Hindi films. With prices around Rs 149-169 many many more people are picking them up. The logic is, a ticket would cost me Rs 150-200 in any case.

By contrast, DVDs you think twice before buying. Rs 499 had better be for a movie with keep-in-my-collection value. Today, the official VCD/ DVD release is at least 3-4 weeks after the movie hits theatres, as far as Bollywood is concerned. What if it were within one week?

I think theatre crowd would remain unaffected. But a lot of people who wouldn't make it to theatres anyways would also get to enjoy the film. And not as pirates.

The other - and better - alternative is video on demand. Tata Sky has it - you order a film and can view it in a 24 hour window. But the most recent film available at the moment is Bheja Fry. Which is two months old.

Differential Pricing
One way to tackle the issue could be time-linked pricing. On a video on demand service you could allow official home viewing from the day the film is released. But, on the first weekend you could charge a premium - say Rs 500 per view.

From Monday onwards that price could be dropped to Rs 300 per view. And from the second weekend onwards, that could drop further.

Would people really pay Rs 500 to watch Jhoom Barabar Jhoom at home the day it's released? I think yes. There is an excitement to watching a film on day 1 and being able to have an opinion on it - good or bad. It's participating in the pop culture of the week.

But maybe you want to watch JBJ without battling the crowds and parking problems at your local multiplex. And without any planning, on impulse, at 2 am.

As everything in life accelerates, so does the half-life of a movie.

Once I've heard from multiple sources that JBJ is 'really bad' you won't get me to see it in a theatre in any case. But there is enough curiosity value to see it... at home. And maybe with my expectations tempered and over dus rupaye ka Act II popcorn I may actually find it to be 'okay'.

The movie experience I expect when I blow up good money in a multiplex is higher than what I expect from something I see in my home. Which is a huge opportunity for producers of films that are average to above average. The 'great' ones will always find a big screen audience.

Bottom line is, the thought of losing 'theatre business' scares the shit out of producers. But they're losing it to piracy anyways.

I may end up watching Shrek 3 on TV after 3 months when you could have got me to pay 200 bucks to watch it in my home last Sunday. Cannibilisation is hard, but the alternative... is slow suicide.


  1. The quality of movies on the net is definitely not as good as movie halls. Hence people definitely prefer halls over pirated copies.

    The Indian Music industry has not done anything to prevent illegal piracy. Most (if not all) songs are available on the net, have the sales decreased? I don't know but I think they have not decreased.

    Opening up is a good sign, Vivah took that bold step and still ran well in the movie halls.

  2. Watching a mve in a theatre is more abt the xprnc than the movie itself! Am sure even when videos wud b avlble on demand, coll students wud like to go out in grps to 'catch a mve', families wud prefer a mve as thr weekend outing etc... A movie for a couple would cost 500 at max in India, in the premium multiplexes. An average Indian, if allowed to spend the same 3 hrs of time in the mall shopping, is afraid of making unnecessary purchases more than that he wud spend on the mve... Hence we wud prefer a mve anyday!

    Moreover, in a ctry whr ppl shell out 12K to catch the mve of a super star on the first day, no piracy r video n loot the charm of mve watchin in a theatre amid seetis sippin coke n munching corn! :D

  3. one more afraid point you missed is the Multiplex movie. In recents year names like PVR, ADlabs have grown rapidly and would do their best to hamper any step taken which goes against there interest.
    no to forget that behind them are Malls, retail food chain and inventments from ambanis like.
    its market forces only that matter, if anyone could come up with more money churning model throuh DVD release, it will change the paradigm. till then wait for theatre tickets at nearby cinema.

  4. Agree completely...especially to the expectation part when you have already read the reviews and actually like a movie because you arent expecting much.And please post more often.

  5. The film industries (abroad and here) ahve refused to accept reality - if they cannot make it convenient and fun to watch, people will pirate and watch at home where they can skip, pause and throw away the copy.

    The "fun" aspect covers even being able to experience a Hollywood movie at the same time as the rest of the world. There is no point releasing a suspense movie like the Sixth Sense a year after it is out in the US and not expect people to not know the ending. Only now have they woken up to this and you see a few movies being released simultaneously worldwide (Casino Royale, Matrix Pt 3, Ocean's 13 and The Fantastic 4 Pt 2).

    At least Bolywood adapted a bit - the movies come to the TV screen a LOT faster now than they used to.

  6. I have a slightly different argument to this whole scenario -
    Watching movies online, even with a very fast broadband connection sucks to say the least! The quality is pathetic and so is the experience.
    Video-on-demand, even in countries like the US and UK broadcast movies which are atleast a month old and not earlier. The reason I see here is this - Skimming people for the first 4 weeks (if the movie is worthwhile to run for 4 weeks, else it was not watchable anyways :)) by PVR, Adlabs, Popcornwallahs is THE business, post the 4th week, even these guys know that a CD/DVD would be out and hence wouldn't bother.
    Forget paying the premium to watch a movie at home in the first week...we should be thankful if PVR/Adlab wallahs do not file a case against TataSky and related companies for some arcane infringement act and stop their business!!

  7. Since I use VOD here in the USA, let me share why I use it. I hadn't been able to see 'Blood Diamond' and even the Blockbuster queue said I would have to wait for sometime. If i went ahead and bought the DVD it would be around $15-20. But VOD would cost me $3.95 and I just need to press a few buttons on my Comcast cable remote to start watching it on my home-theatre.

    I don't think simultaneous releases would work due to the huge lobbies that exist. But it makes sense to release them in a couple of weeks on the cable network. And VOD doesn't only apply to movies that are currently playing. You could have a HBO VOD so if you are never able to catch the fave movie of yours that is supposed to play this month, then you could just pull it up when you want to watch it.

  8. there is another side of the story. a person like me, who, though would like to go to theatre, is left over with long queues and no results in terms of tickets ... all house full ... now we are left to see it on our terms ... either download from internet or buy a VCD/DVD to please ourselves...

  9. Across the world & across product categories, it is the prouct reaching the consumer that is beginning to matter. Distribution systems like theatres, DVDs etc are modes !

    However, if the so called distribution systems consider themselves as products ( PVR, Adlabs..) , therein begins the essential conflict ! That is something that we are facing

  10. I think this can work if the release happens after 2-3 weeks, rather than 3-6 months as current. Most movies now make 80-90% of their total gross in this time-frame.
    Releasing a dvd / Video-on-demand prior to this would be an issue as it would increase dramatically the piracy & the quality of the piracy.

  11. nice site you have, thanks for sharing, have a look at when you get time :>

  12. I must say those are some fascinating revelations.
    Even I can't resist piracy and I feel guilty about it, I really do. However, I don't think the prices at which Hindi VCDs are available discourage purchase, especially when one is earning.

    As far as hollywood flicks are concerned, the DVDs are priced shockingly at Rs. 600 flat. Buying a DVD should not pinch so much. It doesn't when you're living abroad.

  13. @Naresh:

    Are you a teenager? Because I just could fathom the kind of language you used. Is that English? Seems to have some similarity to that language? :)

  14. Rashmi, thats a great insight -if TATA Sky (I do not know about the other dish providers) can take home some learning from your insights, maybe rather than dumping just one film, they could have an archival facility where you pay for what you wish to watch and when to watch, rather than have one title play on for ages ...

  15. Hey..............

    There is portal called YuppTV it is yet to be launched.... whereit for US customer where they can Access Indian Channels on their Mobile and PC ......

  16. hi rashmi, i have sen Seven Samurai by Kurosawa, Psycho, Citizen Kane, The Producers, Young Frankenstein and The Pink Panther movies starring Peter Sellers. All in the last ONE MONTH. Some of these are cult movies, others are classics. The common thread to all these? None are available ANYWHERE in my city. The Internet makes it possible. And I'm so much the richer for it.

  17. Also maybe you already know, but a clutch of companies have launched ready-to-buy DVDs at 45 rupees and VCDs at 15 rupees. You read that right. Certainly I cant buy them for the sake of it. but many classic Indian movies are available and Im gonna buy those!

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