After OTTs, TV channels foray into direct-to-online movie market

In India, pay-per-view remains a nascent market, though players are beginning to look at this space closely
The continued closure of cinema halls to combat the Covid-19 pandemic has forced media and entertainment companies in India to find newer ways to reach film viewers. 

After over-the-top (OTT) platforms, who have been pushing digital-first releases in the past few months, television channels have stepped in to offer movie services. 

Last week, Zee said it would launch Zee Plex, a pay-per-view service that would be available on Zee5, its OTT platform and on television, next month. Pay-per-view means people can buy or rent a movie that they wish to watch, a trend that is strong in markets such as the US.

In India, pay-per-view remains a nascent market, though players are beginning to look at this space closely. For instance, Shemaroo, a media company, has rolled out a pay-per-view service called ShemarooMe Box Office, saying it gives a “theatre experience” at home.

Films under the service are available for Rs 80-100 for a three-day viewing cycle. So far, two films — My Client’s Wife and Scotland — have released on ShemarooMe Box Office, though experts say large players such as Zee could attract bigger releases on its platform.

Buzz is that Sony Pictures Network, which runs the SonyLIV app besides channels such as Sony Entertainment Television, is contemplating a pay-per-view service. A mail sent to the company elicited no response till the time of going to press. 

Disney has a pay-per-view model globally, but is not bringing it to India just yet, where it runs the Disney-Star network of channels and the Disney+ Hotstar OTT service. The company’s much-anticipated international release Mulan was launched via pay-per-view in the US last week for $30 (or Rs 2,200).

Experts say India remains a value-for-money market and the tendency to rent or buy movies to watch, especially on television, may not pick up too well. 

“Pay-per-view is a response to the Covid situation because cinema halls remain shut for now. While online, you have youth watching content, which will continue; on television, the trend of pay-per-view may not stick. This is because film buffs will go back to theatres, once movie halls reopen,” says Karan Taurani, vice-president, research, Elara Capital.

Yet, some experts say the pandemic has forced media companies to think out-of-the-box to be relevant to stay-at-home consumers looking for content to entertain themselves. For instance, OTT players have been extremely aggressive with digital-first releases, tying up with upcoming films, both in Hindi and regional languages.

Zee, too, has begun tying up new releases for its Plex service, announcing this week that it had signed up the film Khaali Peeli, starring Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday, which will release on October 2. More new films are expected to be signed up by the platform in the weeks ahead, making it available via direct-to-home operators such as Tata Sky, Dish TV, and Airtel Digital, besides OTT and television.

“While we all love to catch the latest movies at the nearest theatre, we sensed the need for a solution like Zee Plex, which gives consumers the flexibility and convenience to watch their favourite films at home,” said Shariq Patel, chief executive officer (CEO), Zee Studios. 

Hiren Gada, CEO, Shemaroo Entertainment, says pay-per-view can create an alternate distribution model for the film industry, though some experts say it could click for films with a niche audience in the absence of multiplexes, which are yet to reopen.

Zee has not released its pricing for Plex so far, which could set the benchmark for this market.

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