Television premiere window shrinks as Reliance Jio threat looms large

Television channels are having to rethink their strategy when it comes to movie premieres, which are high-impact properties that garner both viewership and advertising revenue. With the rise of over-the-top (OTT) platforms as well as the impending threat of Jio Fiber’s “First Day First Show” service, movie channels are fighting to grab exclusive content ahead of the pack.

On October 20, &flix, the English movie channel from the Zee group, will premiere the Chris Hemsworth-starrer Men in Black (MIB): International within five months of its theatrical release in India and the US.
Billed as a category first, some other films in the pipeline for world television premieres on the channel include Spider-Man:Far From Home, which released in June this year and Angry Birds 2, which released in August. Charlie’s Angels and Jumanji: The Next Level, films that will release in November and December this year, will be premiered in subsequent months on the channel.

Kartik Mahadev, business head, English cluster, Zee Entertainment, says the channel has been able to do this following a tie-up with Sony Pictures Television and it is speaking with other Hollywood studios to extend the partnership. “Typically, the window for television premieres (of English movies) outside the US is close to a year. Reducing the window to just five months gives us a significant lead time as far as world television premieres of blockbusters from the Sony stable go,” he says.

The Hindi-language movie space, say experts, already has a window of around 8-10 weeks only between theatrical release and television premiere. Karan Taurani, vice-president, research, Elara Capital, says, “Bollywood movie premieres are rapidly shifting to OTTs after theatrical release. A key reason for this is the aggression that these platforms have shown in terms of acquisition of movie rights, changing the market dynamics altogether.”

According to industry estimates, the premium that OTTs (such as Amazon Prime and Netflix) are paying over television channels for movie acquisition rights is as much as 15-20 per cent per film. If the movie is a super-duper hit (such as Uri: The Surgical Strike or Kabir Singh, which released this year), the acquisition cost, say experts, could go up further, touching 25-30 per cent in terms of premium paid by OTTs versus movie channels.

All this, as Abneesh Roy, executive vice-president, research, institutional equities, Edelweiss, says, is aimed at increasing subscriber numbers. For English movie channels, subscriber acquisition assumes more significance at a time when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has implemented a new tariff order and given choice to the consumer to pick and choose the channels he wishes to see. 

Roy adds that English movie channels have to innovate to stay ahead of the game, since other television genres such as Hindi entertainment, sports and news are upping the ante to attract viewer interest under the new tariff regime.

Amit Shah, cluster head, west, north and premium channels, Zee Entertainment, says &flix’s high-definition version is now amongst the top two movie channels in the country and has seen a 40 per cent increase in ad insertions following implementation of the new tariff order.

According to the media and entertainment report by audit and consultancy firm KPMG, there has been steady growth in the English-language television genre including English movie channels over the last three years, pointing to greater affinity for these channels. Data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) shows that the English movie genre has seen a 26 per cent growth in viewership and 28 per cent growth in reach over the last three years. All this is pushing incumbents in the space to step up their activities.

The new world television premiere initiative by &flix will be marketed aggressively across platforms like direct-to-home, digital and trade to get maximum mileage. Movies will also premiere at three different time slots on Sundays to give viewers a chance to sample the channel, Shah adds.

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