Why Hollywood is looking at pre-US releases in India

Jungle Book
Last week, Disney announced that Avengers: Age of Ultron have all hit Indian screens before opening in America. With the market for Hollywood swelling in India, studios are finding it lucrative to time their releases to suit local conditions instead of sticking to their global calendar.

Experts believe that this is a strategy that will continue if Hollywood studios want to ensure good business in India. Amrita Pandey, vice-president and head, marketing and distribution (studios), Disney India says that the decision to advance the release of Jungle Book, the film’s story has a longstanding bond with India, and we wanted to make the most of it.”

In doing so, Disney also avoids a clash with a big Bollywood film. Releasing the film in India on April 15 (the release date in the US) would have pitted it against Yash Raj Films’ Jungle Book could have suffered heavily.

India is becoming an increasingly significant market for Hollywood if numbers notched up in 2015 are anything to go by. Last year saw the first ever film to cross the Rs 100 crore collection mark in India with Fast and Furious 7, and the share of Hollywood films in terms of box office collections, rose to 13-15 per cent compared to 2014 (seven odd per cent).

Ajit Andhare, COO, Viacom18 Motion Pictures says, “Most of the times, these decisions are governed by the dates of big Bollywood movies releasing in India. The size of the Hollywood box office worldwide is huge — almost $40 billion. In comparison, the Indian box office, including all languages is around $1.2 billion, with Hindi cinema commanding a major portion. However, in order to make business sense of releasing a movie in India, studios need to caution against facing off with a big Bollywood release.”

Various factors such as local releases, important sporting events, and festivals/holidays are taken into consideration before scheduling an India release. Sometimes the dates are synchronised with all non-US international markets. If the studio is releasing the movie early in Europe or Asia, the Indian team follows suit. “Hollywood forms a small part of the total box office in India and hence exhibitors prefer to give a wider showcasing to local releases. Also, the film becomes a second choice for the moviegoer. To avoid this, studios opt for the international release date. However, ideally the studio would prefer going day and date across all territories in the world,” says an executive from a Hollywood studio.

Many experts said that this is not an India trend but a global trend. Historically, all films used to release in the US first and then subsequently in other international territories. But with the growth of the international box office, studios have started using a dual release strategy. This is especially true with markets such as China.

Outside of the US, China is among the single largest Hollywood markets in the world. 20th Century Fox released DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 3 in China a week before the US given the popularity of the film and timing it around Chinese New Year festivities.

The studios do run the risk of the film being pirated since Asian countries are more prone to piracy laws being flouted. However, executives insist that this is factored in while making the decision and only if the commercial gains outweigh the threat of piracy, do they go ahead with releasing the movie in these markets before the US. “No studio would opt for a prior release date if it did not have a significant impact on the commercials,” says the Hollywood studio executive. Some however take a more optimistic view. “Releasing a movie in India or other Asian markets actually drives audiences to the theatres rather than downloading the print illegally (since it may not be available from a foreign market where piracy originates),” believes one such executive from a Hollywood studio.

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