A few months ago, coronavirus’s onset presented the opportunity to enjoy marquee films featuring A-list stars such as Alia Bhatt, Akshay Kumar, and Sanjay Dutt amongst others delivered right into your living room.
However, it seems what sounded too good might have transformed into something too much, too soon. The lacklustre response to films like Sadak 2, Lakshmi Bomb and Torbaaz suggests that OTT has become the dumping ground for films a tad sooner than anticipated.
This risk always existed and it was a matter of time before OTT experienced the same fate, at least momentarily, as multiplexes in the late 1990s and the Internet in the early 2000s.
In the early 1990s, as India witnessed satellite television’s arrival, many believed that entertainment would finally break the shackles of Bollywood.
In the first few months of Zee TV, India’s first private satellite channel, serials such as Tara, Banegi Apni Baat and talk shows like Chakravyuh and Aap Ki Adaalat delivered on the promise, but this did not last long. The channel showed weekend films and the success of film-based shows beginning with the runway hit Antakshari changed things.
Soon, competition from other channels demanded an increase in content, and for this, Bollywood was ever-ready to deliver. Most of the serials seemed rip-offs of old films, reality shows centered around movies.
Much like the three-decade-old satellite television invasion, OTT had also emerged as an alternative to mainstream films and television. Intriguingly enough, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, the forerunners in the OTT revolution, also tried to ‘beat’ cinema at their own game.
The two streaming giants hired some of the business's biggest names and gave them carte blanche in terms of budgets and themes, purchased chain of cinema halls to theatrically release their films to make them eligible for film festivals and much more.
However, both platforms appear to rely more on Bollywood for material than across the world when it comes to India.
It would have probably taken a little longer for films to seek OTT platforms with such gusto had COVID-19 pandemic not taken place. OTT platforms also went on a buying spree to make the most of the pandemic where cinema halls shut indefinitely.
In some way, OTT became the same monster as the multiplex in its early days where it needed to be constantly fed. This led to an increase in the small, indie spirited films that would have a short turnaround period and provide multiplexes a regular supply.
Later, the big-budgeted extravaganzas started fighting for a higher number of screens, at least for the opening weekend. This also led to comparatively smaller films shifting to digital platforms (read satellite channels) sooner.
In the latest move that could yet again change the course of film viewing, Warner Bros. has inked a deal with HBO-Max that has made filmmakers see red. In an unexpected move, WarnerMedia announced that each new Warner Bros film slated to release next year, 2021, would be released simultaneously in theatres and on the company streaming service, HBO Max.
The reason for this could well be that big-ticket Warner films such as Christopher Nolan’s Tenet and the upcoming Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 will not come close to doing pre-pandemic numbers.
Globally, the HBO Max - WarnerMedia will impact the future of big-screen spectacles such as Dennis Villeneuve’s Dune and the Wachowski Siblings’ The Matrix 4.
Closer home, Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi and Kabir Khan’s 1983 are still stuck in limbo- they had decided to wait for a theatrical release, which now seems a losing proposition. Either way, OTT's reality as a 'dumping ground' for films will not change anytime soon.