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Friday, March 05, 2021

Blindsided by Master’s early OTT release, theatre owners rue lack of transparency

Vijay's Master exceeded all expectations in terms of ticket sales across the country. All those involved in the distribution and exhibition of the film have already either broken-even or made some profits. What its OTT release does is, it affects future profits.

Written by Manoj Kumar R | Bengaluru |
Updated: January 27, 2021 5:19:00 pm
MasterMaster is written and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj.

On Wednesday, Amazon Prime Video announced that its subscribers could stream Tamil film Master, starring Vijay and Vijay Sethupathu, in the lead roles, from the comforts and safety of their homes, starting January 29. And this has pushed exhibitors and distributors across the country into distress.

“We were all shocked. We would have actually made profits in the third and fourth week, and now this OTT release will eat into our weekend crowds. We are about to take a big hit,” Rakesh Gowthaman, owner of Vettri Theatres in Chennai, said.

Typically, the exhibitors agree to a 70-30 revenue split with producers for films which have big stars like Vijay. In other words, for every Rs 100 that exhibitors make on a ticket, Rs 70 will go to the producers, say, for the first two weeks after a film’s release. In the following week, the revenue share of theatres will go up by, say 10 per cent. This is the window for theatre owners to actually make profits.

“Some theatres have even agreed to 80-20 profit-sharing with the producers of Master. These terms were agreed as a goodwill gesture considering the fact that the makers waited for a year to release this film in cinemas,” Rakesh added.

The main grievance of the exhibitors of Master is they were kept in the dark about the film’s OTT release strategy. “We had no idea,” said Tirupur Subramaniam, President of Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners’ Association.

At the time of writing this piece, Subramaniam was in the process of chalking out a course of action in the light of the latest development. “I am trying to contact the producer. We’re planning to release a press statement today evening,” he told indianexpress.com.

The exhibitors did not expect such a turn of events given that Master is keeping the cash registers ringing at the box office. “Why would they want to kill a movie that is still doing so well in theatres?” asked Rakesh Gowthaman. He noted that with the exception of a few shows, the film is running to packed houses across Tamil Nadu.

Rakesh feels that he can’t do much about Master hitting Amazon Prime Video in about 48 hours, but he now knows how to avoid such pitfalls in the future. “It is ultimately a producer’s choice on what to do with his movie. But we need more transparency. If we were told that this film would come out on OTT within 20 days of its release, then we would have agreed upon different terms to maximise our profits,” he rued.

Girish Johar, a well-known producer and trade analyst, concurs. He said, “I think it is a little too early to release on OTT. There should be a set of norms that need to be settled among the makers, OTT (platforms), and exhibitors to avoid unnecessary confusion.”

He opined that the producers still had the time to renegotiate the terms with the streaming platform and push the film’s OTT premiere by at least two weeks. “This is more of a personal choice of the makers,” Johar added.

It is worth noting that Telugu star Ravi Teja’s latest film Krack, which released on January 9, was set to debut on streaming service Aha on January 29. However, its OTT release was pushed to February 5, considering that the movie was still drawing the audience to cinema halls in the Telugu states.

“I think four weeks would have been a more rational time as it would have allowed the theatres to do optimal monetization of a film like this, which has long legs. The cinemas could have continued to collect well in the forthcoming weeks as well,” said exhibitor Akshaye Rathi, who owns a chain of cinemas in Maharashtra and Chattisgarh.

The buzz is that the producers have already reduced distribution circuit prices for Master by about 20 per cent to compensate for the drop in the business at the box office caused by its OTT release. “We understand the decision. The producers held onto the film for so long, and there was a cost for it. They need to make up for all that. That’s why they have probably done it. It is justified to some extent,” Akshaye added.

It is noteworthy that Master exceeded all expectations in terms of ticket sales across the country. All those involved in the distribution and exhibition of the film have already either broken-even or made some profits. What its OTT release does is, it affects future profits.

“I totally hope that our fraternity can look at the long term, rather than jumping on the short term gains and damaging the future of our fraternity,” Akshaye Rathi concluded.

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