NEW DELHI: Indian movie channels are looking at a mix of direct-to-television films and quick premieres of popular and niche movies to scale up viewership acquired during the pandemic-lockdown, helping them fight the relatively more popular and emerging streaming platforms.

Earlier this month, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd launched its pay-per-view service Zee Plex that has partnered with DTH (direct-to-home) platforms such as Dish D2H, Tata Sky and Airtel Digital TV as well as entities in the international market besides being available on the company’s OTT platform ZEE5. The company has already announced two films for the new service —Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Pandey-starrer Khaali Peeli and Vijay Sethupathi’s Ka Pae Ranasingam.

Zee has also announced Footfairy, an original film for its film channel &pictures, while south Indian company Sun Network has greenlit two films for direct-to-TV premieres, especially with the aim of grabbing eyeballs during the upcoming festival season where people may miss big-ticket movie releases in theatres. The first, a comedy of errors set against the backdrop of demonetization, is a remake of Kannada hit Mayabazaar, and the other is a rural entertainer to be directed by Muthaih, known for films such as Komban, Kutti Puli and Marudhu. Broadcasters like Star are already premiering on TV their OTT acquisitions like Dil Bechara within weeks of their digital release.

“With out-of-home entertainment shut indefinitely and OTT (over-the-top streaming) platforms accessible to a precious few in the country, it isn’t surprising that movie television channels have moved up in their share of the overall viewership pie,” said Prathyusha Agarwal, chief consumer officer at Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd.

Agarwal added that the Indian Premier League (IPL) will help push up average television viewership and will have a multiplier effect on movie channels too.

“Television is a powerful medium to reach out to a vast base of audiences at one go. It reaches out to 835 million audiences across India which is unmatched compared to any other medium,” Ruchir Tiwari, business head, Zee Hindi movies cluster, said in a statement to announce the release of Footfairy adding that Zee had started the trend of direct-to-TV movies with its 1993 release Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee and is continuing it with Footfairy 27 years later. The crime thriller stars Gulshan Devaiah and Sagarika Ghatge in lead roles.

To be sure, film channels have long struggled with lack of content that could cater to the pan-India, mass audience and the onslaught of video streaming platforms that have become the first choice of premiere after cinema halls have added to that. But the covid-19 lockdown have turned their fortunes around, giving them as much as 29% share of the viewership pie as general entertainment channels struggled for original content.

“Movie channels are definitely a very serious part of our TV viewing reality but this pandemic should be a time for us to reflect on the fact that we’re only making films for multiplex audiences nowadays,” said Neeraj Vyas, senior executive vice-president and business head, Sony SAB and Sony MAX adding that films for single screen audiences are the need of the hour.

“These films may garner much critical acclaim but their commercial viability is questionable,” Vyas said.

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