Streaming platforms step in for theatres, line up festival season offerings

NEW DELHI: For the first time in India’s over 100-year old film history, the festival quarter–October-December–will not see any big-ticket film releases in the cinemas which have remained shut because of the pandemic.

But for video streaming services, the season will be more business than usual. Service providers have lined up a slew of releases–movies and series–across languages in time for Dussehra, going on to Diwali, and rounding off with Christmas and New Year.

While Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb, on Disney+ Hotstar, and Varun Dhawan’s Coolie No.1 on Amazon Prime Video are expected to ‘clash’ on Diwali, ZEE5 has scheduled an original film Comedy Couple for the Dussehra weekend, at a time when Amazon will also launch the second season of its crime drama Mirzapur.

“The pandemic has changed the fervour of festivals around the world, including India. People are still exercising necessary caution, and with safety becoming top priority, festivals will continue to be a small affair with limited outdoor interactions,” Nachiket Pantvaidya, group chief operating officer, Balaji Telefilms and CEO, ALTBalaji, said.

In such a scenario, he added, audience will opt for alternative entertainment that can be enjoyed with the entire family and content on streaming platforms and television will certainly gain primacy.

ALTBalaji has a raft of new launches going ahead – Bicchoo Ka Khel, MumBhai, Dark 7 White, LSD, Class of 2020 Season 2, Who’s Your Daddy Season 2 and Kahin to Milega.

Rohit Jain, managing director, Lionsgate South Asia, said India used to see a huge travel boom during the festival season but now most people will stay put at home, and services like Lionsgate want to ensure they have enough and more entertainment options. For October, Lionsgate is premiering British crime thriller The Informer, besides adding films like Escape Plan, Bad Moms, Nurse 3D, A Bad Moms Christmas to its catalogue.

Theatre owners across India have been desperately waiting for permission to reopen cinemas. However, even if that happens by the end of September, theatres will not be fully functional before late October or the beginning of November. That clouds the upcoming festival weekends like Dussehra and Diwali.

However, keeping with the tradition of Friday releases, EPIC ON, the VoD service owned by IN10 Media Network will premiere critically acclaimed, award-winning movies on its platform every week. “We are hoping for the new trend of watching streaming content with the family to gain pace with e-commerce platforms offering festive discounts on products like smart TVs,” said Sourjya Mohanty, chief operating officer – EPIC ON, IN10 Media Network.

Executives across streaming platforms expect the upcoming quarter to lead to spikes in both viewership and time spent with monthly active users growing at least three times.

Rahul Maroli, senior vice-president and business head at ZEE5, said the festival season coupled with new content launches will undoubtedly drive consumption with viewership in October possibly turning out as high as March and April, the peak of the lockdown.

Others are more cautious.

“The first two months of the lockdown had led to nearly 30-40% growth in viewership which has now stabilized and we are expecting another 6-7% jump every month in the coming quarter,” said Neeraj Roy, founder and CEO, Hungama Digital Media that runs the Hungama audio and video apps.

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