With theatres remaining closed, a fresh set of streaming services has sprung up and Malayalam films are now being released across platforms
Sanu John Varughese’s Aarkkariyam had to be taken out of cinemas within eight days of its release (April 1) because of the paucity of viewers. But when it released on OTT a month later, the film won a huge audience and appreciation. The film is currently streaming on eight platforms: Neestream, Cave, Roots, Amazon Prime Video, FilMe, First Shows, BookMyShow and Koode. It has already got nearly six lakh views across all the platforms and will have its television premiere this weekend.
The Great Indian Kitchen, one of the most talked about movies this year, is streaming on Neestream, Amazon Prime Video, Cinemapreneur, FilMe, GudSho, Saina Play, Limelight Media, Roots and Cave. It is likely to be available in more platforms. Nayattu is playing on Netflix and Simply South, Kho Kho on Saina Play, Simply South, Amazon Prime Video and FilMe and Kala on Amazon Prime Video, Saina Play and Aha (dubbed in Telugu). Low-budget productions and a few independent movies are also streaming on multiple OTT platforms simultaneously.
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Though OTT is the new normal, the success mantra seems to be: the more the merrier. With the streaming services mushrooming with each passing day, most of them seem to opt for regional content, particularly Malayalam cinema.
After a nine-month interval, theatres finally started to function in Kerala in January but the curtains had to come down in April, following the second wave. That is one of the reasons why producers and filmmakers are opting for a digital release. The idea is to take the movie to as many viewers as possible.
“There are financial benefits. Most of the platforms have both subscription and pay-per-view options. We got more turnover from the latter model. The profit share is often in 50:50, 60:40 and, in some cases, 80:20 ratio. With pay-per-view or rent-buy options (as in BookMyShow) available, one does not have to go for regular subscription on Amazon or Netflix,” says Jomon Jacob, co-producer of The Great Indian Kitchen, which had a direct-to-OTT release.
Aarkkariyam was one of the first movies that went for release on multiple platforms. “The newer platforms cannot compete with the infrastructure of big players such as Netflix and Amazon. However, now we have a section of viewers who prefer online to television. These platforms have made a mark in regions where major streaming players are not available,” says Arun C Thampi of Moonshot Entertainments that produced Aarkkariyam. For example, some of the films on Amazon Prime are not available in West Asia and that is where platforms such as Simply South, Cave, Roots or FilMe come into the picture.
Meanwhile, digital service providers such as Charles George, regional head-Kerala, Neestream, feel that the market is becoming competitive with producers opting for non-exclusive streaming. The platform had made its presence felt with the première of The Great Indian Kitchen, which was rejected by mainstream platforms. The movie crossed one million views recently on this platform alone. “We had taken it as exclusive content for 90 days. After that it was given to other platforms,” he says.
However, not many producers are interested in signing exclusive streaming deals at the moment. “So we put forward a clause to allow exclusivity for at least 15 or 30 days. Our aim is to bring new Malayalam content for viewers,” Charles adds.
A question of time
The pay-per-view rate varies for each platform. In the case of FilMe, which uses QR technology to watch and share movies without the internet, the price is ₹30 per film in addition to the cost of the QR-code based card (₹49 for three movies). In BookMyShow, movies can be rented out for ₹79 and up. “Earlier, films were released in multiple theatres, with multiplexes charging more rates. It has now moved on to the digital space,” Jomon says.
Now, a leading platform which has been streaming Telugu content is stepping into Tamil and Malayalam in a big way, while a Malayalam platform is planning to include a catalogue of Tamil films. “The audience now has options when it comes to better viewing experience and pay-per-view or subscription charges. The platforms are also working on improving the quality of streaming and compatibility with multiple devices. With some of the major OTT platforms still having reservations about streaming regional content, the smaller platforms will have a place,” says Aashiq Bava, executive director of Saina Play.
The one major grouse is, actors are not too keen on their films streaming on regional services. “They are more excited to put up a post about the release of their movie on Amazon Prime and Netflix and not on a regional platform,” says a spokesperson, who works with a streaming service.
Jomon, however, says that it is a question of sustainability for these independent platforms in the long run. C U Soon, Drishyam 2, Joji (all on Amazon Prime), Irul (Netflix), and Thirike (Neestream) were some of the exclusive releases.
Many big-ticket releases such as Dulquer Salmaan’s Kurup and Prithviraj’s Cold Case are eyeing direct OTT releases. Mahesh Narayanan’s Malik, Rajeev Ravi’s Thuramukham and Priyadarsan’s Kunjali Marakkar are among the most anticipated releases of the year. It remains to be seen whether they would finally be seen on OTT platforms.