Recently, Reliance Industries announced its new initiative of Jio’s high-speed broadband and home entertainment, Jio Fibre, by which it would launch a ‘First Day First Show’ plan by September 2020. The plan would allow premium customers to watch newly-released movies from home and for better viewing experience, Jio 4K LED TV will be provided free to them. This may sound disruptive and worrisome for the film industry, especially for theatre owners. However, in reality these fears are unfounded.
We should remember that the theatre-viewing experience is incomparable to watching at home even if through big screen. The 4D experience in theatres cannot be given by any home theatre. Though new technology may give opportunity to those who usually do not watch in theatres to watch new films at home, the author believes that regular movie goers would as usual prefer watching films in theatres.
History reveals that the first disruptive technology introduction was films being available in VHS format on same day of film’s release in 1980s, especially in Hindi. Many felt that audience would stop coming to theatres. It never happened.
The next technological advancement was the launch of television channels in 1992. As long as only Doordarshan was there, the film industry never felt threatened. When private television channels started mushrooming and telecast feature films, many predicted the doom for film industry. That never happened and in fact, television industry helped film industry to further grow by offering substantial revenues through satellite rights.
Similarly, when cable television in 1995 and Direct-To-Home (DTH) technologies were launched, many felt the audience would not come to theatres. Further, when DVD players in India got launched in 1999, everyone thought it will hugely affect the theatre business.
However, the film industry continued to flourish and DVD rights brought in additional revenues. Government owned MTNL, which launched Internet Protocol television (IPTV) in 2006 was considered as technological advancement to offer content through Internet. Even that made no dent on movie-going audience.
The next technological advancement since 2008 was films being offered through over-the-top (OTT) media streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, NetFlix, BigFlix, Zee 5, etc. This has dramatically grown in the last 10 years and today contributes significantly to revenues of film industry, though initially everyone predicted number of theatre going audience to reduce with OTT platforms offering films within 30 days. It never happened and audience continue to throng theatres when a good film releases despite knowing the film may be available in an OTT platform in four weeks. Hence, films continue to collect humongous at box office even now.
Though technological advancements came over the years, film industry continues to thrive and good content is consumed by audience in theatres because people who want to experience a film in theatres are continuing to do so. The big screen experience cannot be compensated by any new technology. Hence, new technology and film industry will continue to co-exist with each platform offering content catering to their specific audience.
It should be noted that, any competing technology is welcomed by audience as they will get more benefits. Reliance’s JioFibre plan may force multiplex operators to offer flexi ticket prices, eatables at lower rates, reduce online ticketing charges, provide good discounts for watching films in theatres and more audience may view films legally instead of through piracy, which is rampant now. JioFibre’s plan to offer an affordable combination of broadband along with landline, cable and movies may attract more consumers to watch films in some way legally.
The biggest challenge is most of these technological advancements benefit only big star or successful films by offering additional revenues than supporting small and medium films prior to their release. Unless new technology players are willing to experiment and support small players, these advancements will continue to benefit only a few. That may not truly benefit the film industry as 80 per cent of the films is produced by small players. We can hope JioFibre would have a game plan to support both small and big films.
— Dr G Dhananjayan, film producer, distributor and is a founder-director of BOFTA Film Institute