Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Finding the real mass medium

This week, when every producer in the movie business was consumed in charting out innovative marketing strategies for their upcoming films and what not, Balaji Films led by Ekta Kapoor introduced a concept that could well be the next level of movie marketing. Ek Thi Daayan, a much-awaited upcoming release starring the brilliant cast of Emraan Hashmi, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kalki Koechlin and Huma Qureshi, is being produced jointly by Balaji Films and Vishal Bharadwaj Pictures, and directed by debutante Kannan Iyer, previously assistant to Bharadwaj. The genius of the producers came up with a grand idea of running a 8-week soap series on prime time television titled 'Ek Thi Nayika' featuring the leading ladies of the medium in a build-up that leads to the release of the film on April 18th this year. These leading ladies will fight the demons one by one in the episodes, based on Indian folklore.

Traditionally, film stars used to make occasional appearances on popular soaps or reality shows on television to promote their upcoming film or do a bunch of endorsements that spam the audience with sub-texted footages of the release on sleeve. With Ek Thi Nayika, we are knocking at the next door of film promotion. If this becomes a success, it remains to be seen. But Ekta Kapoor, capitalizing on her efficient grip on both pieces of the pie, has innovated a first of its kind concept herein with this show. With Ekta turning to prime time promotions, the question comes up, which of the two, TV and films, is the real mass medium?

Films and television share a symbiotic relationship in show business where films have exploited the potential of television often to its own ends, despite the latter being a much more powerful medium to reach out to the aam junta. Here's a small example. Dabangg 2 released on a non-holiday weekend in 2012 and collected a net of Rs 21Cr on its opening day. This makes up a gross collection of approximately Rs 28Cr. With an average ticket price of Rs 100 as an estimate, less than 0.3% population of India saw the film on the first day. If we just take into account the 40% urban population of the country, still less than 1% watched the movie. Is cinema really the best mass medium in light of these figures? On the contrary, any popular TV show is seen by atleast 8% of Indian audience 5 days a week for 52 weeks a year, based on the TRPs collected over the last few years. Will our films ever be able to top that? If not, why disregard television as the lesser medium?

Uncanny but true, cinema does have lower penetration levels as compared to television in India. A lot of rural areas have minimal access to cinema theaters and the pricing of tickets in bigger cities limits the number of times people actually go out to a theater to watch a film in a year. In such a case, the audience wants to attain a 'price+experience' balance which is generated by the buzz and appeal surrounding the film before its release and its word of mouth post release. The baffling numbers mentioned above call for a re-valuation of this system. I would be fine with this structure a few years ago, till we were making what we were making. But over the past few years, the paradigm of content has broadened its horizons wide enough for all cinephiles to complain. The industry is churning out more commendable films than they ever did and the next best thing would be that more of India actually sees them in theaters. While nothing can replace a driven change to overhaul the infrastructure of exhibition business to eradicate the above barriers, film marketing will always be a crucial second determining factor in a film's BO performance. 

Television, being the real mass medium, will always be more resourceful to this end. Any promotional campaign buttressed on prime time shows will always reach out to more people and can only help the film before its release. Ek Thi Nayika is just a small start in this direction. More and more actors, technicians and artists are coming out of television into the film industry carrying their established fan-following base. Ayushman Khurrana (Vicky Donor) and Sushant Singh Rajput (Kai Po Che) are just the tip of this iceberg. And if this is not enough, television could possibly hold the solution to one of the biggest evils plaguing the cinema distribution business.

Recently, Kamal Hassan's mega-venture, Vishwaroopam was planned for a Direct-to-Home (DTH) one day before its theatrical release before it got concocted in its own political quagmire. If executed with some painstaking care, this strategy could cut the web of piracy quite a bit or atleast attempt to. Many such services are already available for new releases, however, their usage is scantily limited to a few privileged ones. Piracy is one of the biggest dents in a film's revenue and a common stimulant for piracy is that most people do not wish to shell out the extra bucks to go watch a movie that they are not completely sure about liking in a theater. The DTH service, through television, could possibly fill this gap and yet generate some extra revenue for the producers, which they otherwise may not necessarily get if they dont go for it. The question is, are the people putting in money into a film happy with the revenues they are generating? Eitherway, this is a long road of planning and execution which will need magnanimously efficient handling to put it into place and we will have to wait and watch if this can actually work out. There is also a risk of people avoiding theaters just to watch the film at home. 

The bottomline is that television does hold giant possibilities for the future of cinema and considering its outreach, it should not be disregarded at any cost. Fingers crossed. 

Some facts and figures in this post have been taken from Ormax Media statistics and www.shaileshkapoor.com, the official blog of the CEO of Ormax Media

Originally published at Mad About Moviez here.

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