Cartelisation in the OTT space is dangerous: Siddharth Anand Kumar

Saregama India Vice President - Films & Events Siddharth Anand Kumar talks about the worrying trend of a handful of OTT players determining the value producers get for their content

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Updated: May 12, 2021 12:00 PM
Siddharth Anand Kumar

The rise of over the top (OTT) as an alternative content consumption platform has given rise to new challenges in the content industry. In the last few years, OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, and ZEE5 have been splurging money to acquire movie rights so much so that the value of satellite rights has lost sheen.

While this has been a boon for some content production companies it has also become a challenge for independent filmmakers and content producers. Thanks to aggressive investments, certain platforms have acquired the lion’s share of the OTT market. Due to their relative strength, these platforms are now able to determine the value that a producer will get for their content.
Saregama India Vice President - Films & Events Siddharth Anand Kumar calls it cartelisation where few strong OTT platforms are calling the shots. Saregama has a studio business called Yoodlee Films which produces content and sells it to the OTT platforms. It has so far produced 14 feature films in the last four years since 2017 and has sold some of these films to platforms like Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, and ZEE5.

“The cartelisation in the OTT space is dangerous. If I made a film there are only a few places where I can go to sell a film. There is Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, and ZEE5,” Kumar said.

Amazon Prime Video, he said, only buys theatrical films while Netflix buys direct-to-digital films to a large extent. Disney+ Hotstar buys star-heavy large films as they believe in star value. He further added that ZEE5 is focussing more on web series and the focus on feature films will go down. SonyLIV bought a few films in the middle of the pandemic and after that went silent. Kumar noted that Voot has sporadically released a few shows.

“Earlier, I could make a good film and take it to the public and the public gives you a verdict. Now you can create a bigger demand and bigger premium from OTT platforms and cable & satellite. When you lose the barometer of theatre release you start to get very strange things in pricing because of this cartelisation. Sometimes, you might see a very big upswing which happened last year but this year the platforms are wary of it because they have not seen the returns on their investments,” he elaborated.

Speaking about the impact of pandemic on the content business, Kumar said that the OTT platforms went into an acquisition overdrive as there was a large audience that was waiting to be served while the content availability was very low. Film producers who were not able to release their films in theatres due to lockdown found a saviour in OTT platforms who were all too willing to release films directly on digital.

“What happened early during the pandemic when the lockdown was imposed is that a lot of OTT platforms started feeling nervous about a large audience sitting there and not having enough material to serve. At that point, we were able to get better deals for our films going to OTT platforms than we otherwise would have,” Kumar stated.

He also said that the second Covid-19 wave is having a far bigger impact on the content business than the first wave when things came back on track by June. The content budgets have gone up during the pandemic due to the protocols that production houses have to follow.

“Yoodlee has been in the business for the last four years since 2017 and in that time, we have released 14 feature films. We have maintained our strike rate and productivity. It's a decent thing that we have managed despite the budgets going up,” Kumar stated.

The state-level lockdowns have impacted the content plans of OTT platforms. With Yoodlee having orders for two series and 3-4 feature films, Kumar is worried that the execution of these projects will be a big challenge.

“We did very well in the pandemic. Now it comes to execution this year which is looking hard. The second Covid wave is very different from the first. This year I am more worried. I am worried about the impact it will have on productivity and our ability to deliver,” Kumar said.

He reckons that the mismatch in demand and supply will once again lead to price inflation. Yoodlee is looking at marginal gains since it mainly produces medium and small-budget films. “The prices for ready content will again rise up and I have 2-3 ready movies which we finished over the last year. We might be able to get better deals on those but those are marginal upsides. Those are not large upsides.”

Lately, the content studios have also come under pressure to add more star power to the web shows. “We used to make ultra-small movies but we have stopped doing that because the entire OTT industry is looking at more and more of star value. It's an unfortunate consequence of the need to increase the subscriber base. The platforms also want to get better-known faces in the product which makes the prices rise up,” he stated.

Yoodlee Films has a Marathi film called 'Zombivli' which ready for a theatrical release. However, the studio will hold the movie till theatres are fully operational. “Each company has its own way of doing business and each company has its strengths in cash flows. For a company such as ours having one small regional film in our inventory is not such a big deal and it is possible to hold especially given the fact that 95% of our business is direct to OTT. So, we don't get affected. Also, the concept of Zombie comedy film in Marathi is unique enough that it doesn't get dated,” Kumar noted.

In 2021, Yoodlee will focus on taking pre-determined orders and making series for OTT platforms besides building a portfolio of regional films for 2022. “What we will do this year is start preparing for 2022 by which time we are pretty assured that the traffic jam in the theatre will be over as weaker hands would go direct-to-digital and the fear factor would have decreased as more people get vaccinated. We are going to concentrate on building a portfolio of regional films for next year with certain licence value prefixed with OTT platforms.”

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