Sandalwood: Going digital?

Vedant looks at the revolution that Digital platforms are bringing to Sandalwood.

Films have seen a huge growth in last few decades. Two decades ago, the only source of income for a film producer was theatrical box office collections. Later producers started to earn from music rights as well. Almost a decade ago, terrestrial rights became a source of income. With the revenue sources increasing, producers were more than willing to invest more in Kannada films. And now another revenue stream has added to the incentives for film production - digital platform rights.

From past two years, foreign players Amazon and Netflix are barrelling into the entertainment business in the world’s second-most populous country, investing millions of dollars to develop Indian series that they hope will make this their next big growth market. Both companies have big budgets, aggressive marketing and growing libraries of Indian content; Amazon has secured the TV rights to Bollywood megastar Salman Khan’s movies, while Netflix won global streaming rights for movies produced by another A-lister, Shah Rukh Khan as well as Aamir Khan. They have also tied up with popular production houses and have exclusive deals with them. They also came down and purchased films in Tamil and Telugu.

And now Kannada films are also being purchased. Amazon Prime purchased its first ever Kannada film earlier this year. Amazon Prime Video premiered the Kannada comedy blockbuster “Humble Politician Nograj” digitally starting February 9 soon after its theatre release. Pushkara Mallikarjunaiah, who can be called as one of the innovative producers in Sandalwood worked very hard to get his film “Humble Politican Nograj” on Amazon. Even before the release of the film, he had meeting with Amazon officials and then sealed the deal. And now “Humble Politican Nograj” is one of the most watched films ever on Amazon Prime the video arm of the Ecommerce giant.

Pushkara is hopeful of many Kannada films premiering on this platform. He has not revealed the price at which the film was sold, but is hopeful that in future he will earn big on this platform.

Before Amazon, it was Netflix, which started to acquire Kannada films. Netflix is extremely choosy. Pawan Kumar’s “U-Turn” became the first Kannada film to be released on Netflix worldwide two years ago. Pawan, who is known for directing unique films had earlier attempted to get Netflix to host his debut film “Lifeu Ishtene”, but failed. However four years ago, he was successful.

Netflix has also purchased Kannada films like “Ondu Motteya Kathe”, “The Plan”, “Kahi”, “Shuddhi” and “Thithi”. The exact amount given to acquire these films may not be huge. But over a period of time, producers expect more revenue.

The biggest advantage of these platforms is that people from across the world can watch Kannada films. Sajjan, director of Kannada film “Mantram” said, “I feel this is a great platform. It is very difficult to get screens for Kannada films. Satellite rights of Kannada films are also not being sold at a great price. Platforms like these are very good. As a director, I am forced to work only on certain genres as people pay to watch certain genres in theatres. But that is not the case here. I can have more creativity now. People from across the world can watch films of any language due to English subtitles. I am a member of Amazon Prime and I have ended up watching many Bengali as well as Marathi films. English subtitles have broken the barrier. These platforms are a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

However not all Kannada films are being purchased by Amazon and Netflix. The reason for this is an exclusivity clause by TV channels. Terrestrial rights are still one of the biggest revenue streams for Kannada films. When channels buy the film, they also take the digital rights and stream the film over their own App. For instance Udaya TV have their own app Sun Nxt, Zee Kannada has Zee5 and Suvarna has Hotstar.
Commenting on this trend, M G Srinivas, actor and director said, “Most of the Kannada film producers are not aware of the advantages of these platforms. They end up getting much less than their due when they sell all rights to channels. If a producer splits up the rights and only sells his terrestrial rights, then it will be advantageous to him. Amazon Prime and Netflix are the next big thing.

For recent Salman Khan starrer film, it is said that Amazon Prime paid Rs 60 crores! Just imagine if Kannada films get even 25 percent of this. I see a great future for these platforms. Everything is on mobile nowadays. Therefore it is my sincere request to all producers to sell digital rights of their films on these platforms. I will also be trying to pitch my film “Birbal” to these platforms soon.”

These platforms seem to be a win-win situation for everyone. Customers are also gaining a lot. Dhruva, a Kannadiga, who is based in Rajkot said, “It is a great option for customers. I am based in Rajkot in Gujarat now, where Kannada films are not at all released. I am a huge fan of Kannada films. I missed watching Kannada films. Luckily due to Netflix I have watched many Kannada films in last one month. I also watched “Humble Politician Nograj” on Amazon Prime. The subscription fees of these platforms are very affordable. I hope to see more Kannada films on these platforms in future”.

The subscribers of Amazon as well Netflix are seeing an increase on daily basis. If we see the subscription fee, Amazon Prime charges Rs 999 per year. This also includes access early deliver to customers on their shopping website. On the other charges of Netflix is on higher side. They are charging Rs 6000 per year. But for the entertainment, which they give, the prices are not so high.

It is not only films, even web series on these platforms may be huge. We have seen popular Bollywood actors like Saif Ali Khan and Madhavan in web series on Netflix and Amazon Prime respectively. Production houses like Dharma Productions, Excel Entertainment and Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies are also producing web series in Hindi. And it will not be long before we see Kannada web series too on these platforms.
A popular director, who wants to remain anonymous is working on a Kannada web series and is trying to convince Amazon Prime to showcase his web series. He has done a lot of ground work and has worked on the script as well as financial modalities. We can soon expect an official announcement regarding this. The web series will also feature popular Kannada actors as well as technicians and will be exclusive only for the digital platform. It looks like the film producers can now rest assured about outcomes and income.

But one thing everyone must remember is that Content is King. If the content is good, the producer can survive and reap benefits. With poor content, digital rights also cannot save producers. Therefore a good product is a must.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.