Content is the king and number game doesn't matter — that was the common perception about OTT space until the makers of Salman Khan's Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai recently released the official approximate figures.
According to them, 4.2 million viewers watched the film on a pay-per-view platform on the first day of its hybrid release (theatrical worldwide and digitally in India). Does this mean future direct-to-OTT or hybrid releases might also start releasing the revenue from online releases, making them new box office collections?
Trade analyst Taran Adarsh says the makers should release actual revenue instead of viewers. "I'm talking in general and not about Radhe in particular. When a film releases in theatres, numbers are out in the public domain the next day after Friday. Instead of mentioning how many people viewed it, it'd be great if people could share the revenue; that would give more clarity and we'll know where a film stands and how a particular film has fared on a streaming platform," he explains.
Director Anurag Basu, whose Ludo released on the web last year, says it's up to the makers if they want to do so as there's no barometer that exists to declare whether a film on this medium is a success or a failure.
"We only get to know through reactions. Mujhe bhi nahi samajh raha tha jab Ludo release hui, ki film hit hai ya flop. I feel filmmakers should keep that aside, and see how, over a period of time, people are responding to the film — maybe through memes based on it, or videos becoming viral. That's the only sign one should look for," he says.
DIFFERENT SUBSCRIPTION MODELS
Radhe was a rare example of a big film releasing in the pay-per-view model. Shibasish Sarkar, CEO, Reliance Entertainment, which produced the direct-to-OTT The Girl On The Train starring Parineeti Chopra, explains the different OTT models.
"Whether people will start talking about numbers or not, is in the future. Worldwide, platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime don't give out numbers, they are subscription-based platforms. Even producers can't get that data for their own films, maybe an estimate after a few months. What happened in Radhe's case was Zee acquired the content, and at the same time, it released it on their own platform," he says, calling that a Transactional Video On Demand (TVOD), where viewers had to pay ₹249 each for viewing on a single account.
And Sarkar shares how TVODs do release such data worldwide. "So, if more films go the TVOD way, it won't be a surprise that people start talking about transactional numbers," he adds.
NO WAY TO VERIFY
Pointing out how this will soon become the trend, trade expert Atul Mohan says releasing numbers is all about creating hype and perception.
"In the last few years, makers and actors were disclosing opening day number, which would create hype. People would think, 'Itne logon ne dekha, we should also watch'. This is how you play on the psychology of the audience, tempting them to come and watch the film," he explains.
In fact, Mohan adds that when it was only about box office numbers, there was freedom to verify and cross check, which isn't the case with online releases.
He elaborates, "We had our team across India for box office collections; they''d tell us by talking to theatre owners and on the basis of the rapport we shared with producers. We'd then tabulate it." But in case of the web, adds Mohan, one is at liberty.
"If for example Amazon says a film was watched by 50 million people, nobody can challenge that... there's no way to cross check. You can manipulate (these numbers) at your own convenience though I'm not challenging what Zee has said for Radhe," Mohan states.
PEOPLE GET SWAYED
Explaining how views don't mean collections, director Hansal Mehta, whose film Chhalaang released on OTT in 2020, says we don't know how many people actually paid to watch Radhe, as one person could pay the amount and watch with five other people too.
"If you divide the 4.2 million figure to one fourth — which is a million people — it'd come out to be around 10 lakh people and ₹25 crore. Is that a good opening figure for a Salman Khan film?" asks Mehta, adding, "So, the number game isn't applicable, as the product is available to stream for a much longer time online. It isn't as if something isn't working, so they remove the film on weekends."
However, the filmmaker admits that people will be swayed by such numbers, as even common people had started talking about box office figures till theatres were shut down due to the pandemic.
"To some extent, blind bhakts will be swayed by anything. Ultimately, the audience should be happy with the product. I've always believed that collections of a film is between the producers and people who've made it. For the audience, it's only about entertainment. We've made our collections into a source of entertainment for them, just because people are trying to prove they are bigger stars," explains Mehta.