Movie-watching: from a group experience to home/mobile experience

Recently, I have seen several Malayalam films on OTT channels like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Zee5. While watching the Malayalam film Android Kunjappan Ver.5.25 on Prime Video recently, a thought struck me.

The film was running in theaters in Bengaluru recently and I didn’t feel compelled to see it there. But we, as a family, made it a point to watch Avengers End Game in the theaters. Ditto for 2.0. Or Baahubali.

Increasingly, it doesn’t make much sense to watch films that aren’t primarily meant for a big-screen experience in a theater given the many things associated – traffic, parking, cost of eatables and the sheer time it all takes. Even on Netflix, I caught up with both The Irishman and Marriage Story recently and felt they were meant for the home-watching experience. But a 6 Underground on Netflix is perhaps meant for the big screen, with all the mayhem unleashed amidst booming sound.

When there was no streaming, we didn’t have any option but to watch all movies in theaters. The theater experience itself has evolved significantly, with far better acoustics and visual technology, though with this thoroughly annoying default 3D for every big Hollywood film. But only a few films are ambitious enough, both budget-wise and plot-wise to make full use of such technology.

Watching an Android Kunjappan (Prime) or Sigappu Manjal Pachai (Sun NXT) or Judgementall Hai Kya (Zee5) in a theater seems like a stretch, though I loved these films. It’s just that the amount of love I show these films (in hindsight) doesn’t seem proportionate to the effort required to watch them in a theater. If I didn’t like them, the annoyance would be 10x.

The film industry should perhaps drop this debate and pretense on theaters vs. streaming and understand that if you need to exploit superior technology offered by theaters, make an appropriately BIG film that the audience would feel compelled to come to the theater to get their money’s and—most importantly—effort’s worth.

And there can be a steady stream of (pun unintended) films that go directly to the OTT circuit, but after sorting the economics of it to enable more and more people to make such films. For instance, pay-per-view for brand new films that may release in both theaters and on streaming, on the same day. After all, we are paying per view even in theaters.

Even Tata Sky has a pay-per-view option, so it’s not as if a Netflix or a Prime Video won’t be able to support pay-per-view. All OTT platforms already have a direct relationship with end-users, including a direct payment method. To select a brand new movie, pay an amount to get the privilege of watching it at our homes for say, Rs. 100… doesn’t seem like a really big deal-breaker. It may be a deal-breaker for the theater circuit that still imposes a 30 to 60-day window before a film can be streamed.

But I presume it may be a matter of time before the average-to-poor theaters go out of business automatically and letting only the high-end theaters (multiplexes, of course) stay in business as the last vestiges of film distribution done the old-fashioned way.

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