Value additions to justify pay-per-view on streaming

I have been writing a lot about the ways the movie-watching (and consequently the movie-distribution) experience since early this year.

Before the pandemic hit the world, I explored the possibility of certain kinds of films reserved for the OTT/home experience and certain others for the big screen experience.

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

In March, just as the pandemic had set in, but before the lockdowns were enforced and before the Janata Curfew was announced for March 22, I had explored the potential changes that the pandemic may unleash upon us in multiple areas of life. One of them was around the movie-watching experience and movie distribution ecosystem.

See: Habit-forming. Habit-changing. In a post-coronavirus world

In May, I explored the scenario around the pay-per-view option for new movies’ release on OTT and made a case for why this option makes the most sense, even though current market conditions are completely unsuited for this option. I had also added an extensive note on ways producers and platforms could kick-start the pay-per-view habit through tie-ups with other brands that could subsidize the cost.

See: Inculcating the pay-per-view habit for new movies on OTT in India

In October, while exploring the larger trend around ‘renting’, I looked at movie renting too, via digital titles we rent on online platforms.

See: Own, stream, rent

Why this introduction? Because Warner Bros has announced that they would release all their upcoming films on 2 platforms simultaneously – theaters (wherever they are open!) and on HBO Max, their own OTT platform! This includes films like Wonder Woman 1984, The Matrix 4, Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ remake, a remake of Tom and Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, ‘Mortal Kombat’ and more!

Films like Wonder Woman 1984 and Dune (remake) are primarily big-screen spectacles and are very, very expensive films to produce. For Warner Bros to release them on OTT, that too without the pay-per-view model means only one thing – that they want to write-off 2021’s slate of films as an investment to massively build the subscriber base for their own OTT platform. At least 2021’s slate, that is. This is a very clever strategy because the visibility of so many big-ticket films is a fairly compelling reason for new viewers to subscribe to the platform, at least for a year.

In comparison, Netflix, besides investing in buying films, primarily depends on their shows to create a similar aura.

But I strongly believe these are still interim models in the movie distribution process because the audience’s propensity to pay for individual titles, as exploited wonderfully in the theatrical release model, remains completely unexplored when there is no pay-per-view option on streaming platforms. That means the movie budgets get severely affected and remain at the mercy of platforms’ ability to raise money to acquire new titles even as the audiences are paying the platforms flat fee per month/year.

The main contention against pay-per-view is that people are already getting used to (or used to) the rhythm of NOT paying for individual films because of the current OTT platform’s fee model and hence will not take to paying for movies individually.

Given this premise, let me extrapolate the potential of pay-per-view from the angle of consumers/viewers. What could make people pay for individual titles when they are released on the same day as theaters (or directly release only one, completely shunning theatrical release)?

1. Enhancing the movie delivery experience
Most theaters started a lot more per title because of 3D. Many new Hollywood movies release in 3D in the opening weeks extensively (relegating 2D to dubbed versions and distant, smaller theaters) in large, well-known multiplexes and most of us did not have any choice by to endure 3D versions, no matter if the film is suited for it or not. The ticket price too goes up for 3D. Theater chains invested in 3D projection and that’s another reason for higher ticket prices – to recoup the cost.

If TV manufacturers go big on 3D TVs (or, in conjunction with audio and equipment manufacturers, add the dimension to add more sensory effects – seat movement, smell, etc.), movies could be released on a higher-priced pay-per-view for the xD (3D or more Ds) versions while the normal version could stream without pay-per-view.

This is an ecosystem-building effort that needs cooperation from multiple players and that’s a massive opportunity. Seating equipment manufacturers, smell/fragrance inducing mechanism (an ongoing space for research), 3D TV manufacturing, audio enhancement players… a lot of interesting possibilities could build this ecosystem. The lowest hanging fruit seems to be 3D TVs and 3D films made available exclusively via pay-per-view.

Eventually, other modes like virtual reality could make for highly immersive movie-watching experiences even at our homes and platforms or producers could charge a premium for delivering such experiences in movies made to exploit such advancements, even as the normal versions of such movies could be available without the pay-per-view model.

2. Enhanced value-additions
Even if movies are streamed directly via OTT platforms, to make them viable for pay-per-view, producers perhaps need to think of the value being provided beyond simply streaming the film. What could tip the scale for a user to decide on the pay-per-view option?

How about virtual interactions with the stars and crew of the film, before or after the movie-watching experience? If they could be arranged as part of the pre-release promotions, the pay-per-view price of the ticket could include, for example:
watching the film exclusively on the day of the release
+ the film staying available for multiple viewings for an extra period (say 2 weeks?)
+ virtual interactions with select stars and crew that the user could join on video conferencing (assorted time slots)
+ post-watching discussion with director/crew via video conferencing

The virtual interaction with the stars could be a hugely tantalizing offer to Indian film fans who are usually besotted with their reel stars and could sell the ‘ticket’ a lot more feasibly than just watching the film.

3. Merging online with offline
I had recently written about events adapting to the new online video conferencing model but also adding some offline elements to bring physical artefacts into the life (and homes) of participants. This is particularly useful when event producers have to charge a fee for participation – having something physically in hand could seem to offer better value for the pay than a purely digital delivery of event experience that is limited by the equipment at the participant’s home.

The opportunity to add physical elements to streaming movies is limited only by our imagination.

For instance, a significant aspect (and cost) of our multiplex experience is food! Could producers or OTT platforms tie-up with food industry players and delivery partners to orchestrate a movie + food combined experience? How about a pay-per-view option on streaming where you pay for,
watching the film exclusively on the day of the release
+ the film staying available for multiple viewings for an extra period (say 2 weeks?)
+ special popcorn tubs delivered 30 minutes before a scheduled time
OR + special custom-made food (dinner/lunch) delivered to viewers’ homes coordinated with food delivery platforms

What other physical elements could be home-delivered? How about movie merchandise? If you opt for pay-per-view, you get streaming access to the film:
miniature versions of the gorilla from the film
OR + digital coupon to buy the film’s original soundtrack on a music streaming platform
OR + cap/t-shirt/bandana bearing the movie’s characters
OR + special movie-themed McDonald’s Happy Meal coupons

If platforms and producers start thinking creatively about home-delivering a physical artefact to create a perception of ‘value’ for the pay-per-view fee, there is a lot they can come up with. The delivered-at-home ecosystem is so robust now that everything from services (hairstyle modeled on the movie’s stars? Signature massage that the film’s star loves?) to products could be added to the roster to add ‘value’.


The need to offer ‘extra’ value is only if (and because) people inherently are hesitant to pay-per-view on OTT streaming because they are ‘used to’ an unlimited bouquet of content that they pay only per month or per year. If many platforms enforce pay-per-view together, they can change the movie distribution business forever.

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