Big to small screen: Who benefits the most?

08 Jan,2013


By Kshama Rao

with inputs from Ananya Saha


When Sridevi’s English lessons premiered on Zee Cinema, the channel organized a press meet, probably the first time for a television premiere. Viewers eagerly awaited the arrival of Shashi Godbole in their living rooms. One of them, 67-year-old Shailaja Velankar, told her family to not bother her with housework or unnecessary phone calls during the film’s telecast. “I couldn’t watch the film in a theatre though most of my friends saw it,” she rues, adding, “Old age and weak knees make it impossible to go to a theatre these days. I normally don’t get excited by a movie screening but I heard and read good things about the film and Sridevi’s performance, so had to watch it.”


Today, movie channels bring the best of Bollywood, Hollywood and dubbed south Indian films into our drawing rooms. Long before a film hits the theatres, its producers strike lucrative satellite deals with channels. Sometimes a producer sells one film or three (called a bouquet) at a time for a great fee and in all probability recovers most of his investment though these days channels prefer to wait and watch the film’s performance at the box-office before signing on the dotted line. Says an industry insider, a Zee TV-UTV deal on Joker, Barfi! and Heroine fell through when the former wanted to renegotiate after Joker’s damp b-o performance. Result: while they had to honour their commitment to airing Joker, they had to let go of Barfi! and Heroine. Today, satellite rights are an integral part of movie-selling and according to industry sources, big production houses have already begun to do away with liaising agencies and middlemen as they cut deals directly with the channels that benefit both the parties. “The idea is to sell three small films on the strength of one big film. For instance, a big ticket, big star film helps a production house to sell their smaller, average-business films too at a decent price,” says a source.


Meanwhile, what happens after a film is sold to a channel? For how many years can a channel run it and milk it to its maximum? What are the dos and don’ts a channel follows after it buys a film? And what happens when the law of diminishing returns work, when a film dips after repeated airings? Vivek Sethi, Director, Primetime Communications noted, “The network buys a movie simply from commercial aspect. The channels acquire movies knowing well how much they can milk it for the network. They usually show it till the ratings keep pouring in. Filmy, as a channel, might not be doing good but as soon as Khosla Ka Ghosla is shown, ratings do shoot up.”


A film is generally acquired for three to five years though Zee TV doesn’t settle for a contract anywhere between seven to 60 years. Once the film is sold, it can be run as many times as the channel wants it too. Says Neeraj Vyas, Executive Vice President and Business Head, Max and Sony Mix, “Well, the idea is to preserve the movie for the longest time possible once you acquire it. You need to know the market well, your viewership well enough to not kill a movie. No one repeats their movies in shorter intervals. The idea is to always increase the life span of a movie you have paid for so dearly and keep the library alive and kicking.


“Movies like Ghajini and Jab We Met are great for TV but because they were sold across networks and shown repeatedly, their value did decrease as also it affected the ratings. Though we are extremely buoyant and bullish about the ratings we will get for Rowdy Rathore. It’s been a few weeks we haven’t got the TRPs but when we do, we are it would set a new record on TV.”


Mr Vyas says the deal is always done for the network and not necessarily the movies-only channel, SET Max. “You acquire it for your network. It can then premiere on either Sony or Max. You have to gauge the market of a film, its potential and schedule it accordingly like putting it up around a big occasion, a festival etc.” Or when a rival channel is launching a new show? For instance, tonight as EV plays on Zee Cinema, the fifth edition of Nach Baliye launches on Star Plus. A media planner not wishing to be named said, “Colors or other GEC’s if they have decided to buy inventory, they typically think of GRPs. If I am number one channel, then i am claim in the market that i am number one, and give me the rights. Secondly, typically if a low-budget movie was shown on more than one channel of a group like a Zee and then Zee Movies, then they get a group advantage.”


Says Jayantilal Gada, CMD, Pen India Pvt Ltd (the exclusive agency for Zee Network movie business), “The reason we picked up English Vinglish is because we were confident of the film, the content is just right for our channel. It has the potential to draw in the audience even after seven years! Two hundred films release in Bollywood every year. Out of those, 40 are pre-sold and 160 after its release depending on how they have fared at the box-office. The deals vary from film to film, no one formula applies to all. Before we buy a film, we consider three factors, the set-up, the release date of the film in theatres and the approximate time when we will get the film to run. Earlier, we had to wait for at least a year or two after its release to show it on TV but these days within months we get it. A lot has changed in the satellite rights business in the last 20 years. Today, for instance, a Salman Khan film sees not a 10 or 20 per cent rise in the pricing but a 100 per cent hike!”


He adds, “With Zee, we are sure we don’t want any adult films as we have always been a family channel. Also, a premiere is always on Zee Cinema, our movie channel, and not Zee, our GEC.” But wasn’t the Hrithik Roshan-starrer Agneepath which premiered a few months ago on Zee Cinema too violent for the taste of a family audience? “Well, Sholay when it was released in 1975 was considered violent and Agneepath is today’s Sholay!”


Mr Gada says while the presence of a film star may be crucial for its opening weekend, on TV there are no such worries. “The content is important. For instance, Ajay Devgn’s Singham will do better than his Rascals or an Ek Tha Tiger might bring in more ratings than a Bodyguard. A 3 Idiots never fails to get the audience. The initial rating is important but woh film agli baar kitna rating laayegi doesn’t really matter.”


Which genres work better? Which stars are the audience-pullers? Looking at what’s played today ad nauseam – be it Ready, Rowdy Rathore, Dabangg, Singham, Golmaal, 3 Idiots, it looks like comedy and action work better. “Absolutely! Comedy and action fare extremely well. Salman is right up there though everyone is stacked up more or less the same way on the movie charts. The idea is to pick popular films. Having said that, a Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara may have been critically acclaimed and done well in the theatres but it has not done necessarily well on TV because the ratings come in largely from the people in the interiors and they may not identify with the sensibility of the movie. A Rowdy Rathore, for instance, is expected to cut across all markets, especially the interiors,” says Mr Vyas.


Even adult films are a no-no. Says a source wryly, “Actually, except for the Bhatts and Balaji Telefilms, the no-showing of adult films makes no difference to any producer! The Dirty Picture had to suffer severely, first when its premiere was called off by Sony and later when it showed but with massive cuts! The I & B Ministry and the Censor Board are working towards making it mandatory for adult films to be shown after 11 pm and if that happens, then the channel might as well not touch the movie!”


Coming to dubbed films, the channels say that they are largely used as fillers. “They are not the TRP drivers. If you get the feeling that movies like Don No 1, The Super Khiladi, Tapori Wanted, Pratighat The Revenge, which is the original Rowdy Rathore, are being repeatedly shown then it’s because south films more or less follow the same template of maar-dhaad and blood-curdling violence. And the dubbed lines which sound extremely funny are actually a hit with children!” says a channel spokesperson on the condition of anonymity.


Last but not the least, what’s the deal with the sponsors? Is it just for the premiere and is a new deal struck every time a movie is aired? Says Mr Vyas, “Deals keep changing with every movie, every run. If the sponsors have tied up only for the premiere, then there is a premium to pay but if it’s a package of other activities on the channel they have signed up for, then it’s a different deal.”


“If as an advertiser, the movie has relevance to my target audience or brand ambassadors like a Katrina Kaif or Hrithik Roshan, they will definitely advertise no matter on which channel it is airing. Secondly, the FMCG has to put money on the big movies being aired because it is competition to them. So there is no additional incremental rate for that. Usually the channels set a benchmark, for example Rs 20-30,000 for a 10-second spot in English Vinglish and Rs 1-1.25 lakh for Dabanng, apart from sponsorship and associate sponsorships. They definitely get their revenues. They might get higher revenue for a Dabanng compared to English Vinglish because of the star cast, and also because movies like Dabanng do well in the North belt,” noted another Delhi-based media planner. All said and done, movies on TV keep everyone happy – the producer who recovers part of his investment, the channel who fetches ratings and a bit of ‘glamour’ as it picks exclusive films, and the viewer who need not watch all the films in the theatre any more, given the expensive movie tickets and rising F & B costs.


Says a source, who brokers deals between channels and producers, “Today channels have deeper pockets. Earlier this year, Star TV bought 500 titles from the Colors library for Rs 400 crore! It was a win-win situation as Star got some great films while Colors got Star to monetize some of its content and ease its debts.” Now with Star TV picking up Dabangg 2 for a reported Rs 35-40 crore and Kamal Haasan looking at releasing his bi-lingual 90-crore magnum opus Vishwaroopam on DTH first, things are only looking brighter and bigger for the satellite TV market.


By the way, stock up on the popcorn, dim the lights, coordinate your loo visits with the ad breaks… because the film is about to begin.


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