Shailesh Kapoor: Now Showing to Now Streaming… But where’s the Measurement?

17 Jul,2020

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Cinema theatres are indefinitely closed, and their re-opening is nowhere in sight either. Even as the country ‘unlocks’ while trying to manage a new Covid peak every week, enclosed public places like malls and cinema theatres are at the bottom of the reopen list for state governments. And unlike malls, which can open in different cities and states in a staggered manner and return to business at some stage, cinemas need to open in large parts of India for good content to release and the box office to start buzzing again. Even one city like Delhi or Mumbai not opening the cinemas is a bottleneck sizeable enough for studios to not release a big film.

 

What earlier seemed July or August is now October in the best case, with a definite possibility of further delay. Announcements of films releasing directly on streaming platforms have grabbed everyone’s attention. It started with Amazon Prime Video’s May announcement regarding Gulabo Sitabo and Shakuntala Devi. Earlier this month, Disney+ Hotstar announced its impressive movie slate, and this week, Netflix has added a few more names to the list.

 

There won’t be much else on offer, because besides the couple of big films that will wait for theatres to open, there is no other film content that’s fully shot already. Hence, the production bottleneck will now come into play. Hence, this week’s Netflix announcement may be the last major one on this topic.

 

It’s obviously a delightful position for the viewer to be in, getting to watch films (as also streaming shows) in a period when outdoor entertainment options are practically out-of-reach. This four-month period has increased the user base of the streaming category, and also aided more comfort with the use of technology among the more traditional audience. Many not even aware of streaming platforms till earlier this year and now using them like seasoned viewers.

 

The question, however, is: Can streaming platforms use this to their strategic advantage once things are back to normal in a few months? Which platforms are in the pole position to best reap long-term benefits from the acquisition of new audience?

 

This is where the lacuna in data comes in. Each platform knows its own numbers, and in far more detail than any TV broadcaster can ever hope to know theirs. But in the absence of any third-party viewership measurement, it becomes challenging to build a wider category view. A lot of attempts, most notably from BARC India (they announced the launch of their digital measurement system Ekam in 2017), have been made in this area. But it seems that more than the technology challenges, SVOD’s platforms low-perceived need for such a service is a major barrier. YouTube is anyway well-measured, and for a larger streaming measurement system to find its footing in India, it needs backing from all stakeholders, not just advertisers looking at the AVOD category outside YouTube and social media.

 

We will never fully know at a consolidated industry level how each of these several films performed. There have been issues regarding transparency of box-office data for years now. But the opaqueness of streaming viewership of films makes box-office data look a lot better than it ever did.

 

If a long-term ecosystem of direct-to-streaming films has to emerge in India, a parallel measurement system must find its way into the ecosystem too. But 2020 is definitely not the year when that’s happening.

 

 

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