Regular-article-logo Monday, 05 June 2023

Net Gain

Read more below


On November 9, 2006, at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai, Steve Ballmer, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Microsoft, inaugurated the revamped website of Yash Raj Films (YRF). At another place on the same day, Sooraj Barjatya of Rajshri Productions was about to launch his film Vivaah.

These two events may seem like regular filmy dos, quite disconnected with each other, but they were not. While Yash Raj Films announced online that music could be downloaded from its website, Vivaah became the first Hindi movie to have a simultaneous release on the Internet.

Says Rajjat A. Barjatya, managing director, Rajshri Media: “There are two reasons for our new step. First, we wish to cater to non-resident Indians as well as non-Indians who are interested in Bollywood films. And second, this will make a beginning in providing rich content through new media.”

Sanjeev Kohli, chief executive officer, Yash Raj Films, says that online downloads of music gives the company the freedom to exploit the music in tandem with its forthcoming films.

Industry watchers and analysts call this the harbinger of a major change in the Hindi film industry.

Timmy Kandhari, head, entertainment and media practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers, feels that by venturing into the Internet, Yash Raj Films and Rajshri Productions have expanded their audiences to reach people who don’t have access to these films in theatres. “Today, if one is unable to watch a Hindi film, the only options available are pirated compact discs (CD), the local cable operator, or the official DVD. But now the consumer will be able to order a legal print, for which he’ll pay a reasonable sum, and which will come on to his screen directly after the release of the film,” says Kandhari.

Q. Who can download songs and movies? Only NRIs or resident Indians too?
A. Songs and movies can be downloaded by both resident Indians and NRIs as long as they have valid credit cards to make the payment.

Q. How much will this cost?
A. A movie download costs $9.99 (approximately Rs 446) on the Rajshri website. The songs on the Yash Raj website cost between Rs 20 per song and Rs 135 for the whole album.

Q. How do you download movies?
A. For downloading movies, the website asks you to register and after the confirmation of your
card payment, you are allowed to download.

Obviously, the Indian diaspora is a major reason why film producers are interested in making their movies available online. Over 20 million Indians reside in the Middle East, Europe and the United States of America. They are keen to watch Hindi films but are often unable to because many of these films are not released in theatres in places where they stay. As Barjatya points out, it is not possible to release films in theatres in every country because the cost of a print is prohibitive. So all this while, producers have been striking deals with companies like Soundbuzz or iTunes through which the songs and films were made available to a worldwide audience.

But now with Rajshri and Yash Raj taking the first tentative steps towards providing online downloads, the picture may become very different. Kandhari feels that by allowing songs to be downloaded, these companies have eliminated middlemen to a large extent, thereby saving the commission that they would have otherwise had to pay to these music companies.

A critical aspect of online downloads of films and music is, of course, the digital rights management of the content. Microsoft India, along with some other software companies, has been at the forefront in the area of digital rights management. Says Krishna Prasad, head of programming, Windows Live, MSN India: “One of the biggest problems when it comes to entertainment is the protection of content. This is what kept many film companies away from going online.”

Effective digital rights management helps companies decide what they wish the viewer to see and how much. For example, if you want to download tracks from the YRF website, you have to download a particular software. As soon as the customer’s credit card is charged for a digital download sale, the licence file for the track purchased is delivered to his computer and the audio file gets decrypted and starts playing via Windows Media Player. The licences are valid for anywhere between one and three days, after which the file gets automatically deleted from the system, adds Prasad. This leaves little scope for copying the files or sharing it among friends. The business model revolves around the number of downloads.

Rajshri is following two models of online downloads. In the streaming model, a number of films, documentaries and songs are available for free viewing. A user with a fast broadband connection can view them instantly. The other is the pay-and-view model where Vivaah is available for download for $9.99 and so are other films from the Rajshri stable for a fee of anywhere between $3 and $7. Yash Raj Films currently allows only audio downloads. According to Kohli, at present YRF is the only production house that no longer gives its music and home entertainment rights to other labels. That’s because these are now exploited directly by it. Says Barjatya, “Even if two per cent of the estimated worldwide market download from our site, we would consider it successful.”

Right now, few case studies are available, although analysts claim that the West has seen revenues increase considerably after going the digital way. Naturally, Indian production houses are keeping a close look on exactly how profitable getting into the online download business will be. Companies like UTV and Adlabs films are said to be considering this option in the near future. Says Siddharth Roy Kapur, senior vice president-marketing and communication, UTV, “We have to monetise our content in one way or the other. The digital download seems to be a good way of doing it. This will definitely add to our revenues.”

With Hindi films beginning to tap the potential of the Internet, a day may come when watching a Hindi potboiler on the Internet may be as common as tuning into a movie on television.

Follow us on: