There's a new wind blowing in Bollywood. The biggest production houses in India's prolific film industry have discovered a new hit formula, cashing in on the reach of television to squeeze additional revenues from blockbuster movies.
Big its such as Aamir Khan-starrer Talaash, Hrithik Roshan's Agneepath and Shah Rukh Khan's Don 2 made their so-called "television premiere" within two or three months of their release. In each case, the TV channel paid about R40 crore for the telecast rights - more than the budget of most Bollywood films.
"TV rights now account for 25-30% of a film's revenues," said Tanuj Garg, CEO, Balaji Motion Pictures, a big production house.
Earlier, producers were wary of selling television rights to movies till they had milked them dry in theatres. But rampant piracy and the resultant losses forced them into a rethink.
Jehil Thakkar, head, media and entertainment sector, KPMG India, feels a gap of one month between a film's box office release and its cable and satellite (television) release can help maximise revenues.
"A film earns usually 75-80% of its box office revenues within the first two weeks of release. After that, cinema screens are chasing new films. So why wait for two months or more for TV telecasts?" he asked.
Releasing a movie on television soon after it has completed its run in the theatres makes sense for producers. "The film is still fresh in people's minds; so it will do better in terms of viewership on television," said Hemal Jhavery, executive vice president and general manager, Star Gold and Movies OK.
Viewership figures bear out this claim. Big-budget film "premieres" on television garner television viewership ratings (TVRs) ranging from 5% to 10% (the percentage of switched-on audience watching a show at a particular time). Two recent Ajay Devgn films, Singham and Son of Sardar, had TVRs of 8.7% and 5.1%, respectively, said Jhavery.
The cable and satellite rights for Salman Khan-starrer Dabangg 2 were sold to the Star Network for R50 crore, added Thakkar.
While it is true that all broadcasters would prefer to chase big-ticket films or films with big stars, Garg pointed out that different channels have different parameters for selecting particular films.
"They are careful about their choices, but everyone is competing for the big actors. Beyond that, successful film franchises with sequels and prequels are in high demand from TV viewers. In India, these have done better than the original films," he said.
Notably, the small-screen trend has coincided with the increasing corporatisation of the movie business in India. With real companies, not ad-hoc banners, running the industry, black money deals - long the bane of Bollywood -- are on the wane.