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Home theatrics
Feb. 22--MUMBAI -- When Slumdog Millionaire showed on Tata Sky in February 2009, it got 1,52,883 pay per view requests in just three days from its subscribers. Kurbaan, currently running on Tata Sky, is doing very well in spite of having tanked in film theatres. It is running with other DTH services too. Wanted, a hit in theatres, was a hit on Tata Sky too. So was Kaminey, with 78,727 requests. What's Your Rashee got 75,027 requests. Tata Sky claims a subscriber base of 4.5 million.

Other DTH (direct-to-home) services have similar success stories to relate. Film producers are quickly turning to the DTH platform after the theatrical release of their films, as the additional revenue stream is starting to look attractive. With so many Bollywood films releasing every year, a film is off the theatre screen mostly within two or three weeks. After that, showing on DTH earns additional revenue.

Each subscriber view -- one household -- is priced at Rs 50-100 and sometimes, up to Rs 150. Sugato Banerji, chief marketing officer, Airtel Digital TV, says, "The pricing sweet spot is Rs 50, and in rural areas, Rs 49 is good. Take-up by subscribers changes dramatically at Rs 75, though some producers do insist on pricing high."

Salil Kapoor, COO, Dish TV, which claims a 6.5-million DTH subscriber base, says, "By the end of calendar 2010, the DTH subscriber base will touch 20 million and in three years, it should touch 45-50 million, given the current growth rate."

That's the kind of opportunity UTV Motion Pictures is seeing too in DTH. The film production company has been the most aggressive with the DTH platform, even releasing Mr and Mrs Khanna within three days of theatrical release. The average time gap between a film's theatre release and on DTH is four-to-six weeks, though several films have released just two weeks later.

Amrita Pandey, VP -- international distribution & syndication, UTV Motion Pictures, says, "The DTH subscriber numbers are growing consistently. In two years, DTH revenues could be 10 per cent of a film's total revenues. When our film Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye showed on DTH in November 2008, subscriber downloads were 50,000. Today, we're seeing 1,00,000 downloads, a 100 per cent jump. In revenue terms, theatres come first, then satellite TV, followed by home video. We see DTH becoming as important as home video soon."

While the DTH service providers do a lot of film promotion with subscribers, their biggest challenge is educating sub scribers. "Telling our subscribers how to buy a movie is a constant promotion for us, our biggest challenge," says Vikram Mehra, chief marketing officer, Tata Sky. When the customer understands that once paid for, a film can be accessed anytime in the day -- as it plays in several loops -- and any number of times, he or she is hooked, he adds.

Commenting on the attractiveness of viewing new films on DTH, he says, "There are some films you will definitely like to see in a theatre. But there are a huge number of releases you would be happy to watch at home, and the closer you get to see it to a theatre release, the more attractive it is."

In addition to the Bollywood releases, DTH companies are showing English, regional language, niche and foreign language films and non-film shows such as Michael Jackson's Bucharest Concert after his death --which did well -- and a Beyonce Knowles concert. Banerji says The Curious Case of Benjamin Button did well on Airtel Digital. Kapoor says the film must be a recent release, a classic hit or a good niche film to do well.

Advertisers are also beginning to look at new films on DTH with interest. Some have co-promoted films already. Dish TV is getting proactive, wanting to get in two-three advertisers per film, as there is only one break.

Pandey says, "Nowadays, the evolved studio model for film producers is to get your product on as many platforms as possible. The growing importance of DTH in this model is evident."

Kapoor adds: "We are a unique country that lives on films. Nobody can stop an idea whose time has come. Over the next two years, film producers will relaunch on DTH. We are a mass phenomenon."

The market buzz is that this week will see Ishqiya and Rann releasing on DTH.


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Million dollar question is will movies on DTH pose a threat to cinemas?
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