With as many as 200 films still waiting (over the last three years) to sell their satellite rights to broadcasters, the dream run seems to have ended.
With a massive viewership at its disposal and broadcasters willing to shell out megabucks to buy satellite rights, television has always been the most important source of earning non-theatrical revenues for film producers. But in the last three years, more than 200 films including biggies like Barfi!, Heroine and Teri Meri Kahaani have not seen a television premiere due to several reasons. Jayantilal Gada, CMD, Pen India Pvt Ltd., who handles acquisition for Zee Network that bought only Agneepath and English Vinglish last year, says, “Channels are not willing to take the risk of buying films without knowing what the content is. The two main criteria taken into account before acquiring a film are whether it is a family film and if it has a repeat value.” Moreover, films like Delhi Belly, Gangs Of Wasseyour, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster, Yeh Saali Zindagi that were released with an A-certificate have found no takers on television. “Even if a film is recertified to U/A with cuts, the essence of the film is lost so we lose interest in acquiring films that have adult ratings,” he adds.
With Channels pulling up the socks on film acquisitions, the changing scenario has largely affected producers who make small and medium budget ventures as opposed to bigger studios who produce star-studded films. Gada adds, “Independent producers will face more losses than the studios. For studios, satellite rights are a part of their profits but independent producers depend on satellite revenues for recovering a part of their costs,” he says. The most recent producer to face a loss is Vinod Bachchan, whose Zila Ghaziabad was released with an A-certificate. “I had estimated recoveries of Rs. 16 crore from the satellite rights but because of an adult certification, I have not received any offers from television channels,” says Bachchan.
According to Gada, if a producer makes a film in Rs. 10 crore, he usually quotes a price of Rs. 3.5 to 4 crore as satellite rights. This is not feasible for the broadcaster especially when they can buy South films dubbed in Hindi for Rs. 1-2 crore that find a larger audience. On the other hand, producers claim to have no choice but quote such prices as their theatrical earnings do not help recover the costs. Sushilkumar Agrawal, who backed critically acclaimed I Am Kalam, which has not yet seen a satellite release, says, “Small films get very odd timings in multiplexes which do not help cover the costs at all. I quoted a very practical price of Rs 1.5 crore for satellite rights of I Am Kalam, but no channel is willing to acquire the film because they say that they have exhausted their budgets.”
So, does this mean that the producers will now re-look at how they structure their budgets for the films? Producers like Pooja Bhatt are willing to look at new avenues like Direct-To-Home and the home video market for recoveries. At the time of Jism 2‘s release, uncertain of the film’s telecast on television, she had stated, “I only want 11 pm slot, I will broker a new deal with DTH or look at other avenues like the home video market, but someone has to change the game.” On the other hand, films like Ata Pata Laapata and Future Toh Bright Hai Ji that crashed at the box-office and found no television audience, have tried to reach out to a wider audience through online portals like Spuul.
But according to Agrawal, it will be very difficult to re-structure budgets if films do not find television audience. “It is not possible for producers to restructure budgets because satellite rights form 60 percent of our recoveries. No producer wants to make his films only for theatrical, home video and overseas audience. The channels should change their policy and keep some budgets aside for small films which have good content otherwise our survival is difficult,” he rues.
Director-producer Shoojit Sircar who has helmed Yahaan and Vicky Donor is also not willing to change the content according to the tastes of television viewing audiences. “For filmmakers like me, revenue from all mediums is very important, so I will definitely keep my budgets in check to make sure that maximum recovery is possible. But I cannot edit my content for television,” says Sircar.
Moreover, the news of Star India signing deals with actors – be it the Rs. 500 crore deal with Salman Khan or shelling out Rs. 400 crore for Ajay Devgn starrers has worsened matters. While these deals may cause a dent in the satellite revenues of the studios, they would be able to absorb the losses but in lieu of channels becoming overcautious about their acquisitions and not willing to sign pre-release deals, signing deals with stars signals more losses for solo producers and it remains to be seen if they can find an alternate source of revenue that will help recover their filmmaking costs.
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