Two school friends from Kochi ‑ Vivek Paul and Blaise M Crowly ‑ enjoyed watching new movies at the theatre on weekends. When they grew up, Blaise went on to do engineering and became an ethical hacker, while Vivek went to Mumbai to pursue BA in Economics at St. Xaviers. But the love for movies did not change for either.
When people dream of movies, it is mostly about the fame and glamour of the movie world. But these two found entrepreneurship there.
Vivek found it hard to watch Malayalam movies in Mumbai, as they rarely came in theatres and when they did, show timings were restrictive and were only available for a week. He recollects that it was during a late night call with Blaise where he shared this experience that the idea of Reelmonk was formed.
The two friends started working on the idea. Vivek was working in an HR company, and Blaise was an ethical hacker working with the cyber police security network. Once the idea was definite, Reelmonk was launched on July 20, 2015, with four Malayalam movies and 10,000 pre-signups. An expert in encryption technology, Blaise developed the software. They got an initial investment Rs 20 lakh from seed investors, some NRI acquaintances, and seniors from school. Vivek, 23, says that their primary target audience was the 25 million Indians based outside India.
There is a popular joke that when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, he was offered tea from a Malayalee’s tea shop there. That sums up how widespread the Malayalee demography is. It is this dense Malayalee diaspora across the world that offered a great opportunity for Kochi-based Reelmonk.
“Watching a movie at a theatre is expensive in the US and Middle East, especially if you go as a family. Most theatres run it only on weekends. They do not get CD or DVD of Malayalam movies for months. We release movies at the same time as the theatrical release in India, so that they don’t have to wait for it to come on TV,” says Vivek. Reelmonk had the industry’s first same day online release with the national award winning movie Ottaal. Recently they released new movies Ozhivudivasathe Kali and Anuraga Karikkin Vellam.
Reelmonk collaborates with Malayali associations by offering free/discounted movies for their members. “We are partnering with a lot of associations for Onam celebration with a month-long list of new releases that will be made available to the members of these associations at a discounted price. Being a homegrown startup, most Malayali associations are keen on supporting us this Onam even without the incentive of discounted movies,” says Vivek.
Reelmonk has 37,000 users now. They have released 100 movies in Malayalam so far and will be adding 850 more in Malayalam in the next two months, in addition to 700 movies in Telugu and Kannada. But they are not going into Tamil or Bollywood cinema yet. Vivek adds,
Everyone is ignoring regional cinema, we aren't. There is a huge diaspora of Kannada, Telugu, Punjabi and Bengali speaking audience abroad and regional cinema has limited overseas theatrical release. Hindi and Tamil cinema already have too many players. The regional markets are where we are able to create value addition for both the content holders and the audiences.
Collaborating with movie producers and distributors is essential to run this business. In the last one year, customers and movie producers have been warming up to them. Vivek claims that they get around 1,200 downloads per month.
Currently, Reelmonk operates in a pay per download model with prices starting at $1 per movie. Once the movie is downloaded, it can be watched any number of times in the downloaded system. A subscription model with unlimited access to all movies will be launched in September at the cost of $8 a month and $12 for HD in multiple devices. Reelmonk shares the revenue with the Rights holder.
With subscription model to be launched at Rs 5000 per year, Reelmonk is targeting 2,000 subscribers in three months. A referral programme is also in the pipeline.
When all of Indian cinema is fighting piracy, Reelmonk aims to kill piracy by making it more convenient to watch a legal copy at much higher quality. “There are good quality pirated versions where advertising rakes in lakhs of rupees. Identifying the offender is not always possible. They either mask it well, or are abroad,” says Vivek. The Reelmonk app, when installed, will have a store where all the latest movies will be updated and can also be added to each user’s library for viewing later.
To prevent piracy, movies downloaded are encrypted in such a way that it can only be played using the Reelmonk player in the particular system that the movie is downloaded in. To prevent people from screen-capturing the movies, hidden trackers are installed on the screen to identify the culprit if a case of piracy arises. “There was one issue of piracy that occurred for the movie Njan Steve Lopez when we started. We were able to track the culprit in 12 minutes and filed a complaint with the anti-piracy cell, which resulted in him getting arrested,” says Vivek.
Reelmonk now has an 11-member team for design, technology, marketing, and content editing.
Reelmonk has art house and low budget movies with English subtitles for the global audience. Award winning movies like Ottaal, theatre collection was abysmal. For CrimeNumber89, there was no theatrical release at all. But both these movies got great viewership from UAE, US, and Europe.
Vivek agrees that it is not easy when targeting mainstream movies. “Some movies are not available in India due to rights issues. Indian market is not ready – we are still competing with CD and DVD players’ competition and those who download pirated versions.”
There are a few others working the same model. Called India’s Netflix, Spuul is an on-demand content platform with 60 percent consumer base in India, followed by Pakistan, US and UK. They focus on Bollywood movies. Muvizz is another video-on-demand platform which offers independent movies and documentaries in multiple languages.
According to a Forbes article, Indian movie industry – which is actually worth $10 billion – is trapped in $2 billion due to piracy. Unfortunately, piracy is a profession and livelihood for many; but content copying is nothing heroic. Despite stringent rules, the menace is growing every day. Reelmonk could be the beginning of a solution.