The OTT versus cinema debate

Taarun V Jain, Managing Director of Legend Group, which has recently ventured into the multiplex industry through Legend SRS Cinemas, writes about the OTT vs cinema debate.
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The rise in affinity towards Over The Top or OTT platforms has been further fueled by the pandemic, and has once again stirred up the ‘OTT vs Cinema’ debate.

While many are now attuned to watching content online, the cinema loving audience remains true to their first love. While both these formats of content distribution are often pitted against each other, it is important to note that they both cater to different sets of audiences and offer diverse USPs. 

Content consumption both domestically and internationally has been at an all time high, driven by the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This hunger for good content was earlier single handedly satiated by multiplexes and television as means of entertainment were limited.

However, today OTT platforms have offered people the means to indulge themselves in content of their choice at the click of a button. To get a clear picture of the nitty-gritties of this debate, it is important to understand the individual selling points of both these popular formats.

Experiential entertainment at movie theatres 

The multiplex going audience looks for more than just good content. An outing to the movies is about imbibing the entire experience of relaxation, good hospitality, food and the movie. This package offered to them in three hours or less is what cinema houses pride themselves in delivering. 

The magic of the big screen is gripping and keeps the audience focused on the story for the entire duration – offering them the best movie watching experience. The transformation of cineplexes has been tremendous with the single screen concept becoming almost obsolete. With multiplexes offering more services than ever before, it was little wonder they started dominating the industry and garnered a large market share. 

What keeps interest in movie theatres alive, is their practice of bringing new concepts of storytelling and a customer first approach.

Different cinematic formats such as 3D and 4D, coupled with gourmet snack bars, beverages, coffee stations, automated kiosks and more, have continued to be  an attraction. 

With COVID-19 induced lockdowns and fear of contracting the virus, audiences have refrained from visiting multiplexes over the last year. However, now with a vaccine at play, and increased awareness and adherence to COVID-19 guidelines issued by the government, audiences have commenced stepping out to enjoy the movies, in the way they were intended to be enjoyed. Footfall in theatres has started to pick up as interesting films with compelling storylines are once again set to release in theatres.  

OTT platforms 

One of the biggest plus points that OTT platforms offer is good quality global content and accessibility. With remote working, social distancing becoming the new norm, an increased inclination towards watching content at the click of a button, anywhere and at any time has become prevalent. 

It would be foolish to believe that this trend has only engulfed the younger population. When you look at the statistics, you will be left in awe of the demographic diaspora that OTT platforms have attracted in a short span of time.

OTT platforms allow you to continuously watch content without binding you with time, you can follow any storyline at your own pace, giving you the freedom to decide what you want to watch. 

These platforms allow for a wider reach and ground level penetration, as anyone with a mobile phone and an internet connection can subscribe to the multitude of available OTT apps in various budgets (even without premium access), and enjoy the content. Online streaming is not a new concept driven by the pandemic. First world influences brought various global players to India and then encouraged Indian made production houses to also venture into digital streaming of shows to stay relevant.

According to the 2022 FICCI-EY report, around 50 low budget films were released directly on OTT platforms across India in 2019 alone. 

Addressing the debate in question 

While this debate is ongoing, one has to recognise that the audience subscribes to OTT platforms for everyday entertainment that includes binging on shows, whereas they go to the movies for an experience. This conversation around the relevance of movie theatres has been ongoing since the VCR came into picture, followed by DVDs and then online platforms. 

Aware of the overlapping dynamics of the content viewing audience, producers are now developing different types of content for OTT platforms and cineplexes. The varied diaspora guarantees that the two formats cannot be pitted against each other due to their fundamental differences. 

Edited by Anju Narayanan