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Direct To Digital: Will OTTs Replace The Theatre Experience Post Pandemic?

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These are unprecedented times and the world is slowly, and somewhat reluctantly, accepting the fact that life post Covid-19 will not be the same. With most of the activities shifting to the virtual space, it was natural that cinema — one of the biggest mediums of entertainment in the world — would go digital as well.

This shift is also being propelled by a rise in the standard of living, evolution of smartphones, ubiquitous and affordable Internet connectivity coupled with increasing penetration in rural areas, and changing preferences of the audience. Content is now the king in a real sense, it is personalised and provides opportunity for wider-focused distribution.

All thanks to the world of OTT.

The biggest virtue of this entire OTT experience is accessibility.We can watch it in our bedroom, at parking lots waiting for a friend or while travelling in a cab when you’re tired of hearing the same joke from your ‘friendly’ driver for the third time. You can watch and rewatch it at your own pace. Heck, we can watch the first half of a horror film, and later the second half of a romance to end the day on a good note. OTT platforms come with oodles of freedom.

The luxurious feeling of watching your favourite movie at your preferred timing (even on a boring flight) is not possible in case of a theatre-going experience. There, you have to adhere to the strict show timings, none of which match your schedule (I genuinely think my tuition teacher always checks the show timings of the movie I excitedly tell him I’ll be seeing on Sunday and keep the class at the same time deliberately (@my maths tutor, am joking, maybe).

man siting on laptop at his home
Three in four Indians prefer watching a movie on various over-the-top (OTT) platforms in the social distancing times as compared to just one in four who would still love to go to a cinema hall.

Also, if you’re planning to see the movie with your family be ready for a bomb, because it is never just the movie. It is also about the same old popcorn and burger that your brother ‘loves’ for lunch, it’s about roaming in the mall for hours to find the ​grey suit your dad wants, but forgot where he saw the last time he came here. And don’t forget, the uncomfortable position you’re in when the stranger next to you relentlessly puts his hand over your arm rest or a kid starts crying just as the spy is about to solve the mystery.

But think of it this way:

Cinema hall is an escape room where your movements are restrained and your eyes are transfixed on the light coming from the wall. It is pitch dark inside, a spiritual awakening for those who have gracefully accepted cinema as a religion. I know you’re saying ‘it’s not that deep’, but that absolute joy of rediscovering yourself in a cinema hall, watching a movie unfold, those collective highs and lows, smiles and tears, whistles and hoots, these connections with the community are sacred. This experience is almost therapeutic and no Netflix and Amazon can offer this to its ‘modern’ customers.

The debate regarding direct-to-digital release has witnessed a massive rift in the film industry. The ongoing pandemic has impacted several industries across the world — and the film and television industry is one of the most hit industries. Several producers have decided to release their films directly on the OTT platforms rather than in theatres; after all, theatres are not going to open anytime soon. This particular decision has been taken owing to  monetary and logistical factors. However, the ‘OTT vs theatres debate’ has just begun and is not about to end in the unforeseen future.

Three in four Indians prefer watching a movie on various over-the-top (OTT) platforms in the social distancing times as compared to just one in four who would still love to go to a cinema hall, a new survey said. The survey by app distribution platform MoMagic found that 54% of the consumers would still grab beverages and snacks in the theatre halls, followed by 44% who said no.

“About 71% of the respondents find ticket price a factor to watch a movie in a theatre, followed by 27% who said the price does not matter,” said Arun Gupta, CEO and founder, MoMAGIC Technologies. While 75% of the respondents said social distancing among occupied seats in a movie hall would impact the overall watching experience, only 23% said it will not impact them.

a person holding a phone in their hand
With more free time due to the lockdown, 52% people found it as an opportunity to upgrade their skills or enrol themselves in online courses.

Further, “72% of the consumers said they would invest in buying a large-screen TV and home theatre to watch their favourite flicks at home rather than a movie hall,” Gupta added. The excitement to go back again for a movie experience with family at a cinema hall was also varied among the respondents. While 44% of the consumers said they are excited, 265 were not so much excited, while for 15%, the pleasure is simply not there owing to Covid-19 pandemic.

There has been a definitive surge in Indians taking new subscriptions of various content streaming services and according to a new survey, more than 75% of Indians have purchased new subscriptions of over-the-top (OTT) platforms during the lockdown period. A survey from market research and analysis firm Velocity MR with a small sample size of 3,000 respondents found that 73% people started watching Hotstar and YouTube, while Amazon Prime and Netflix saw an increase in subscription of 67% and 65% respectively.

Social media apps such including WhatsApp (92%), YouTube (84%) and Facebook (80%) also saw a surge in their usage during the lockdown. “As no new daily soaps are being aired during the lockdown, 80% preferred watching movies followed by National News (65%),” Jasal Shah, Managing Director and CEO, Velocity MR, said in a statement. The findings showed that more than 80% of the respondents use WhatsApp for video conferencing, thus making it the top video conferencing app used during the lockdown. Skype is majorly used by salaried individuals (41%).

With more free time due to the lockdown, 52% people found it as an opportunity to upgrade their skills or enrol themselves in online courses. E-learning companies also saw a rise, with BYJU’s enrolling students at 33%, followed by Unacademy (28%) and Udemy (28%), said the survey.

So, are more people watching content online and using streaming OTT platforms during this period of self-isolation and quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic? It’s an official Yes!

While it’s a win-win situation for makers and the audience, theatre owners have raised an alarm and expressed their ‘disappointment’ at the new move. With cinema halls shut and film releases suspended amid the pandemic, theatre owners battle fears that digital platforms might end up changing the collective movie watching experience, resulting in a dent in the footfalls whenever the screens open up again.

This battle thus remains a mystery that will unfold itself with time.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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