India has always been a difficult market for international sales agents to sell into as the territory is underscreened and dominated by local product. Until recently, even Hollywood studio films had a less than 10% market share, although they appeared to have nudged past that benchmark in 2015.
“Theatrical, DVD and even TV sales are tough for smaller films in India,” says Magnolia Pictures vice president of international sales Scott Veltri. “VOD offers a new platform with low upfront risk for Indian distributors that provides widespread access to indie films.”
Digital aggregator Film Karavan is working with both Magnolia and Vision Films on exploiting their titles in India – it recently licensed Magnolia’s Tangerine to iTunes – and also handles marketing and the certification process.
“The fan base for foreign films in India is growing and we intend to reach audiences by boarding premium titles on to popular digital platforms like iTunes and Google Play. Additionally, there is huge demand for these titles across indigenous and international DTH and SVOD platforms,” says Film Karavan head of original productions & partnerships Apoorva Bakshi.
Suri Gopalan, CEO of aggregator Vista India, agrees that demand for foreign product is slowly growing: “India has a large English-speaking population and they’ve had limited content available on broadcast, so we expect more international content to be available through OTT operators.”
With Amazon and Netflix entering the market, SVOD is starting to become the major digital revenue stream for distributors and aggregators in India – and both platforms are open to acquiring India-only SVOD rights to foreign product. TVOD and DTH platforms, such as Tata Sky, are also buying foreign films and TV dramas. Indian SVOD and AVOD platforms tend to focus on local product, although some are owned by US media groups so also offer English-language content. Some also acquire English product but so far have focused on mainstream action films.
Currently, most international sales agents are still concluding all-rights deals with Indian distributors, rather than selling directly to VOD platforms, but this may change as the players become more aggressive. Certainly there are no signs of India’s theatrical box office increasingly dramatically due to a cinema building spree, as in neighbouring China, and clearing the certification process for theatrical releases with religious, sexual or violent content remains problematic.
Therefore VOD may eventually become a more viable distribution route than theatrical for foreign sales agents selling into India. Or it may help them sell more titles to traditional Indian distributors – there are early signs that the possibility of selling films on to SVOD platforms such as Amazon, Netflix and Hotstar is encouraging some local distributors to become more active buyers.
It’s still early days, the players are new and local SVOD platforms are not paying high prices, but sales agents see potential in the market. “We mostly sell VOD in all-rights deals to our usual Indian theatrical buyers, but we also sell directly to platforms like Tata Sky,” says Wild Bunch’s Olivier Barbier. “We’re doing deals on our classics, animation and genre titles. Most kinds of movies can sell, except those with too much sexual content.”