Internet rights of films is the hottest thing in the business today. 2017 has been a game changer for audiences with Internet rights of many Tamil films going for record price and released online legally a few weeks after its theatrical release. Legal video streaming services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hotstar, Sun NXT and a host of others have entered the scene and have created an all-new market.

Karthi’s Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru and Vishal’s Thupparivaalan are a couple of films that were available on Amazon Prime four weeks after its theatrical release. The over-the-top (OTT) video on connected devices (laptop, smart phones, tablets, and smart televisions) has made deep inroads in the past year in a market dominated by cable and satellite television.

The big breakthrough of 2017 is that audiences can now legally watch Tamil films via streaming sites in India in less than a month of their theatrical release. The good news, according to industry analysts, is that the window time between theatrical and online release will come down further next year. This is said to be one of the achievements of Vishal and his team at the Tamil Film Producers Council (TFPC); a few years back, Tamil producers just bundled the Internet rights along with other rights, leaving pirates to mint money.

A couple of years back, overseas distributors of Tamil films gave legal streaming rights to Chennai-based Hero Talkies (actor Suriya has a stake in this company) and US-based Tentkotta and a few others for showing the latest Tamil movies legally via subscription.

Aathitiyan VS, co-founder of Hero Talkies, said: “Satellite channels have no longer monopoly and pirate sites cannot match online HD quality of legal streaming sites. I would say pirate sites are badly hit as a consumer can watch films on legal streaming sites while pirated content has to be downloaded.”

This opened the gates for Indian consumers even as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix started operations in the country. They entered the Indian market at a time when Tamil satellite channels had stopped buying films at fancy prices and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had put restrictions on advertising time on TV channels to 12 minutes per hour.

Leading producer SR Prabhu of Dream Warrior Pictures (Maanagaram, Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru, Aruvi) was perhaps the first to sign up with Amazon Prime. He said, “The Internet Indian domestic rights gave a shot in the arm for Tamil film producers and changed the satellite market totally. Today, we have created a new revenue stream via Internet rights.”

His Aruvi will be available on streaming sites for Pongal, 28 days after its theatrical release. Some of 2018’s other biggies will release on various streaming devices within a short window of its theatrical release. SR Prabhu said: “The release window should not come down below four weeks to ensure theatrical business. The short window has also discouraged piracy to a certain extent. However, what we are really looking at is transparency in the trade to allow us to make films on a budget.”

2018 might see some producers exploring the option of releasing their films online 10 days after theatrical release. In such cases, the producer himself will release the film in select screens, to ensure that the distributor does not suffer.

A spokesperson of Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners Association said, “The delivery of content platform is changing. We cannot stop it, though we are worried about the theatrical and online window time reducing. The main reason why more people are getting hooked to streaming content is the availability of affordable data packs. As it is, very few Tamil films survive the second week in theatres, because the cost of movie watching and online booking in a theatre has gone up. Two people watching a film like Aruvi in a Chennai multiplex with popcorn and cola will cost more than the annual subscription rate of Amazon Prime!” – The Hindu