the threat of illegal peer-to-peer networks for movie downloads and the increasing demand for movies on the Internet, Indian cinema is meeting the challenge head on - by getting on the Internet itself.
Portals such as Rajshri.com, Reliance Entertainment's Bigflicks.com and Piotv.com let viewers download Indian movies legally for a few dollars (ranging from $2 to $20) and watch them anytime, anywhere.
Film distributors are releasing their films online on the same day as the theatre release. The classic example is that of Rajshri, which released 'Vivah' online and in theatres at the same time. 'Vivah' was sold at $10 per download and has clocked 6,500 downloads till date, though only 10 of these were in India.
Rajshri.com and Bigflicks.com have an online library of both new and old films in languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi and Kannada. For example, Bigflicks.com offers 'Black Friday' and 'My Friend Ganesha', and Rajshri.com, 'Life in a Metro' - all films that were released in 2007. By offering old movies that are not easily available in stores in many countries, these portals are catering to demand from Indian audiences abroad.
At Rajshri.com, India's first online movie portal launched in 2006, 80 per cent of movie downloads come from the US. In fact, even viewers from African countries are keen customers, showing that movie portals can help Indian movies reach non-traditional markets, too. Rajjat Barjatya, managing director, Rajshri Media, says, "The online audience is very different from the theatrical audience. We get downloads from far-off and unknown places across the world, places that have not been tapped yet by theatres. The NRI audience is fragmented and dispersed, so the online release does not have any impact on any single market."
DRM refers to the technologies that are used by publishers to control access to digital media or devices. Under DRM, a viewer needs to get a licence which allows him to decode and download a movie. Bigflicks.com issues different type of licences, depending on the nature of the movie. For example, it issues a 'download to own' licence for older movies, which allow a user to download a film, copy it to three different computers and burn a CD. But for new films, the licence is tighter. The portal also has a system to track the number of copies made from the downloaded movie.
Rajshri.com allows old movies to be downloaded without a licence, but for new movies, it offers DRM-based downloads till the time the movie is running in theatres. Barjatya says, "It makes sense to make your film available for legal download through a movie portal and charge a few dollars for it. Anyhow, it will be available on the Internet through some source or the other."
Piotv.com, which has a library of 1,000 films, uses a digital watermark on every frame and DRM technology to prevent piracy. "The digital watermark can be used to trace the piracy as the legal authorities want a proof of ownership if you have to file a case of piracy," says Munish Gupta, CEO of Piotv.com.
Apart from online downloads, viewers can also watch legal movies by renting them. Portals such as Seventymm and Movie Mart offer movies for rent, though they are delivered offline. However, Subhanker Sarker, COO, Seventymm.com, says that the portal "is planning to offer a movie download service in the near future, once infrastructure related issues are resolved."
India had 2.47 broadband subscribers at the end of July 2007. The government of India expects this number to grow to 20 million by the end of 2010. As such, the Internet may prove to be a cost-effective medium for the distribution of movies in the country.