Anirban Roy Choudhury

Why Hoichoi's Vishnu Mohta feels theatrical releases of films help OTT players

Shree Venkatesh Films owned Hoichoi will now stream Bengali movies that are yet to be released in theatres

Launched in September 2017, regional video-on-demand (VOD) platform Hoichoi has released more than 50 shows and premiered several movies over the years. From the house of Shree Venkatesh Films (SVF), one of east India's biggest film and TV producers and distributors, Hoichoi has reported a five-fold growth, both in terms of consumption and subscriber acquisition.

The Bengali video streaming platform will now foray into streaming movies that are yet to be released in theatres. Another offering on Hoichoi, ‘First Day First Show’, will release new movies, just like Disney+ Hotstar does with multiplexes. As cinema halls across India are still shut, producers are now looking at OTT platforms to release their films.

SVF also runs cinema halls in the eastern part of the country. Vishnu Mohta, co-founder, Hoichoi, feels that the films releasing directly on OTT platforms won't have much impact on cinema halls’ business. In an interview with afaqs!, Mohta shares his views on the digital releases of films, Hoichoi's expansion, and much more.

Edited excerpts:

You have decided to acquire films and stream them before their theatrical release. Is it an attempt to acquire new subscribers?

Other than acquiring new subscribers, a film also helps in retaining the existing ones. It increases engagement on the platform. People pay and subscribe to Hoichoi, so there is always an expectation of something more.

Yes, a film will also help us in acquiring a new set of customers. But the decision to stream direct-to-digital films is not a strategic one, with only acquisition in mind. It is to offer something exciting to the subscribers.

Also Read: "You can be more productive working from home than usual”: Vishnu Mohta, Hoichoi

You already have films streaming on the platform. Do you expect a different consumer behaviour when it comes to 'First Day First Show'?

Not really. People watch movies online all the time. We already have many Hoichoi original movies and also a huge library of films. We have been doing world digital premieres from the very beginning.

‘First Day First Show’ is an exciting way of dealing with the current scenario. The cinema halls are shut and we have no clue when they will be allowed to open. In such a scenario, a direct-to-digital film (release) is a win-win move for both the producers and OTT players.

As you get into films, does that mean you will take the foot off the accelerator when it comes to originals?

Not at all. We make sure we release something new every week and at least two series every month. We did the same during the lockdowns too, and will continue to invest in our original content. We will continue to do digital premieres and Hoichoi original movies. ‘First Day First Show’ is an add-on, not a substitute.

As an OTT platform, I would like a film to have a theatrical release. It adds to the hype of the film. The theatre makes the film big. When we are doing direct-to-digital launches, from marketing to PR, everything is on the platform, which adds to the cost.

Theatrical releases add value for the OTT platforms. Even if I acquire a movie directly, I would want it to have a theatrical release first and then land on the OTT platform. Anyway, most of the time, people like to watch old movies. Films have archival value.

Also Read: Films releasing on OTT: Distress selling or the birth of a new business model?

SVF also owns cinemas, produces and distributes films. What will all this do to the cinema business?

People have not visited cinema halls for a while and they have lost the habit. But whenever they open again and people feel a little safe, they will jump in more than before, especially when there are new releases. At the end of the day, people like out-of-home, community experiences. These are not going anywhere.

The cinema business will change, smaller films will go directly to OTT to save the cost. Also, the window between theatrical releases and digital streaming will further reduce, but theatres are not going anywhere. In fact, they will fill faster once people feel safe.

How has the lockdown benefited Hoichoi? Did you see a spike in consumption?

The reach of the platforms went deeper. We have started seeing growth in consumption in markets like Agartala (Tripura’s capital), where we otherwise did not have much of a presence. It has successfully cut across Tier I, II, and III markets. I see it going bigger. Because of COVID and the subsequent lockdowns, whatever we had envisioned happened much faster.

I did not know that there was a Bengali community in Sweden, or Japan for that matter. Now, we have a good subscriber base in these markets. Bangladesh, Middle East, UK, and Australia are known to have significant Bengali population. These are big international markets for us. Overall, we have Hoichoi subscribers in more than 70 countries.

What about the age group? Does it only appeal to the youth?

Fifty-five-plus is a very healthy base for us. They are the most loyal customers and spend most time on the platform. I don't know about other OTT platforms in India, but Hoichoi has successfully managed to cut across all age groups.

The film we are about to release on the platform ‘Detective’ is a story written by Rabindranath Tagore. We believe it will appeal to all age groups. We launched 'Tansener Tanpura', which was widely watched by the older generation.