The Tamil and Telugu film industries have gone on an indefinite strike starting Thursday, protesting against Digital Services Providers (DSPs) related to their pricing.
This, after the differences between the south Indian film industries and Digital Service Providers (DSPs) were not resolved, despite three rounds of talks in the past few weeks.
While the Tamil and Telugu film industries will see an indefinite shutdown, two of the other industries - Malayalam and Kannada - will see a one-day shutdown.
What is the strike about?
According to the four film industries, the DSPs who deliver content straight to theatres via satellite for digital projection, charge rates that are too high. DSPs such as Qube and UFO are believed to charge around Rs 22,500 per screen for digital projection. This includes the cost of hiring and delivery of content via digital distribution in theatres.
However, speaking to The Hindu, Senthil Kumar, co-founder of Qube Cinema, a leading DSP, said: “Our VPF rates are the lowest in the world and the most flexible. Apart from the flat rate of ₹22,000, we have multiple options as low as ₹325/show. Like mobile phone plans, producers and distributors choose what’s best for each of their release theatres, thus bringing their effective cost down to just half the flat rate. What’s more, we offer digital cinema mastering services, content delivery, digital rights management and long-term archival... all for free. These are all considerable costs in the rest of the world. Finally, the digital cinema release costs here are between 0.3% to 1.7% of a movie’s total costs, so to suggest that these are draining the industry’s profits is preposterous.”
Representatives of both Malayalam and Kannada film industries have confirmed to TNM that the theatres in both the states will be open after observing a one-day shut down. While theatres in Karnataka are shut on Thursday, theatres in Kerala will close down on March 2 as a solidarity to the larger strike.
So while a strike against the DSPs has been kick-started under the Joint Action Committee of the Southern Indian Film Industry, why have these two industries decided not to go ahead with a prolonged strike?
Speaking to TNM, Sa Ra Govindu of Karnataka Film Chamber said:
"Kannada film industry has not yet finalised but as per initial plan, we will strike only on March 1. The final decision will be taken tomorrow (Friday) afternoon. But we are a smaller film industry and there are issues. It's a minimum market industry and there are schedules [to stick to]."
Malayalam producer Renjith, who is part of the producers' association, says that the one-day strike on March 2 will be conducted to express solidarity with the larger strike.
"But we will not strike work for more than that. One reason why Telugu and Tamil film industries are strongly taking part in the strike is because they are essentially larger industries. They have more number of theatres and the stake for them is larger as compared to us," Renjith argues.
However, sources point out that the Malayalam film industry cannot afford to go into an indefinite strike at this point, considering that the industry had faced a near total shut-down a few months ago.
Last year had seen one of the biggest fall-outs between the producers' association and the film exhibitors' association headed by Liberty Basheer, with the release of new films stalled for weeks together. The strike began with the exhibitors' demand that the revenue share must be upped to 50-50.
While it its being reported is that the representatives of the Malayalam film industry want the crisis to be resolved amicably, Liberty Basheer criticised the move.
"The Malayalam industry should also ideally take part in the indefinite strike, but there's no unity within the industry; be it between the producers' association or the theatre owners' association," he alleged.
He pointed out that there are no major releases scheduled on March 2 and that the two films that were supposed to be released on Friday have been postponed to a later date.