The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined how the entertainment industry creates, markets and showcases cinema.
Larger than life movie hoardings and buzzing multiplexes are now a thing of the past. It goes without saying that the pandemic has bull-dozed the Indian film industry into compliance. And brought about a new normal where change must be embraced and negotiated with.
The signs of recovery though are encouraging and within a few months after the lockdown, COVID-19 battle gear has begun to top every producer's to-do list. Every day we hear of a new unit reporting to a set that is fitted with sanitisation tunnels and watched over by medical professionals clad in PPE suits.
It was after all imperative for the industry to get back to work to cope with mounting losses and to support the daily wagers and other key players who keep the production machinery well-oiled.
This also means that industry must rethink its marketing strategies in a world that has gone digital. Film makers and producers must also now look at alternative spaces to pitch their products.
And this is where the OTT platforms will play a big role in reviving the fortunes of the film industry. Though I must add, as a producer and a lover of big screen entertainment, I hope that some day soon we can all go back to a theatre and catch the first show of a much-awaited film on the very first day of its release.
New strategies to the rescue
With big film releases on hold, the OTT space is helping out producers like me. Like many of my peers, I too have opted for an OTT release for my production, The Big Bull.
What is interesting is that in the post COVID-19 world, the dynamics of marketing have undergone a sea change too. Now, the onus of marketing a movie has shifted from the producer to the OTT player. Once a producer offers her or his film to an OTT platform, it is the latter that decides the minutiae of publicity and the launch. Though for someone as exacting as I am, how the film will come across during the publicity drive matters to me and I do have a say in the decisions that will impact the buzz around my production.
But yes, this new way of doing things has in a way taken the sweat and elbow grease out of pre-release promotional activities that once involved big budgets and combination dates from stars who then attended relentless press conferences, promotional events and photo ops across cities.
Now OTT players like Netflix, Disney, Sony Liv, Eros Now, Amazon Prime and many more formulate how a film's publicity will be budgeted. The good news for the industry is that OTT subscriptions have increased manifold since the lockdown and a new release can enjoy guaranteed viewership in the first week at least. Though, as I said before, cinema also deserves the expanse of silver screen and I hope, we will savour its larger than life magic soon.
Reconfiguring budgets and marketing styles
One must always look for a silver lining in the darkest of clouds. The pandemic, devastating in most aspects, has done our industry one favour. It has helped us all to gain a larger perspective. And to prioritise the needs of the less privileged. Many of my producer friends have decided that they will absorb personally the post lockdown losses and not let them percolate down to their support crew which has anyway been reeling from the financial aftershocks caused by the pandemic. Hopefully, the money saved from real time publicity campaigns can be added to funds being diverted to support our workers.
That said, I am amazed at the way the pre-COVID-19 marketing extravaganza has shifted to the smartphone and the laptop.
Physical events have transformed into virtual ones and press conferences have gone online. Now stars meet journalists in ‘live’ sessions and all this is in real time and in the comfort of everyone’s homes.
The lesson from all of this is that the industry can adapt to any given challenge. We survived the advent of television, video piracy, the OTT boom and now we are adapting to a pandemic-driven world and making the most of the opportunities still available to us to reach our audiences.
We are learning that online marketing can be steered to suit the time, place, event, audience demographic and need of the product. Never before had it dawned that direct communication with one’s audience was by far the most influential part of any business - the pandemic streamlined mass communication into individual and specialised interaction. The challenge now is being consistent and persistent given that the whole world has jumped on to the online marketing wagon.
Don’t underestimate the power of marketing
Given the tight budgets and the ubiquitous gloom, there is a tendency and a temptation to cut marketing budgets to the bone - and that is a pitfall to avoid. Now, in fact, is the best time to market and tell the world what you stand for and what you have to offer.
Yes, there may be a clutter on the internet but there is always time and space for the right message. Be it about the film’ s poster announcement on Instagram, or an animated conversation by the lead pair on Facebook or little niblets on twitter. On the release day, emailers with generous use of radio and television plugs can do the job. One has seen a plethora of film marketing ideas in the last few months. From intimate promotional events celebrating the music of a film, to live sessions on Instagram, to online media interviews with the star cast. And to top it all, brands have also now begun to associate with movies so not only are there celebrity endorsements but also movie endorsements or should we say brand endorsements.
Time to get personal
For me, the biggest lesson in this pandemic has been about personal and direct communication with my audience. This time has afforded me the opportunity to communicate directly to my followers. I never knew till now how astounding the power of ‘personal’ marketing is. I have a fair sense of who my audience is and they are discovering who I am as well. It makes our relationship more organic and natural. I can now uninhibitedly celebrate every success with my followers and also share my concerns with them.
While the pandemic has taught us to focus on essentials , it has also shown us how important it is to communicate with the world.
I have taken this time to update my website, email lists, social media accounts, online directories because now that the world has grown bigger and shrunk at the same time, it makes sense to keep up with it so that it can keep up with me.
(Anand Pandit is a veteran producer. His upcoming projects are Amitabh Bachchan's Chehre and Abhishek Bachchan's The Big Bull. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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