Updated below

YouTube got its first major Bollywood blockbuster release on January 27th: Dabanng, among the most popular films to be released in India in 2010 was premiered on the Google owned video sharing site, in partnership with Reliance Home Video.

This is by no means the first Bollywood movie to be officially released online – Vivah from Rajshri Films was premiered online on its day of release, on Rajshri Media. Since then, Rajshri.com, Reliance ADAG company BigFlix and Eros Entertainment have been offering movies on demand, on rent and for streaming. On YouTube itself, studios like Studio18 and Rajshri Films have been publishing full length movies on YouTube; Striker was premiered online almost a month ago. Of course, we’re not taking into account all the movies pirated on YouTube, split into 15-20 parts.

Then why is Dabanng’s premiere on YouTube interesting?

– Firstly, it’s the fact that it is being released by Reliance Home Video, which, it appears, chose YouTube over sister concern BigFlix. It’s an indirect acknowledgement of the fact that YouTube is bigger as a video streaming destination. Was it easier to convince an advertiser for YouTube?

–  Secondly, the online premiere of Dabanng has Hindustan Unilever as a exclusive sponsor, and they’ve got a tiny, incomprehensible ad, in the header, and no display ad on the page. Little point in that kind of advertising, with no display ads on the page unlike the advertising the YouTube provided during the live streaming of the IPL’s last season.

In whatever little I saw of the movie, there were no overlays, no pre-rolls, no mid rolls and no post-roll advertising either. However, a Google spokesperson told MediaNama they creatives are being readied, and multiple HUL brands will be showcased using any or all of the formats (mentioned above); it’s a month long campaign.

– Regional block & rights: the movie is available only for viewing in India. If Bollywood is indeed going global, shouldn’t YouTube have been able to attract international sponsors for viewing. Or is this a function of which rights Reliance Home Video has. Also worth noting that it unlike in case of the IPL, it appears we haven’t reached a state wherein online rights were sold separately. That might change with time.

It is all boils down to revenue: the content is being made available on all destinations where it can be monetized, and given that YouTube, by virtue of all the content available on the site, is a much bigger destination than others. The IPL live streaming gave a significant fillip to the display advertising business for the company, and invariably ended up making other advertisers aware of online video content platforms as well: the entire ecosystem would have benefited.

YouTube Needs To Work On Discovery

That said, YouTube does need to work on improving discovery. It’s a pain looking for full length films on the site, or even on specific studio pages of Rajshri.com or Studio18. Their video search has improved over the year, but you need to know the name of the movie in order to find it – there is no discovery mechanism for finding official full length movies on the site, and in comparison, sites like BigFlix, Rajshri Media and Eros Entertainment are much easier to use. YouTube is working with studios in India, so it’s the least that it can offer to them – the ability to customize their channels into categories, year of release, and according to actors.

Come to think of it, YouTube needs to emulate Google Music India’s discovery format.

Updates:
– So there is a page for Bollywood Movies, here. I still think YouTube sucks at discovery: try finding a link to this page from the YouTube homepage.
– An industry exec suggested that it’s likely that YouTube paid a fee for premiering Dabangg on YouTube, like it did in case of the IPL, and then took upon itself the onus of doing ad sales. Sounds plausible to me. What do you think?