Shemaroo has tied up with BookMyShow to sell online access to films before their rights are sold to subscription video-on-demand and TV channels, the company announced in a press release on Wednesday. ShemarooMe, the company’s streaming service, will be selling access to view these films on a transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) basis. The company is calling this new platform “ShemarooMe Box Office”, reminiscent of Hotstar’s Multiplex launched in June. But unlike Hotstar, films releasing on ShemarooMe will be sold à la carte, as has been the standard for COVID-driven direct-to-video releases in markets like the US.

Can TVOD work in India? Our take

This distinction is important, as it lets producers bypass the theatrical window during the COVID-19 pandemic and still keep their options open for subscription-based streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video and Hotstar. But one thing to note here is that this model is unlikely to attract any big ticket Bollywood releases — TVOD releases are not significant in India like they are in developed countries. When Trolls: World Tour went direct-to-digital in the US, it earned over $50 million in VOD sales. For context, Netflix’s India subsidiary made $62 million in all of the financial year 2018–19.

In India, which has a fraction of the TVOD platforms that are available in the US, the opportunity from releasing films this way is limited to driving marketing buzz for a film before selling streaming or broadcast rights. And there’s the added challenge of getting big-ticket films in an environment where the multiplex and film theatre industry is threatening film producers with consequences for releasing their movies directly on SVOD platforms. The films that ShemarooMe has announced for its Box Office illustrate this challenge — My Client’s Wife was supposed to release in 2018, but didn’t; Scotland, another Hindi film, was already finished in 2019 and was submitted to the Oscars, but never got a release; and The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story, already got a theatrical release in February 2019 in the US.

This problem isn’t new — even Reliance Jio, which announced a similar offering in September 2019, has not been able to roll it out in spite of theatre closings yet. That service, “First Day First Show”, was supposed to release films at the same time as their big screen debut. If Reliance, with all its power, was not able to pull it off several months after the announcement, even with a pandemic, who can?