The innovations of the present always have their germ in the practices of the past. In the tradition of the video rental libraries that ruled the entertainment landscape in the 1980s and 1990s, Prime Video has rolled out a transactional video on demand (TVOD), which allows viewers the freedom to rent movies they want to watch without necessarily paying the monthly subscription of the OTT platform.
Explaining the thought behind this initiative, Gaurav Gandhi, Head of Amazon Prime Video India, said: "In addition to investing in great content, we are super excited about the launch of our TVOD movie rental service, which will not just give even more expanded reach to these films, but also give customers more choice in how they want to access and watch content."
Gandhi was referring to the licensing deals that the streamer has struck with leading production houses, including Ajay Devgn FFilms, Karan Johar's Dharma Productions, Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar's Excel Entertainment and Aditya Chopra's Yash Raj Films.
Additionally, it has announced a lineup of original movies (notably, the Telugu movie 'Ammu' with National Award winner Bobby Simha and 'Maja Maa', a comedy featuring Madhuri Dixit Nene in the lead), co-productions (such as the Akshay Kumar-starrer 'Ram Setu', developed by Chandrakant Dwivedi, who's now in the news because of 'Prithviraj'), and a special collaboration, 'Tike Weds Sheru', starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Arveen Kaur.
For all this software, the TVOD service will serve as the rental window. Amazon, Prime Video's parent company, in March last year, bought the content-rich library of the Hollywood studio MGM in a $8.5 billion merger and acquisition deal.
The deal, the second-largest acquisition for Amazon after its purchase of Whole Foods, has unlocked for Prime Video a gold mine of 4,000 film titles, including all the Jame Bond movies, classics such as 'Rocky' and unforgettables like 'Silence of the Lambs' and 'Legally Blonde', and 17,000 TV episodes, which has together garnered 180 Academy Awards and 100 Emmys. This, for audiences, equals access to an enviable content library -- for a price, of course.
"The [TVOD] service would widen customers' reach and choice," Gandh explained. "It enables them to pay per movie, instead of a flat monthly fee."
Taking the cue from YouTube's movie rental service, Prime Video gives its customers the opportunity to bypass the yearly subscription and pay for only the content that they wish to watch on a rental basis. These viewers can watch a title for an assigned period of time. It will be available for 30 days but must be viewed within a 48-hour window.
With Netflix losing subscribers, streamers are now confronted with a question mark on their survival, egging them on to look for alternative revenue sources, such as TVOD.
In India, the impact of the video cassette recorder (VCR) in households was so pronounced in the 1980s that it led to intense speculation on the future of cinemas, a debate that flared up all over again in the wake of the rise of satellite TV and then with the emergence of DVDs (which, too, were up for rent by players such as Reliance under the brand name BigFlix), and is still very much around, thanks to the emergence of OTT platforms as a power in their own right.
The butterfly effect of video-on-rent services has impacted the landscape of cinema and content across the world. Interestingly, it also gave a maverick filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino to Hollywood and it also gave the disruptive Ram Gopal Varma to the Indian film industry. Both at one point worked in video rental outlets, where they picked up the ropes of filmmaking, putting the feature of repeated viewing, a novelty at that time, to good use.
Both filmmakers, self-taught and visionaries in their own right, changed the medium of cinema forever and inspired millions of storytellers across the globe. Tarantino birthed a new brand of cinema with his flamboyant style of storytelling, and RGV revolutionised the use of the camera in Indian cinema, leading to the equipment becoming a pivotal character in films.
How Prime Video's newly unveiled TVOD strategy would translate into new show windows and markets for the storytellers is what remains to be seen. Will it lead to another RGV moment in Indian cinema?