I watched last year’s biggest Bollywood hit Dabangg on Youtube earlier today. Not as a series of pirated video clips but as an entire feature film legally uploaded to the video-sharing site for all to watch (as long as they live in India). With ad breaks that are indicated on the timeline (but I was unable to skip them) and though we can debate the merits of Asin in supertight pants, that is not what this blog post is about.
I read a few years ago, when the brouhaha about illegal file-sharing and its ill-effects on the music industry was building to a crescendo, that the Chinese music business had been working in co-operation with music pirates for years. How the musical acts made their money was by selling out large concert venues and by charging fans a premium for t-shirts and other memorabilia that is part of the live concert experience anyway.
The actual work of distributing the recorded product to the fans was outsourced to the people with the best distribution network – the pirates.
What does that any of this have to do with the fact that a major Bollywood blockbuster is now available to watch online for free?
Dabangg is an unapologetically ‘masala’ movie and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It might have been my favourite ‘fun’ movie experience of last year if I had happened to watch it when it came out. But I was busy (shooting and editing the behind-the-scenes for ‘Anjaana Anjaani‘) and so I missed out on the hooplah. Wasn’t the first time, won’t be the last. And like any other ‘‘paisa-vasool‘’ (totally worth the price of admission) movie it would have brought decent financial returns for the enterprising pirate quick enough to put this movie out on the streets.
This is what day-and-date release advocates have being crying themselves hoarse about – the people should have the opportunity to receive their entertainment where they want it, when they want it. The digital entertainment revolution has guaranteed that any attempt to control how a film, album or television series is rolled out around the world will only mean a loss of revenue to the content creators and its distributors.
From that perspective alone, and given that Dabangg has already been ‘exploited’ in every way (that the average Bollywood producer/distributor knows how to) with a massive theatrical release, a guaranteed-to-be large price from sale for cable television airing (given that the film was such a big deal at the box office), VOD, music rights, DVD and an international rollout (to the extent such films are rolled out when they target a purely Diaspora audience), it is a very good thing that the movie is on YouTube – a service that commands the largest number of eyeballs for online video.
Any further audience this movie gains is not just a source of additional revenue (remember the ad breaks I mentioned earlier in this post?), it also serves as an advertisement for the filmmaker/production house/star’s next movie.
The only thing I took issue with was the IP-blocking of the video so that it can only be viewed by people with an Indian ISP. And not just because enough services exist that allow a person to watch IP-blocked content without needing to be physically present in an approved location. Though I suspect that the IP-blocking has more to do with contractual obligations entered into with distributors in other parts of the world, the gatekeepers of entertainment content need to accept that consumers will find a way to access their entertainment wherever and whenever they want it.
Until the day comes when anything you want to watch or listen to is available at an acceptable price-point, it is important for us to acknowledge that even the biggest Bollywood hit of last year is viewable online. Legally.