Very similar to start-ups from the past and present, a certain set of capability gaps within the industry resulted in a series of frustrating circumstances where I was at the losing end and when this trend reached a tipping point, I decided to step up myself and do something about it so nobody else goes through what I had to.
To begin with, we need understand the cost of entertainment.
Cost of Film Entertainment in Today's Time:
Commuting: The cumulative journey to and from the theater takes up 1.5 hours easily [not accounting for traffic]. Inside the mall, the parking lot is usually about 6.5km below the seal level and the travel between the parking spot and the screen takes another 30 minutes. In all, 2 hours of time is gone outside the screening location.
Parking Fee: The cheapest options available usually take up to INR 100 [for a car] and almost the same for a bike. Once I went on my bike for a movie to a big mall and ended up paying INR 15 more than the movie ticket price. That was the last time I went to that mall.
Food and Beverages: Here in Chennai, we have a ceiling for cinema ticket pricing and so they are sold at INR 120. Assuming 3 of us go for a movie, the ticket expense reaches INR 380 [assuming online ticket booking]. However, the stale popcorn and diluted soda for 3 pax costs a whoppingINR 800-1200!
Film Time: 2.5 hours [average feature film timing as of 2017]
Total Cost: 4.5 hours of a day's time [13.5 man hours assuming 3 pax], INR 1600 for ticket+popcorn+soda for 3 pax, INR 100 for parking
After spending so much of resources what we get to watch is just appalling. Apologies for the blunt statement but that is the fact. Just because someone somewhere 'confidently' decided how films should and how they have been in the industry for decades, precious resources of the audience is getting wasted. By wasted I mean the audience is not getting its money's worth.
While some enjoy what's available at the theatres, there is is this small segment of the audience that is increasingly getting sidelined just because there is a massive hatred for 'serious' themed movies. Films with substance has always been stereotyped under different labels but at least they had their room within the cinema value chain. However, fast forward to the past and such content don't get their share of screen-space as the 'mass-entertainers' do. For some reason the films with substance don't sell. I have no clue what fact is driving such belief. The absolutely irritating part is when the term 'commercial' is being used to describe films that are basically a blend of diverse nonsense.
Anything that is not available for free is a commercial thing and this holds good for films as well. As long as the tickets are sold, the film is a commercial film. The other films are usually available without requiring a payment to be made. So 'commercial film' does not mean a blend of every nonsense possible but actually means a film that can be viewed only after purchasing a ticket.
While I have always hated the 'mass-entertainers' I do admit, there used to be a time when the mass-entertainers brought in the audience in thousands or even more. However, the times are changing. Here is a recording of a senior office bearer of a film distributors association from the south that narrates the reality of mass-entertainers:
The distributor mentions a list of mass-entertainers recently released and says those movies did not do as well as the production houses promoted them through false propaganda.
The same distributor, in this recording says, the movies released in the past 6-8 months have all failed miserably at the theatres. The movies he specifically names are star-studded mass-entertainers that failed miserably but the film industry kept promoting those films as massive hits with huge box office collections. He says, distributors have lost their investment trying to screen these mass-entertainers but the production houses are organising victory-celebrations and success-meets. He goes on to indicate that in the previous decades when top-actors saw their films failing at the box office, they have compensated the distributors either financially right after the failure or agreed to work for smaller salaries for the subsequent films so that the previous loss is compensated through the profit margin from the next production. The distributor says such compensatory behaviour is absent in the present tamil film industry.
Well, if the distributors feel so badly about the performance of 'mass-entertainers', I am not too wrong in believing that the mass-entertainers are a blend of diverse nonsense. If they really entertain the masses, the masses would have watched it and the distributors would have made profits. At least the distributor won't resort to youtube/whatsapp recording.
Here is another such press-meet where the member of the Theatre-Owners Association says after 5 consecutive flops of 'mass-entertainers', they had invested in the 6th one and they have faced another massive defeat. In this video, they are asking for proper compensation for their losses. This video is from 2010:
To be fair, while the distributors and theater owners have all been crying loss all along with the so-called 'commercial-mass-entertainers,' we need to see how the audience reacted to such blended nonsense. Here is a video clip from a theater that is screening a commercial-mass-entertainer:
Now that we have established the real state of the film industry here with respect to the mass-entertainers, we need to look at it from a different yet realistic perspective.
The demographics are evolving and what used to be typical profiles 2 decades back do not hold good in our times today . The entertainment needs of the audience has evolved much farther than one can imagine. 'Content Variety' is a need as of now. Affordable film consumption means is a growing concern now. Accessible films are increasingly preferred now as the opportunity costs of theatre-film-experience is growing by the day.
Keeping this in mind and fuelled by the frustration of having to tolerate the blended nonsense called mass-entertainers on many occasions, I, joined by my brother-in-law Veeramani, founded Summa Productions Private Limited, a film production company focused on what we are calling Intellectually Challenging Entertainment [ICE]. We built our web-based platform https://www.summamovies.com to deliver our content to our audience via the internet. From the little we know, we are the first film production company to have launched their film on their own OTT Platform. We have decided to specialise in short form content that is intellectually challenging, accessible and affordable for our audience who can enjoy the content on their computers and smart-devices when they want.
In essence, with https://www.summamovies.com we have essentially given the 'Consumption Control' to the audience and with a dedicated focus of Intellectually Challenging Entertainment, we have agreed to deliver 'Compelling Storytelling' to the audience. The film will cost INR 15 and will come with English subtitles which not only makes it affordable to the audience but also accessible to those who might not understand the language of the film. At this moment, we are focused on Tamil films but we have our own version of a global media aspiration which need not be discussed at this point in time. Overall, we have enabled the audience to watch our content whenever they want on the device of their choice. Our web platform https://www.summamovies.com is mobile-optimised and our content presents pretty challenging concepts for the audience to put their thought to. Our objective is that even when our audience have their worst experience with our content, they will walk away with some value or the other from an intellectual standpoint.
Taking this thought process one step higher, we have incorporated the 'Open Source' philosophy into our for-profit business model. Every time our customer pays for our content, she/he will get a Custom-URL which will be live for 48 hours across 5 unique browser sessions. This means anyone who pays for our content, can watch it and SHARE IT LEGALLY with 4 other friends/family within the 48 hour period. This way, our business model eliminates the need for adopting acts of piracy in order to share content. If you have paid for our content, you are allowed to share it for 48 hours across 4 other browser sessions for 48 hours from the time of payment and WE ARE ABSOLUTELY FINE WITH IT. For what we know if you have paid for the content, you deserve to share it with your friends and family legally. However, at this point in time, we are a start-up and it costs us to stream you our content. Within our existing operational budgets, 48 hours of free-sharing is all we can provide as of now. Our future aspirations do cover single-digit pricing and extended timelines for sharing content that our audience have rightfully paid for. So if you pay and watch our films, do check out your email and share the link with your friends and family. Do look up the spam folder as we are noticing that some of our audience are receiving their custom-URL's in their spam folder.
Our first production, Theory of Engineering, is a tamil short film spanning 19 minutes and 41 seconds. The film covers 5 friends discussing their state of unemployment post engineering education. The film is blend of sarcastic humour and drama allowing the audience to pick their comedic perspective as the story unfolds in three acts.
A big thanks to the experienced technicians and artists who worked with us for either small or no salaries. Without their contribution, we couldn't have done any of this. A separate thankful shout out to Team NIKITHA for building our OTT Platform within shorter time frames and budgets. Their efforts and contribution means so much to what we have done so far and will also serve as the basis for everything we are going to do moving forward. Every unique effort in today's time does have a global perspective and contribution to it. For our effort so far, we are an Indian start-up company, our web-hosting service provider is a US-based company and our streaming solution provider is a UK based company. We sincerely wish to expand our horizons such that we engage as many stakeholders as possible in the global context and enable the entertainment industry realise a whole new dimension in terms of content design and delivery.
At Summa Productions, we sincerely hope we remain as a source of affordable, accessible and intellectually challenging entertainment for the marginalised segment of the audience that is sick and tired of watching bland blended nonsense called mass-entertainers. We are pleased to set an example for the rest of the film industry here and everywhere so they can pick up a similar effort to start delivering direct to their audience via the digital means. Digital transformation is by far the greatest of disruptions the global industries are facing right now and embracing the technological evolution is key to be part of the revolutionary change that is looking to sweep the entire world.
Thanks to everyone for the fantastic support so far. We have found our dead-end and have got a nice feeling of the wall. Now that we have started pushing it, our journey has officially begun. We will open a new avenue for the entertainment value chain where all stakeholders including every segment of the audience benefits without hurting the presence and prosperity of others. We asked ourselves what could be the reason for all this we are doing and all we got was "Summa is reason enough" and such was the SUMMA Brand born. [summa in Tamil means 'just like that' or 'no specific reason'].