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We are giving consumers unseen content and filmmakers a platform, says ABC Talkies founder Siddharth Sinha

The film tech company enables directors to set their own ticket prices and directly access audiences through its pay-per-view model.

Siddharth Sinha

Sukhpreet Kahlon

On 26 February, India’s first film tech company, ABC Talkies, came into existence. The brainchild of founder Siddharth Sinha, the company describes itself as being the world’s first cinema marketplace and aims to connect communities and offer a platform to young and independent filmmakers to showcase their work without going through aggregators and distributors. It also enables filmmakers to monetize their films wherein they can set their own ticket price. 

Given the limited options for a film’s release outside of traditional structures, ABC Talkies hopes to enable filmmakers to directly access audiences through its pay-per-view model. Explaining the positioning of the company, Sinha said, “We are not an OTT platform. We are positioning ourselves as a film tech platform and we are proud to own the space to say that this is the world’s first cinema marketplace. We want to target a lot of independent filmmakers. There are a lot of films that are good films but they don’t get a chance to get to the theatre or satellite for various reasons — commercially they are not viable, no star cast, not great to attract people to the theatre.” 

Sinha found that in a country where approximately 2,400 films are made every year, very few of them get to see the light of day and started thinking seriously about creating a platform for these films. “Last year is when we started thinking seriously about starting ABC Talkies, when we thought that today, because of the current situation we are in, people are spending more time at home and on the internet, trying to see new kind of content. Content consumption has increased and I thought that this is the right time for us to start this business. We are giving consumers unseen content, unseen directors, we are giving the filmmakers a platform.”

The company did have a bit of a shaky start with plans to launch in October 2020 which got derailed when Sinha sought industry experts for their feedback. The feedback included some hard learnings and with his experience of working in the film and television industry, he opted for a complete redesign and launched in February 2021 instead.

Explaining the model a bit further, Sinha said, “We don't own the rights of any film but are becoming like a B2B and B2C kind of a platform where we are not guaranteeing the filmmaker that, 'Okay, you put your film here and you will recover your money'. We are creating value, like an experimental lab for the film. Why we are doing this is that today, there are a lot of OTT platforms coming up. Everybody is now fighting to get good content. These people are dependent on distributors, who have their own network of filmmakers. In that network, they are not sure of which film they want to pick up if the film does not have a good star cast. These distributors pick up whatever they feel is right for OTTs and sell them to OTTs. We are creating an avenue for the filmmakers where in a way, we are cutting out the distribution channel and we are saying, 'You put your movie on the platform, we will do joint marketing on the film promotion but our promise is more to promote the filmmaker because we want to create brands of filmmakers'. If we get consumers to watch the film and we create some kind of commercial viability for the content, then we invite OTTs to come and look at our platform, telling them that there is good content over here and commercially they [the films] are viable. In that case, if they want to buy the film, we become the mediator between the filmmaker and the OTT platform and we negotiate on behalf of that.”

When Sinha was conceptualising the platform, he was thinking about movies, however, interest came in from other quarters as well. “There are different kind of users for this platform…another set of content creators coming to me are theatre companies. A lot of theatre companies from Delhi, Pune and Hyderabad are in talks with me because they think they can reach a larger audience through this medium.”

In terms of the process, any filmmaker can come onto the platform, upload their movie, choose the ticket price and submit the movie, and within 48-72 hours, they receive a response from them. The movies then go to a set of viewers, who assess the content, ensuring that it meets the company guidelines. “We have picked up ten housewives, who are in different parts of the country and speak different languages. They are avid content viewers who watch different types of content and open to different types of content. So once the film comes, we send it to them and ask them to review it. So they are consumers who become content curators. They see the movie and they have been given guidelines. Any kind of film is a freedom of expression for the filmmaker so we have to agree to that but there are certain rules.” Right now, the viewers comprise housewives and will soon be expanded to include other demographics to widen the ambit of viewers.

The response to the platform has been rather unexpected, with interest coming in from diverse sections. “We were prepared for international viewership, but we were not prepared for international filmmakers coming on the platform so we are trying to work on that. We got a lot of traction from Africa…from Nepal, London, and filmmakers from Canada who are in talks with us right now. I get calls from filmmakers in Africa saying that they  want this platform to be active for them over there because it’s a great way for them to showcase their film and make money.” Following this wide interest, the company is planning to work on those avenues as well. 

ABC Talkies already has 50 films on the platform. “I have told myself that I need 500 good films on the platform this year. I need 50,000 users to see the films on the platform,” said Sinha about his plans as the company gears up for consumer marketing.