Shri C Prabhu Daniel (‘Informant’) had filed information under Section 19(1)(a) of the Act alleging a contravention of Section 3(3) of the Act by M/s Tamil Nadu Theatres and Multiplex Owners Association (‘TNTMOA’), which is an association of film exhibitors and theatre owners in Tamil Nadu.
The Informant alleged that the Tamil movie ‘Aelay’, which was scheduled to have a worldwide theatrical release on February 12, 2021, was unable to proceed with this planned theatrical release owing to the restriction imposed by the film exhibitors or theatre owners (i.e., members of TNTMOA) that disallowed the release or premier of movies on over-the-top platforms (‘OTT Platforms’) within 30 days of its theatrical release. Given these allegedly unreasonable conditions, the makers of the film ‘Aelay’ decided to skip the theatrical release of this movie and instead decided to premiere it through the television channel ‘Star Vijay’ on February 28, 2021. The Informant further alleged that the 30-day gap imposed by film exhibitors or theatre owners is only for small and medium budget Tamil movies. For big budget movies, the exhibitors or theatre owners mandated the producers to release their movies on OTT Platforms after at least 50 days from the date of theatrical release. The Informant alleged that this window of having a mandatory gap of 30-50 days for release of films on OTT Platforms strangles the natural evolution of such platforms as an alternative medium of distribution of Tamil movies. Accordingly, such alleged collective action taken by the TNTMOA was accused of being an anti-competitive cartel in violation of Section 3(3) of the Act.
CCI in its order noted that there was no concrete evidence of any agreement or even correspondences between theatre owners or exhibitors that would give credence to the Informant’s allegations. CCI further noted that the Informant had no stake in the theatre industry, and had made vague allegations without backing of any concrete evidence. CCI also noted that because of the economic losses caused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, theatre owners were in fact more than willing to release films on screen. CCI held that mere displeasure expressed by few theatre owners in their personal capacity cannot be grounds to impute anti-competitive conduct on part of TNTMOA. The hearsay statements, media reports and rumours cited by the Informant were considered by CCI as being inadmissible proof under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
CCI also perused the response filed by Tamil Nadu Film Producers Council (‘TFPC’) (an association of film producers in Tamil Nadu) where TPFC clarified that the decision of the mode and medium of release of films, (i.e., through theatrical release or OTT Platforms or both) lies solely within the discretion and power of each film producer. Given this, CCI did not find any prima facie evidence of cartelisation against TNTMOA and accordingly, decided to close the matter under Section 26(2) of the Act.
 C Prabhu Daniel v. M/s Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association, Case No. 07 of 2021, Order dated October 21, 2021.