Screen challenge

Written by Sudipta Datta | Updated: Oct 26 2011, 08:56am hrs
When PVR CMD Ajay Bijli and brother Sanjeev Bijli, joint MD, were visualising Directors Cut in their head, they wanted to first cater to the movie buff in them and how they wanted to watch a film. So, to four luxurious cinema halls at the Ambience Mall in Delhi, complete with reclining chairs, table lamp, call button and 7.1 Dolby Digital sound experience, was added a caf, a top-of-the-line restaurant, a well-stocked bar (which is awaiting a licence), a lounge, a patisserie and a book shop devoted to the movies.

Once we watch a good film, we want to talk about it, says Ajay Bijli, and hence the need for a caf, lounge and bar. Already, Indias top directors, says Bijli, are showing a lot of interest in Directors Cut. Imtiaz Ali, who is directing Ranbir Kapoor and Nargis Fakhri in Rockstar, will soon screen the film at Directors Cut and talk about it. Yash Chopra, too, wants to hold a master class.

We dont want the film buff to go back disappointed, and hence the bookstore and DVD shop where a lot of film memorabilia will be available, says Bijli. If you watch a movie and like it, then you should be able to get the merchandise at the bookstore, he adds. The Directors Cut experience would cost between R500and R850.

If the Delhi experiment in luxury entertainment works, PVR, which set up the first multiplex in the country at Saket in Delhi in the 90s, will take it to other key metros. Admits Bijli, We wanted to throw open the plush viewing experience to Delhi before Ra.Ones Diwali release. On weekends, Directors Cut is already witnessing occupancy of 40%, but the challenge will be to ensure people stay interested, and, more important, be willing to pay more for the premier service.

As India witnesses an explosion of screensthe biggest player Reliances BIG Cinemas, has 254 screens in India, PVR has 158 and Inox 155the industry is also upgrading technology, converting to 3D and trying out everything and more to get people to the theatres. And thereby hangs a tale.

The multiplex industrys biggest competitor and rival has been television. With films now available on TV within weeks of release, theatres are bound to see a dip in footfalls, admit top multiplex players, and that is prompting them to offer the full-length experience to attract crowds, either through luxury viewing in tier-1 cities or through clever ticketing strategies elsewhere.

The multiplex industry is also realising that producers/distributors have widened their monetisation sources and the box office is not the sole contributor to revenues. Says Ashish Saksena, COO (west and south), BIG Cinemas: The focus of the producers/distributors has shifted from theatrical revenue to revenue from ancillary sources, mainly satellite rights. However, the biggest revenue source is still theatre. But it would be a challenge to maintain this lead as newer sources of revenue keep coming out. So, because of the possible shift in revenue streams, Saksena points out that marketing efforts may also not necessarily be directed towards exhorting the audience to visit the cinemas.

The important thing is to want people to retain the habit of going to the cinemas, says Gautam Dutta, COO, PVR. The challenge is to work harder to keep the habit alive. We have to give audiences a wholesome experiencemovie-watching should be like a three-hour holiday, points out Dutta.

To woo people to the theatresIndian consumers are known to be price consciousthe multiplex owners have all tweaked their pricing strategies. So, a film may be watched at price points ranging from R50 (morning show) up to R400-600 (weekend) or more. For good business we need people to come and watch 15-20 films a year and so we have to look at a price point they can afford, Dutta adds. Ticket prices also vary from film to film, with Shah Rukh Khans much hyped Ra.One Diwali release commanding higher prices.

Movie-wise ticket pricing will prevail as against the earlier trend of day-wise ticket pricing. Its an exciting new trend as it helps maximise the potential of each film based on its merit, points out BIGs Saksena. Inox CEO Alok Tandon says, We always make sure that our tickets are priced as per the propensity of our patrons; and also that our patrons get back more than the value of the money they spend at Inox.

One of the differentiators is going to be the 3D experience. The first explosion was a result of James Camerons Avatar, says Saksena, when the 3D screen count jumped from 10 to 75 screens. Then we saw another spurt with the release of Haunted, where the film played in 3D in approximately 125 screens. Ra.One will set the trend for 3D films in India to touch an all-time high. Similar expectations are from Don 2 as well, he adds.

Inox, which has 155 screens in all, of which 19 are 3D-enabled, plans to have at least one screen in 3D in each of its properties. Indian consumers have embraced the new technology very positively, says Tandon.

As per Ashesh Jani, partner, Deloitte Haskins & Sells, Over 150 3D screens are estimated to be installed across the country in the next six months.

With most of the top players planning to expand rapidly in the next two years, the industry is bound to see further consolidation. Consolidation has already begun, not necessarily in the exhibition space, but in other areas like production and distribution too. Major production houses are joining hands and contemplating even further consolidation, points out Saksena.

But most players point out that the yearand particularly Julyhas been good for the industry, perhaps the best we have had in the last three years. Overall, the business, say insiders, has been growing at 8-10% year-on-year. Will it be enough to take on TV The jury is out on that one.