The cinema business is already showing signs of resurgence
By Vivek Krishnani
To say that 2020 changed the dynamics of the entertainment industry would be an understatement because the pandemic incapacitated the economic model that fuels cinema halls and keeps ticket windows abuzz. Over 2,500 multiplexes across the country along with single-screen theatres were shut due to the lockdowns. Big and small studios along with their paraphernalia of ideation, creation, and distribution were devitalised. Suddenly, the old ways of doing business were rendered obsolete.
From what I understand, the total loss suffered by the industry in 2020 was about Rs 8,000 crore. For big studios, the big question was, of course, whether the age of the global blockbuster was over. Thankfully, the answer is, ‘No’. Our benchmarks of success may have undergone a revaluation, but audiences around the world have begun to go back to the movies.
Among India’s enduring passions are cricket and cinema; going to the movies has been a favourite family recreational activity. No family outing is complete without eating out and watching a movie together. And because this experience is irreplaceable, cinemas will bounce back as we have seen in markets where theatres opened post the pandemic. For instance, Chinese films have earned massive box office revenue — $650 million-$800 million domestically. In Japan, the stylised animation hit Demon Slayer has gone on to become the highest ever grossing film at the box office. Even in India, when the Tamil film Master was released in January, it saw audiences come back to cinemas in droves, and the same upsurge was seen when Monster Hunter and Godzilla vs Kong released in March.
Still, with cinemas shut for most of 2020 and 2021, movies relying on theatrical releases have suffered. The fact that theatres are now partially open in 75% of the revenue-generating markets with socially distant occupancies is a good sign, but once the larger revenue-generating market in Maharashtra opens, there will be a tidal rush of films at the box office. This is fantastic news for big-budget films that were held back by production houses because of the lockdown.
It is, however, of utmost importance that media and entertainment industry stakeholders work proactively to build audience confidence in coming back to the cinemas. The good news is that despite all the havoc wreaked by the pandemic, the overall entertainment consumption has gone up.
The downtime has also helped content creators to reboot their imagination and think afresh about genres, formats, and unexplored demographics. Audiences have been exposed to global narratives and universality will be a requirement even in conventional entertainment from now on. Creative comfort zones are no longer an option, because the audience’s taste is now constantly evolving. The stories they are falling in love with are not necessarily star-driven or cliché-ridden, which is very good news because there is a new crop of creators on the horizon that can make films we have never seen before. Creative teams now have to work harder to create content that draws people to the theatres, be it via intimate stories or large-scale VFX, action and horror genres, etc.
I don’t foresee any clash between OTT platforms and the big screen because this is a reductive theory. Just as we sometimes prefer to get food delivered at home, and on other occasions, love to dine out, OTT storytelling and larger-than-life screens will continue to co-exist because they have an intrinsically different experiential texture. Theatrical releases of big-ticket films have significant upsides. Their larger-than-life impact also helps boost viewership across various platforms in the value chain.
The author is MD, Sony Pictures Films India