The Indian film industry is poised for a revival this festive season
By Jehil Thakkar
It is fitting that the new James Bond movie is titled No Time to Die. It is apt for the Indian film industry which has been in a pandemic-caused slump. But there is light at the end of the horizon. Maharashtra, one of the biggest markets for the film theatrical business, has joined other Indian states in re-opening theatres this month; bets are on that this Diwali, like Dalal Street, hope will be rekindled and the box office will hit the numbers.
No threat to theatre
Much has been written about how consumer habits may have changed permanently, and that going to the theatre may no longer be the primary channel to watch films. In my opinion, these fears are overstated. Going to see a film in a theatre has always been a family or community occasion across India, and the theatre experience has evolved over time.
Similar fears were cited when television reached households, when the use of VCR increased, when DVDs improved home video quality, and when streaming became popular. To my mind, predicting the demise of the theatre-going experience is akin to saying that restaurants will die because home delivery is available. No doubt, the product and the content must evolve, but the core value proposition still stands strong.
Hope also comes from the collections that the recently released regional films are reporting. A new Punjabi film earned Rs 4 crore in its first week, while a Telugu release collected Rs 4 crore in its first weekend — this, with Covid-related restrictions and SOPs in place. Big screen-worthy content and pent-up consumer demand bode well for the sector.
Good times ahead
With all markets re-opening their theatres, many big Hollywood as well as Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and other language films have announced their release dates, following the pattern of cashing in on the festive season. Producers are known to book these festive dates at least a year in advance, so as to avoid clashing with other big films. The combination of Diwali releases as well as Christmas contributes a large chunk to the film industry’s overall numbers.
However, there is reason to be cautious as well. Regulatory restrictions will mean that theatres in all states will not be opening to 100% capacity, many being restricted in terms of hours and allowed occupancy.
While weekday occupancies will not be affected, since they averaged at 30% in pre-pandemic times, even for the big films, weekend collections may get affected. Occupancies peak during weekends, with a premium on ticket pricing. While exhibitors are relieved at the chance to cut their losses, the new rules will put a pressure that may prove to be costly. However, spreading the same film over multiple screens as well as keeping a film in theatres longer may provide some cushion against this impact.
A longer tail raises the question of windowing. If occupancy restrictions push audiences to watch movies over several weekends, appropriate windowing between stakeholders will be the key to maximising revenues.
In fact, the pandemic gave a tremendous push to OTT platforms. New genres, new formats, film consumption across languages and increased investment has ensured that the content producing industry is healthier than it has ever been. This new scale and capability as well the audience’s acceptance of new types of content will mean a healthy and long-term future for the industry.
For now, the magic of the big screen is back with the hope that there are no more pandemic-driven disruptions. Globally, the film industry has lived through world wars and plagues, and it will survive the pandemic as well. The show, as they say, will go on.
The author is partner and leader – M&E, Deloitte India