Theatre chains are facing a conundrum as producers hold back new releases due to low footfall in theatres, and audiences await fresh content
The focus right now is demonstrating to people that our theatres are safe, PV Sunil, MD, Carnival Cinemas, said
Although the Centre allowed movie theatres to reopen this month, several states are yet to give their nod. Theatre chains are facing a conundrum as producers hold back new releases due to low footfall in theatres, and audiences await fresh content. PV Sunil talks to Devika Singh about Carnival Cinemas’ reopening strategy, pricing and advertising concerns, and more.
Considering that new movie releases could be some time away, how are you tailoring your content?
We are playing old films like War and Malang – Unleash the Madness in our theatres. We have adopted different strategies in different places. For instance, we have opened only four out of six screens at our theatre in The Great India Place, Noida. In most places, we are only showing two-three shows a day. If we have two theatres in close proximity, we are only opening one of them. We are also ready with regional content when Tamil Nadu and Kerala open up. We have opened 90 screens as of now, as Maharashtra and these two states are yet to give a green signal.
How soon before producers return to the fold and new movie releases commence?
While the lack of crowd is a deterrent for producers, the closure of theatres in Maharashtra is not helping our case either — the state alone contributes 25-30% of our business. We are, however, hopeful that fresh content will come in by Diwali, as the Maharashtra government has assured us a clearance soon. We are in talks with Zee Studio for releasing Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari around Diwali; while Fox’s The New Mutants could release by the end of this month. We are also mulling releasing our own production Mere Desh ki Dharti around Diwali.
We are not committing a fixed number of screens, given the uncertainty around the opening up of remaining states; our discussions are limited to the number of shows. For Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, we may have 2,500 shows a day, which is a good number for a medium-budget movie. Earlier, we would offer 800-1,000 screens in the release week for such movies, while big films would get 4,000-5,000 screens.
Implementing sanitisation measures will increase your operational costs considerably.
Are you mulling a hike in ticket prices to offset this cost?
On the contrary, we are offering discounts on ticket prices, either directly or through schemes. We have rolled out a scheme for ‘Covid warriors’, giving them two free tickets for their first show. We are also launching offers like ‘buy two tickets and get one free’, and offering a 30% discount on ‘buy now, watch later’ coupons. Our costs have gone up because of the sanitisation and social distancing measures, but that is a secondary concern at the moment. We have to incur these costs to build back our business.
Our focus right now is demonstrating to people that our theatres are safe. By January, we are hopeful that we will be able to charge old prices, as big movie releases return by December. The last two quarters have been a washout for us; the third quarter will be better and the last quarter of the year might bring good business. We are expecting to clock around Rs 250-300 crore this financial year, which is 25% of our pre-Covid revenue.
How are you dealing with the absence of advertising revenue?
There have been several enquiries by advertisers, including automobile companies, but they too are waiting for the crowd and big-ticket films to return. Meanwhile, we have a barter deal with companies that offer products like sanitisers, thermal screening machines and masks. We use their products in the theatre and give them ad inventory in exchange. This helps us offset our costs, as we are spending huge capital on ensuring hygiene and safety on our premises.
Where does your recently launched cloud kitchen vertical, Purple Foods, fit in your F&B strategy?
Previously, about 70% of our F&B offering was outsourced, but now we plan to prepare most of it in-house, and increase our share to 80% by the end of this year. Two of our large cloud kitchens in Mumbai and Kochi are operational, and smaller cloud kitchen units are being serviced through them. Due to safety concerns, we are focussing on offering frozen foods to viewers. We have also asked our vendors to come up with packaged foods.