Film exhibitors pulling out all stops to get viewers back to the silver screen

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Published: June 19, 2020 1:55 AM

Private screenings are also an option that can be looked at, although it may not be a rational idea given that exhibitors will need to incur the regular fixed costs apart from having to bear added expenses for sanitisation.

Inox said it will launch private screenings — wherein customers can book a full screen to watch movies within a familiar setting. Inox said it will launch private screenings — wherein customers can book a full screen to watch movies within a familiar setting. (Representative image)

Viewers may step into a whole new theatrical experience in the post-pandemic world, at least to begin with. Months of lost business and apprehension of consumers choosing to stay away from the buzz of packed cinemas have nudged exhibitors to chalk out strategies to pull crowds to the silver screen.

Inox said it will launch private screenings — wherein customers can book a full screen to watch movies within a familiar setting. Director Siddharth Jain claims the tickets for the service will be “economically priced” and the facility will be available across all 68 cities. “Footfalls are going to be tepid for sometime and customers will be fearful of sharing spaces with unknown people,” Jain said. For Inox, the concept is not novel; the firm’s Insignia offering has seen certain instances of patrons requesting for private screenings. “There will be exciting packages for people who want to book the full screen like F&B (food and beverage) offerings among others. India will love it as with reduced prospects of travelling, people will have limited options for recreation,” Jain said.

Mohan Umrotkar, CEO at Carnival Cinemas that has a footprint spanning 450 screens, said it is toying with the idea of arranging open theatres at certain feasible locations while plans are being firmed up to rerun old Bollywood classics by way of film festivals at least for the initial few days post resumption of operations.

Private screenings are also an option that can be looked at, although it may not be a rational idea given that exhibitors will need to incur the regular fixed costs apart from having to bear added expenses for sanitisation. The multiplex chain will also give discounts on tickets and F&B. “Consumer confidence is pretty low and the idea is to restore that first. These steps can help in achieving the same. After all, it is not only about watching movies, consumers also need an outing,” Umrotkar told FE. As far as bringing new movies are concerned, it can only be done once theatres open throughout the country and government regulations permit smooth operations. “Before getting screened, new movies would need anywhere between 10-15 days for marketing. Given that cinemas will begin to see normal footfalls only after four to six weeks post opening, the initial time period can be used to regain consumer trust,” Umrotkar added.

Analysts, however, are doubtful if these initiatives will perk up consumers. Ajay Gupta, partner at AT Kearney, said the specific nature of content is not the barrier in bringing consumers back into theatres. Hygiene and safety are the top consumer priorities at present. At the end of the day, theatres are enclosed and air-conditioned spaces. “Unless we get to a situation where a cure or vaccine is available, it will be a slow clawback,” Gupta said. Even if theatres launch private screenings, the pricing needs to be seen as it will be difficult to make it affordable for small groups and still recover the cost of operations. “For the next three to six months, movie viewing will be limited to a niche audience and it will be tough to make it economically viable,” Gupta added.

Ratings agency ICRA said the film exhibition industry is estimated to see a 60%-65% year-on-year degrowth in revenues in FY21 due to lower occupancy and levels and decline in ad revenues. Analysts at Crisil Ratings expect occupancy rates to halve to nearly 15% in FY21 from about 30% in the previous two financial years.

Uncertainty around recommencement of theatres have pushed producers to go for digital releases. Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo globally premiered on Amazon Prime Video on June 12. The platform has also acquired Vidya Balan-starrer Shakuntala Devi. Netflix recently announced the acquisition of Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl featuring Janhvi Kapoor. “OTTs have gone on an overdrive, consumers would rather watch new content within the safe confines of their homes,” Gupta said.

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