PVR Cinemas, India’s largest cinema chain, is looking at inorganic options to get to 1,000 screens over the next couple of years and the company intends to focus on innovation and differential offerings to better serve customers and drive growth, Ajay Bijli, chairman & managing director, told Jharna Mazumdar of FE. He said it on the sidelines of CineAsia in Hong Kong, an award function where he was felicitated as the “exhibitor of the year”. PVR was launched as a joint venture in 1995 between Bijli’s Priya Exhibitors and Australia’s Village Roadshow, which exited the venture in 2002. PVR’s first multiplex in New Delhi was a hit, setting the company on a growth path. Excerpts:
What are the company’s investment and expansion plans?
We have 600 screens and 400 more are under development. Our target is to build 21 4DX screens by 2019. While inorganic growth is not ruled out to reach 1,000 screens, we will also open 80-90 screens organically every year. We spend approximately Rs 2.5 to Rs 3 crore per new screen. We had just one screen when we started our business in 1997. In the course of our journey, we acquired Cinemax in 2012 and DT Cinemas in 2016. PVR, at present, operates 600 screens at 131 properties in 51 cities across 18 states and 1 union territory.
Are you planning to take PVR overseas?
We have signed two properties in Sri Lanka having a total of 9 screens, which will be operational in the next couple of years. It’s not a massive foray but is still outside the shores of India. We are opening there in 24 months. Two properties are there in Colombo. We are looking at entering a few more emerging markets, but we don’t want to be egoistic and make our presence in already saturated markets. While I would have loved to be in the UK, there should be enough growth opportunities for us to enter that market. We will continue to explore new markets, but with a cautious approach. We are studying other global film exhibition markets currently and will decide entering a particular geography only after we find that PVR will have differential offering and experience that will add value.
Has the entry of Netflix and Amazon Prime impacted your business?
Digital platforms such as Netflix and Amazon are posing new challenges to cinemas in India too. As of now, the answer is ‘no’, as Netflix has done well mainly on TV serials. Both, Amazon and Netflix, have done well, there’s no denying, but there is an equal growth opportunity for us as well. We have to provide great experience to customers, which we are focusing on. We have retained our position in Indian market of being the largest cinema exhibition company and are planning to have 214 DX theatres, and have become the major provider of 4DX experience in the country. The history of the exhibition industry shows that it has always faced huge disruptive challenges, such as the dawn of television followed by home video. I am not saying Netflix is not a threat, but we have to be confident of offering better services to get people out to the cinemas, especially in India where films offer escapism, given that they are larger than life. Hollywood’s event movies have inspired Indian filmmakers to also create homegrown epics, such as the blockbuster Baahubali, which are ideal for the big-screen experience.
Do you plan to revise ticket prices in the near future?
No, at the moment there will be no price hike. However, price hikes if any, will be inflation-driven. Reducing ticket prices is out of the question as we are focusing on providing better experience. We charge Rs 150 to Rs 200 more for 4DX tickets.