Behind The Screens!

By

Kamal Gianchandani, CEO – PVR Pictures and Chief of Strategy, PVR Ltd.

A local and global perspective on the role of multiplex screens in the film industry. CreativeFirst talks to Kamal Gianchandani about the huge potential for exhibition, PVR’s global expansion, the emergence of OTT and the impact of GST.

1. It was recently announced that PVR is going global. What brought about the decision and how do you see this expansion route playing out for the organization?

PVR is the largest operator in India. As such, we were regularly being presented with opportunities in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, and other neighboring countries. We’ve studied those markets and looked at the advantages some of these markets offer and decided to make our first international move in Sri Lanka by June 2019.

The Middle East is next on our list. It’s a market with attractive ticket prices and affluent demographics. Saudi Arabia has recently had a change in legislature, which allows for cinemas and multiplexes, so that is huge. Two cinemas have already become operational and a few others are being planned, but by and large it’s a market that’s been untapped and ripe for business. It’s an attractive proposition.

2. Will PVR’S presence in these countries help Indian content creators?

Yes and no. Right now, Sri Lanka doesn’t have many multiplexes, so of course, Indian producers are not generating a lot of revenue in the country. Increase in the number of screens will open more opportunities. Aside from Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, however, is a fairly mature market with distribution and cinema chains that already serve the Indian language speaking populations in these markets.

3. Most filmmakers and stakeholders in the industry express a need for improved screen density growth in India. How is PVR addressing this? In your experience, which areas of India have the most potential for screen growth?

India is a very under-screened market, with roughly only eight screens per million viewers, whereas China has 25 or more screens per million, and most western countries have a higher screen density. There is a tremendous amount of headroom to grow within India. As a company, we are looking for global opportunities, but India continues to be our single biggest priority, and the most important territory as far as our business model is concerned.

The South has a very high movie-going per capita visitation, yet it has the lowest penetration in terms of multiplex screens. That is the single biggest underpenetrated area in the country. That said, even in the North and East, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Across India there are 400-500 areas, which could have new multiplexes. India currently has roughly 2,750 multiplex screens but has the potential for 10,000 if all these areas are tapped.

4. Do you think that the emergence of OTT will affect demand for more screens?

OTT and multiplexes are mutually exclusive, catering to different needs. OTT has the advantages of anytime, anywhere as well as giving viewers a huge library of content. Cinema, however, fulfills a different need. Humans are, by design, social creatures. We want to go out and cinema is an out of home entertainment. People enjoy passive experiences that involve being in the company of strangers, and where we surrender ourselves to the screen for a few hours. It’s part of our cultural fabric. The notion that there is a clash between OTT and cinema is fairly exaggerated.

2018, for example, has brought a superb upsurge in numbers of cinemagoers. It’s by far one of the best years we’ve seen in a long time. Yet, it’s also the year when OTT is really taking off with Amazon and Netflix investing huge amounts of money in content. At a time when OTT is surging, cinema is thriving as well. This tells us that this market has a potential for both mediums and both can coexist without cannibalizing each other.

5. What impact do you think big data and accurate box office collection reporting could have on promoting a film or for programming?

Cinemas have come a long way since their traditional avatar. Now, the bulk of our tickets are sold on digital platforms, which gives us fairly accurate data and insights about cinema-going habits. Getting consumer data enables us to do targeted communication. It helps us make better and more accurate decisions concerning product features, programming, co-creating services, and other things that make the whole experience more enjoyable.

Data helps us improve our decision-making as well as engage with the audience in a targeted fashion. It also shares relevant information, not just about movies, but other aspects of movie-going experiences, like F&B, that we can improve upon.

We are evolving from a data-poor industry to a data-rich industry. We are learning quickly and leveraging the data to maximize our use of it.

6. How does PVR help promote a film that’s going to release in their theatres and how is PVR a good branding platform for a producer?

We have an aggressive marketing team that works with the studio’s marketing team very closely, on an ongoing basis throughout the film’s lifecycle. The revenues generated at cinemas are shared between producers and the multiplex, so we treat them as our business partners rather than just suppliers. We tend to work very closely with production companies to amplify their existing marketing activities. First, we do this with in-cinema publicity, such as traditional elements, like trailers, standees and so on. Then, we innovate - constantly thinking of new and relevant ideas for each film. We look at a film with the utmost respect and treat it with individuality. We try to differentiate ourselves in terms of ideas and execution.

In addition to this, we do a lot of digital marketing. We have our own website and social media platforms with a wide reach. Being the brand that we are, we have a rapport with cinemagoers that especially helps with smaller films where the producers don’t have a big marketing budget. The data and expertise we provide become useful to them.

Further, we come out with new product features. Recently, we’ve come out with Vkaao, a crowdsourcing platform for holding movie events, particularly useful for smaller films. The platform can help a film find its audience before diving into a 100-screen release without a marketing budget.

7. Nowadays, a good film can still be in and out of the theatre in less than a week. Do you extend the screening schedule for a film that might not have had a huge opening weekend because you can tell word of mouth about the film is picking up?

The role of our programming team is scheduling, to ensure they target the right customers. Part of their job is to constantly keep track of what’s happening with films that have opened and look at strategies to nurture them to be more successful. It’s the job of programmers to figure out how to optimize a film for success; it’s a fulltime specialized task. One aspect is scheduling in the most targeted fashion, and the second part is keeping track of critic reviews and developing informal ways of gauging how receptive the audience is to the film.

For example, Mulk was released on 3rd August 2018 with some heavyweight competition in the form of the “face value” Fanney Khan (Anil Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai and Rajkummar Rao) and “quirky road trip” Karwaan (Irrfan Khan & Dulquer Salman). The opening weekend numbers were on par with the competition, but despite mixed reviews, the word-of-mouth was very strong. We were screening both Mulk and Karwaan in the week of 21st Sept 2018, whereas Gold & Satyamev Jayate, and both big-ticket holiday releases have exhausted its audiences.

8. How has GST and Local Body Tax in key states impacted on film releases?

GST replaced entertainment tax so yes, there are some misgivings, but by and large, it’s just one tax being removed and another one being implemented. As far as Local Body Entertainment Taxes (LBET) are concerned, it’s only in Chennai at this point. A lot of states are talking about it, but none of the states have launched it. It will be negative for business, and it will nullify the whole effort of GST because the idea behind GST is “One Nation, One Tax”. With LBET, suddenly, on one product you’ll have two taxes. We will not have the ability to offset LBET against GST.

We are in conversation with all the Governments that are contemplating LBET. We are hopeful that the Governments will be mindful of the negative impact of LBET. We are hopeful that with time we’ll find a sustainable solution to this issue so that everyone wins.

9. PVR has just launched PVR Hollywood. Can you tell us more about that?

PVR Hollywood is a digital marketing initiative where we are collaborating with Facebook. Essentially, it amplifies the marketing efforts of Hollywood films. PVR has always been supportive of differentiated content; we’ve always tried to encourage all sorts of content, whether Hindi, regional, or Hollywood. This is a step following that philosophy. We’ve tied up with Facebook and studios with unique content. Our goal is to make this Facebook page the single most relevant page in India to know more about Hollywood films and engage with new content related to those films.

10. PVR has a unique CSR program. Can you share a little about that and why the company has undertaken such noble efforts?

PVR has a sense of responsibility, and we enjoy giving back to the community. We have a dedicated team for CSR, which is led by Deepa Menon. She has a strong background in social work and development and has several years of experience supporting CSR activities. We’ve been fortunate to build this incredible company with multiplexes across the country, and this is our way of contributing to society and helping those who need assistance.

PVR NEST was founded in 2006 as the social arm of PVR Ltd, the largest and the most premium film exhibition company in India. The foundation works on providing sustainable support to the most vulnerable, who do not have capital and face social exclusions. Our core philosophy is to promote public-private partnerships to integrate aspects of urban vulnerability where poverty, gender, environment and infrastructure influence urban risks in the societies.

Using entertainment and technology as the innovative mediums, PVR Nest’s flagship project - “Childscapes” is the operational program for children at risk in Delhi – NCR. It aims to initiate basic life skills and provide non-formal education to the children from disadvantaged communities. PVR’s very own “Project Eklavya” is a technology-based campaign with the vision to make quality education accessible to the marginalized population of the country and promote its employee volunteering program. PVR Nest demonstrates dynamism through its unique initiatives and to name a few are:

  1. ECO Grants, incubating youth ideas to the growing environmental concerns across 5 selected cities, which are battling critical environmental issues: Delhi-NCR, Dehradun, Jaipur, Udaipur and Lucknow.
  2. Maitri meals, an initiative by PVR Nest in association with Kat-Katha, to provide an alternate means of livelihood to the women living in the brothels of GB Road, Delhi. These women cook and serve mid-day meals to the children at Childscapes centers across the city. We aim to be a conduit for the most vulnerable community, who face the social stigma and are outcast by the society, to come out of the red-light areas and progress towards a reformed future.
  3. Our ‘SEA’ is the scholarship for excellence and academics program, which extends financial support to the meritorious children who face challenges in completing their education due to lack of funds.

PVR Nest hopes to furnish a holistic advancement to mitigate urban risks impeding the development of the country.

 

- Kamal Gianchandani is the CEO of PVR Pictures and Chief of Strategy of PVR Ltd. He has more than 23 years of diverse experience in film financing, co-production, distribution, syndication, licensing, cinema exhibition and general management. Kamal has been the principal architect of the company’s marketing and distribution operations. Under his leadership, PVR Pictures has piloted some of the biggest independent films, making it the most prolific and successful distributor of independent foreign language films in India. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce (Hons) from Delhi University, an MBA from Pune University, and is an alumnus of Indian School of Business (PGPMAX).

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