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Single-screen cinemas are shutting down, but there are still not enough multiplexes

Ajita Shashidhar     October 3, 2019

PVR Cinemas recently launched PVR Utsav, its multiplex offering for towns with a population between 3-5 lakhs. The first PVR Utsav was recently launched at Satna in Madhya Pradesh. These multiplexes will have three to five screens. "I want to give choice to consumers; our price points will be closer to single screens, but the experience of variety is necessary," says Ajay Bijli, Chairman, PVR Cinemas.

A large number of PVR Utsav multiplexes are being set up by demolishing existing single screen cinemas in those towns. For every 200-odd new multiplex screens that come up every year, around 150-odd single-screen theatres have shut down. India (as per the KPMG Media and Entertainment Industry Report) has  approximately 9,600 screens of which 2,950 are multiplex screens and multiplexes earn more than half of Indian theatrical revenues. However, multiplex owners do not see merit in taking over single screens and converting them into multiplexes as the latter are bound by complex state and local laws. Many single screen cinemas have multiple owners and not all are on the same page when it comes to negotiating with a prospective buyer. "The challenge with converting a single screen is that the plinth area is less and when you make a new cinema out of a single screen, you need to take into account laws, which are not always friendly," points out Alok Tandon, CEO, Inox Leisure.

Consumers - even the ones living in smaller towns - seek variety. "If you go to Punjab, there is a Sunny Deol movie releasing; there is an Aamir Khan and Salman Khan movie as well as a dubbed version of Avengers. People want to watch all the four. They want to go to one destination where all options are available. Choice, convenience and comfort are what consumers are looking for," explains Bijli.

Notably, every single screen cinema that is being shut down is not necessarily being replaced by a multiplex. That said, India would continue to be a screen deficient country. As per the KPMG Media and Entertainment Report, India's current cinema screen penetration is the lowest in the world after China, the US and the UK at six screen per million of population (while it should ideally have 15 screens per million people). China has had an exponential increase in its screen count from 9,000 to 60,000 screens between 2011 and 2018.single

It is this under penetration that has helped the likes of Reliance Jio find a business opportunity in producing and releasing films on the Jio platform, first day first show. In fact, Media and Entertainment industry expert, Ashish Kaul expects Jio's first-day-first-show offering to generate huge revenues especially in areas with limited access to cinema screens. "A family on an average spends Rs 1,500 each time it visits a multiplex. If Jio will charge even Rs 200 to watch a movie on the first day of release, there will be enough takers."

While business models are still evolving, Kaul is confident that if Jio offers its first-day-first-show offering as a pay service, the revenue of the Rs 13,000-odd crore film industry could go up by 15 times.

But, will Shahrukh Khan or Salman Khan prefer to release their films only on Jio? It is unlikely, as filmmaking for digital platforms requires an altogether different sensibility. Besides, film is all about experiences. Consumers world over visit cinemas for the experience they offer. At the same time, India will remain a screen deficient market for some time to come.

Also read: Consumers' movie habits haven't changed at all: PVR Chairman Ajay Bijli

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