Unperturbed by surge in viewership on OTT platforms like Netflix during lockdown, Ajay Bijli, the chairman of India’s largest multiplex operator PVR Ltd, expressed confidence that movie lovers will return to theatres once the government permits cinemas to open.
PVR as a company has adopted best Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) to ensure safety of people. Once home ministry gives their permission we will start screening the movies. As of now we hope that cinemas would be allowed to open from August 15, said Bijli.
Although the nationwide lockdown has been lifted from June 1, cinema theatres have not been allowed to open yet. Malls opened from June 8.
Bijli was speaking at a webinar organized by Workplace Trends India founder Tushar Mittal, who also heads interior design firm SKV. Arjun Sharma, Chairman, Select Group and Sanjeev Mohanty, Managing Director- South Asia, Middle East And North Africa, Levi Strauss and Company were also on the panel.
Both Mohanty and Sharma said that footfalls and sales have been increasing in the stores gradually.
“PVR is absolutely ready with all the required protocols. What the best standards, SOPs are, whatever is needed to make people feel comfortable. People have to feel good, safe, secure and comfortable,” said Ajay Bijli.
The Chairman of PVR said that people’s behaviour would not change due to a few months of lockdown. He was confident that people will return to multiplexes to watch movies.
“Humanity was not designed to stay at home. These 4 months can change the behavior of someone who was not born as yet but you can’t change the behavior of the people who are already there.”
“My destiny is entwined with humanity. Once the vaccine comes, nobody will stop humanity from going out and stop them from doing what they were doing. As long as the shopping malls are made, organized shopping outlets, retail outlets, restaurants are there. People are going to go out,” Bijli observed.
When asked about the impact on cinema business from the growing popularity of ‘Over the top (OTT)’ platforms like Hotstar, Netflix and Amazon prime, Bijli said there are no comparisons between the two.
“Whatever has happened on the OTT platforms, are from the sales that have happened just now. I have hardly bothered talking to too many people about it because this is average. The comparison between the OTT and the cinema is of a shut shop and an open shop so you can’t compare an open shop and a shut shop at all. The moment we open up I will be very happy but the comparison,” said Bijli.
“Last year, net box office collection globally was 43 billion. Out of 43 billion, 20 billion went back into the film industry. First and foremost is the film industries cannot afford to leave that money on the table. The movie production costs are going very high even films which are not very expensive. Let’s talk about movies like Raazi, Andhadhun, Badhaai Ho, so many very small budget films, they also ended up making Rs 100 – 200 crores at the box office. So the film industry cannot actually ignore this window. But I still believe that the comparison is between a kitchen versus a restaurant. One is completely experiential and another is sitting at home putting a feet up which I also do watching on the OTT platforms,” said Bijli.
Sharma of Select CityWalk said it has taken all measures to make the shopping complex safe and secure for visitors.
“We are working in accordance with the guidelines of Central Public Works Department of India and The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). The guidelines for example Humidity control, filtration control, sanitization control air changes, were all the parts of the learning curve for us. The first real step was how to keep the place secure, sanitized. For example we got tunnels from Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), chemicals that are approved by DRDO. We had to give a lot of confidence during the opening,” said Sharma.
“Footfalls have been gradually up from say 2,000 people averaging to 6,000 to 7,000 people every day and on weekends it hikes. From our perspective, we are waiting for our cinemas to open,” said Sharma.
“The big factor about the alpha is going to be the cinemas and I am very optimistic that the government will realize sooner or later,” added Sharma.
Multiplex, food courts, branded stores, games zones and so on are part and parcel of shopping at malls, all are interdependent on each other to attract footfalls.
“If you don’t have a cinema, you don’t have food courts, it will take some time to climb back,” said Mohanty.
However, some stores and brands are back in business and witnessing good sales.
“Some brands have done better and back to pre-COVID level of sales. For example the grocer, the wine store, a lot of the cosmetics, lets say skin care for example are outstanding. Food and Beverages industries are challenged at the moment. Some apparel brands have challenged. I think it is going to be a 3 month journey,” said Sharma.
When asked whether people are visiting Levis stores, Mohanty said, “Yes they are already coming back to the store. We actually spent a lot of time in lockdown on training programs. I think we trained more than 5,000 people including the front end and our franchisee staff for 7-8 hours so that they are prepared in terms of the protocols and everything.”
When asked how ecommerce websites are impacting footfalls as stores. Mohanty said “When we look at e-commerce, or brick and mortar, I think, people come to stores to have a very very different experience. Let me take an example of our flagship store at select city. In the flagship store we have a tailor shop which does tremendous personalization and customization work.”
“I think the reason is the overall experience and the customer which you deliver. It is the ecosystem that we actually deliver and if you look at our store also there are new lines there are exclusive lines, there is personalization, customization, there is going to be all kinds of consumer technologies and experience which are going to be available,” said Mohanty.