The COVID-19 pandemic triggered restrictions on cinema exhibition industry have not only been a blow to movie lovers but more worryingly, led to the axing of several thousand cinema hall employees. Cinema halls and multiplexes have been kept under the prohibited category even in Unlock 4.0, along with entertainment parks, theatres, auditoriums, assembly halls and similar places.
The sector has been one of the hardest hit due to the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions implemented to curb its spread.
As per industry data, the multiplex industry in India employs more than 200,000 people directly and accounts for nearly 60 percent of revenues of the film business.
“Following the directives for cinema closures by State Government, we decided to shut our cinemas for the safety of our patrons. We are in the month of September now and unfortunately we do not have any clarity on the re-opening of our cinemas. We strongly standby with the decision being taken by the Government and are really hopeful that cinemas see the light of the day very soon,” says Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Cinemas.
To keep the revenue stream flowing, cinema halls are exploring other opportunities and are busy making strategies for the future. One concept which has caught the fancy of many is open-air theatre and drive-in cinemas.
“Since the closure, although our revenues have been zero, but our spirits are up and we have been focusing on the revised SOPs for post COVID re-opening and how to instil the confidence in the patrons for a safe movie viewing experience. As the lockdown came into force, Cinema Exhibition Industry was the first to shut down in early March. Though Unlock 4.0 is in effect and many services like malls, gyms, restaurants, metro, airlines etc. have been restated and we yet have no clarity on opening. Simultaneously, this period has given us time to strategize about various other revenue aspects both in the field of movie exhibition and F&B related verticals. We are confident of rolling out our initiatives soon in addition to our core business of movie exhibition,” adds Dutta.
Keeping in mind the practice of social distancing, INOX Cinemas plan to promote private screening as a consumer offering, wherein guests would continue to enjoy pampering and hospitality.
“Our promotional collaborations with movie studios will be much more engaging and inviting going ahead. We had started scaling up our edutainment initiatives just before this break, where we were offering a unique experience of showcasing National Geographic content to school children, on the giant screen, and that emphasis would continue to remain on the same. Our innovations with alternate content will also continue to delight our patrons. We will bring in more concert screenings, live screening of sporting events, live events and other engaging initiatives. We have been striking unique partnerships and alliances, with brands like NBA and PBL which allows us to offer a unique brand experiences to our patrons, and strengthen our relationship with them,” states Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX Leisure Ltd explaining other initiatives undertaken by the group.
Drive-In Cinemas/ Open-Air Theatres
Even before COVID had become a harsh reality, PVR had already signed up to build a drive-in theatre and that too in the financial capital of India – Mumbai.
“Drive-in cinema/ open-air theatre is an exciting venture. We are excited and right now in midst of building a drive-in theatre. It is a rising trend in Western countries, whereas, in India, there are drive-in cinemas in Ahmedabad, Chennai and Gurugram,” says Dutta.
“Open air theatre concept has been in India from a really long time. There were open air theatres in South India and Gujarat, however, as soon as multiplex entered India, these theatres lost their charm,” adds
The pandemic has forced cinema owners to explore new opportunities keeping in mind the social distancing norm and in result, they are again planning to explore drive-in cinemas and open-air theatres.
“There is an underlying opportunity to grasp. PVR has always believed to offer its patrons a unique experience and we shall continue to deliver that in the coming times. Once our drive-in theatre opens, we shall evaluate the performance and then take a call on expanding the format just like we have always done with our premium format portfolio. Currently, we is focussing on our upcoming Mumbai property – Makers at Bandra Kurla Complex,” Dutta states.
Drive-in cinema/ open-air theatre is an entirely different movie viewing experience. Indian patrons have been used to the best in class in-cinema style of movie viewing experience. There are a few external factors which are detrimental towards the rapid growth of this format in India.
“As compared to most Western countries, India really sees a demarcated four seasons in a year. With each season, comes a problem of its own. In summers, we have really high temperatures soaring, during monsoon, it pours and in winters, the fog coupled with poor air quality that encapsulates the air makes it tough to venture out in the open, let alone spend 3-4 hours watching a movie,” says Dutta.
“Extreme weather conditions and high pollution levels make it difficult to operate drive-in cinemas, open air theatres in India. Commercial viability and playing different movies under one roof are other issues,” Raizada states resonating the same thoughts.
Apart from this, the fact is that in India movie lovers have grown up on cinematic entertainment, which is predominantly underlined by the dark ambience, comfortable seats, air-conditioned interiors, ultra-sharp visuals, thunderous sounds and technologically advanced movie watching formats. Every aspect in multiplexes or cinemas are precisely engineered to ensure the best experience.
“They have also got used to the pampering meted out to them at the multiplexes. The drive-in experience may be high on the novelty factor but may not be comparable to the comfortable experiences of the indoor cinemas,” says Tandon.
“Talking about difficulties that such a project may face, managing to secure a large expanse of space at a comfortable distance from the center of the city can also prove to be an uphill task. Being able to operate only 2 shows in a day also challenges the commercial viability of drive-in theaters. Another factor worth considering for drive-in theatres would the extreme climatic conditions. India experiences extremely hot and extremely cold weather, and the mammoth monsoons may not be too friendly either,” Tandon adds further.
However, PVR has been constantly doing its research and is in talks with international partners on how to control and mitigate the issues.
“We are confident that with our experience, we shall overcome all the issues and provide the Indian patron yet another innovative movie viewing experience,” asserts Dutta.
Both drive-in cinemas and open-air theatres provide a different experience. With the changing times, everyone would like to undergo new and ‘safer’ experiences.
“We feel that there is potential in the segment. We have always believed that PVR is not in the movie exhibition business but in the business of out of home entertainment and we feel that these two concepts fall right in our alley of proving un-matched and delightful experience to our patrons,” concludes Dutta.