COVID-19, content, capital infusion, tech – key concerns of single screens

A webinar organised by Comscore and FICCI brought into focus the various issues plaguing the single screen sector. Shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis, cinema halls – single screens as well as multiplexes – are going through an unprecedented crisis that threatens their very existence. 

Earlier, the Multiplex Association of India (MAI), an all India body formed under the aegis of FICCI in 2000, had appealed to all landlords across the country to waive off rent and common area maintenance (CAM) for all the multiplex operators during the period of closure ordered by the Government due to the spread of COVID-19. 

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Reeling under COVID-19 impact, Multiplex Association seeks waiver of rent

India has about 7,000 single screens, which contribute to a lion’s share of the annual footfalls at cinemas, which is over 1 billion (100 crore). Even though multiplexes account for a higher share of revenues, it is single screens that draw staggering number of audiences in India and despite this they are facing a huge threat to their very survival. 

The webinar highlighted the challenges for single screens. Access to good content is one of the major issues with single screens. This is mainly because of two factors. First, the amenities and technologies at single screens are not at par with multiplex screens. So, they need capital infusion to improve the conditions. The other biggest factor is the transparency. If single screens can embrace transparency and participate in a central box office measurement mechanism, that can inspire more confidence in distributors. Addressing these two factors could encourage distributors to offer more favourable revenue sharing terms. Transparency can also help single screens to access institutional loans to invest in renewals and up-gradation of their cinemas. 

Low screen density was also discussed, and government incentives and ease of policies were sought to improve screen density in India. Low per capita cinema consumption is also linked to low screen density in India which also leads to piracy of cinema content. Also, average ticket pricing is one of the lowest in the world which presents a strong case for flexi pricing in various states. Hurdles in getting cinema licensing from multiple agencies were also discussed. 

The panellists opined that the single screens should most ideally utilise this cooling period to restructure and improve their cinemas, engage in focused discussions with distributors to fix other relevant operational issues, adopt best practices like transparency to inspire distributor confidence to access and offer good content to the patrons and also equip with all the safety measures that would be required in the post COVID-19 scenario. The panel expressed confidence that Cinema will bounce back and OTT would not be a threat to the Big Screen experience. 

UFO, the Digital Cinema solution provider, offered to work with the exhibitors to access content at more favourable terms and also help equip them with computerised ticketing/ m-ticketing at their properties with features capable of eliminating the scope for human contact in the post COVID-19 era. Comscore on its part has committed to provide a robust box office measurement system as it is doing across the world to effectively bring in transparency that is so interlinked to several other maladies that single screens are confronted with. 

Pankaj Jaysinh, COO, UFO Moviez distribution, summed up the action plan on this occasion, “When the fishermen are not at sea, they are repairing their nets.” 

The panel constituted of eminent industry leaders such as Shaji N Karun, Chairman, Kerala State Film Development Corporation and Award Winning Filmmaker and Cinematographer; Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta Arts, Rajesh Mishra, CEO, UFO Moviez/Nova Cinemas; Rajan Gupta, President, National Association of Motion Pictures Exhibitors, New Delhi and Owner, Liberty Cinema; Arun Mehra, Proprietor, AUM Movies; Vinay Choksey, Proprietor, AUM Exhibitors, Mumbai; Ruban Mathivanan, Managing Partner, G.K. Cinemas, Chennai; Divas Gupta, Novelty Cinema, Lucknow; Arturo Guillen, EVP & Global Managing Director, Comscore Movies; and Rajkumar Akella, MD-India, Comscore Movies. This panel was moderated by Akshaye Rathi, MD, Rathi Cinemas. 

The webinar was attended by the film exhibitors, distributors, producers besides members of media and film enthusiasts from across India.


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