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Reliance’s First Day First Show at home causes a stir amongst multiplexes

A typical weekend outing for most Indians – the latest movie release and lunch or dinner. Cost of watching the movie – ticket prices (in metros) ranging from Rs 275 to Rs 1,800 (each) in multiplexes. That’s not including the cost of the inevitable refreshments consumed during the movie – the usual popcorn and cold drink. And that’s also not including the transportation cost – either own vehicle or a hired cab or public transport. Add to this the traffic congestion and the pain of finding a parking spot for your car. We really need to commend ourselves on our weekend battle for a few hours of entertainment. 

Which is why Reliance’s announcement of plans to introduce its ‘First Day, First Show’ service for premium JioFiber customers has got movie goers and multiplexes sit up and take notice. In his address at Reliance Industries’ 42nd AGM, Chairman Mukesh Ambani called it a “disruptive concept for watching new movies”. 

Expected to be launched in the middle of 2020, the Jio First-Day-First-Show service will enable customers to watch movies in their living rooms the same day these movies are released in theatres. No further details are available at this moment – will it include only Bollywood releases, or will it also include regional releases as well as Hollywood releases? Cost of the service is also not known, although Ambani informed that JioFiber service, under which movie premieres will happen, will be priced between Rs 700 and Rs 10,000, with plans starting with 100 Mbps speed and going all the way up to 1 Gbps or 1000 Mbps. What is also worth noting is the sheer magnitude of reach of 20 million residences and 15 million business establishments across 1,600 towns, as per plans. 

Coming back to the implications for the movie theatre and multiplex industry, it will definitely cause a stir. So much so that PVR Cinemas has issued a statement “to place on record our observations”. It pointed out that for decades, theatrical release window has been a valuable model for exhibitors and producers alike. “In India and globally, producers have respected the release windows and kept a sacrosanct gap between the theatrical release date and the date of release on all other platforms, that is, DVD, DTH, TV, OTT, etc.,” the statement further pointed out. It also cited the example of more matured markets such as the US, China, Europe, etc., where cinemas have regularly competed with many similar initiatives, for example, Netflix Original Movies, etc. 

Asserting that cinema exhibition remains the largest revenue contributor for the filmed entertainment segment, PVR Cinemas quoted the March 2019 FICCI-EY report on India’s media and entertainment sector, which mentioned that out of the total filmed entertainment revenues of Rs 174.5 billion in 2018, the contribution of theatrical box office (domestic & overseas) was ~75 per cent. 

Looking at it from a movie goer’s perspective, of course such a plan – when it commences – will be a boon. What better than watching the latest release in the comfort of one’s home – no high priced ticket costs, snacks that one can afford or prepare in advance, even invite a few friends over, and no heartburn over traffic and parking. One would envisage that people would probably go for larger sized TV screens, invest in better quality sound bars or home theatre systems, maybe even buy an air-conditioner to complete the movie experience. Food delivery apps could also see a further increase in orders, especially during weekends. And buying a higher capacity genset or inverter - just in case.  

Reliance’s ‘First Day, First Show’ service could possibly also give a boost to a whole sub-ecosystem. 

Theatre owners and multiplexes would put up a brave front, stating that cinemas continue bring people together to share a “communal experience”, which they maintain is an irreplaceable element and is at the core of theatrical experience. As PVR Cinemas affirmed, “Theatrical and at-home are two completely different experiences and each has their own places. Both these experiences have co-existed and prospered for decades and will continue to so in future.” 

Will such a disruption lead to rationalisation of ticket and refreshment costs in movie theatres? It’s a wait and watch. 

On a parting note: One would also expect greater accessibility in theatres for the physically challenged. Currently, it is a struggle to even enter the hall in the absence of ramps, especially for wheelchair users (like me).

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