With cinema halls reopening to low footfalls, where is movie consumption headed?
Everyone’s favourite pastime – Cinema viewing – has been changed forever due to the pandemic. After 7 months of being shut due to COVID-19, Central Government’s Unlock 5.0 allows the reopening of cinema halls in several states. The guidelines state that theatres can accommodate 50 per cent of the seats with alternate seating and proper social distancing followed. Food, too, will be available in packaged forms.
While most people have been expressing how much they are missing the entire movie hall experience, people are in no hurry to relive that experience in pandemic times. According to an Inshorts DailyInsights Poll, 79 per cent of the respondents said that they were not keen on visiting cinema halls soon even with all the safety guidelines in place.
On the other hand, the Multiplex Association of India had been appealing to the Government of India to reopen cinema halls. The industry body claimed that the rate of losses resulting from closure of cinema halls stood at Rs 1,500 crore monthly and amounted to Rs 9,000 crore over the six months. This cinema exhibition industry comprises of 10,000 cinema screens across the country and directly employs more than 2 lakh people.
Now that cinemas halls have reopened in states like Gujarat and Delhi, there has been only a small trickle of people – mostly in single digits – coming to these halls. As per media reports, 100-150 seater halls are witnessing only 4-5 seats being filled.
With such dismal numbers, what does it mean for cinema halls across the nation?
Before Unlock 5.0, movies releases of every budget have been happening on OTT platforms, backed by massive marketing online. While this move ensured that new releases were getting the audience in the digital space and giving some returns to the producers, the industry has been eagerly looking forward to the reopening of cinema halls.
Although the current numbers are significantly disappointing, new content and big budget releases might just be the key to draw back audiences into theatres. An optimistic Amit Sharma, Managing Director - Entertainment, Miraj Group, said, “I look forward to 25th December, when we will have ‘83’ released and big releases will start coming. Post that, I think we are expecting at least 70 per cent occupancy and April next year onward we can expect pre-pandemic business scenario again.”
While cinema halls might have to wait to see favourable footfalls, is the current movie watching experience hampered by the strict COVID-19 guidelines?
Karan Taurani, VP - Research Analyst (Media & Consumer Discretionary), Elara Capital, replied in the affirmative and said, “It definitely changes the viewing experience and I feel families will avoid coming to theatres, especially since little kids and older citizens need to take extra precautions in the pandemic. The younger audience who are looking to get out of their homes will probably hit the cinemas to watch movies.”
He further said, “It is important for newer content to release in theatres so that they can attract the audience. While digital has become a great source of content for many, India isn’t that high in digital penetration when compared to US or UK. Hence, with newer content, people will be looking forward to going to cinema halls.”
Ashish Pherwani, Media & Entertainment Leader, EY India, had a very interesting perspective on where he thought film consumption was headed. According to Pherwani, “Cinemas will always have an important role to play, but I believe that over time, film consumption will split into 3 delivery mechanisms: 1) Large scale spectaculars and superstar films, which will be best delivered through a theatrical experience; 2) Lower budget and non-spectacular movies in genres like romcoms, which will make for broadcast and digital bundled viewing; and 3) Niche films, which will go the TVOD route on digital.”
While this perspective is very plausible, it’s a nervous wait and watch game for many. As said earlier, upcoming big budget releases will have to do everything possible to attract audiences into theatres, which might then help cinema halls garner great numbers than what they are seeing now. After all, the fight is not just against the pandemic, but the fear among the people of COVID-19 infection every time they stepped out of home and especially when they visit crowded places. Will relishing a movie hall experience be enough to make people take this risk?