Audiences Are Evolving Faster: Vikram Malhotra On Analog Vs. Digital


MUMBAI: The on-going FICCI Frames, a three-day long media and entertainment conclave is being held at the Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre, here in Powai.

Day 2 at FICCI Frames saw a spirited seminar titled: ‘Film Distribution & Exhibition: Challenges and the Way Forward’, which saw distinguished film fraternity personalities like Viacom 18 Motion Pictures COO Vikram Malhotra, film distributor Anil Thadani, UFO Moviez India Ltd. CEO Rajesh Mishra and Real Image Media Technologies Founder and CEO Senthil Kumar on the panel. The session was moderated by Reliance BIG Cinemas COO Ashish Saxena.

The topic under discussion was the analog vs digital prints, and the near-death of the analog format of film distribution. Rajesh Mishra predicted the end of the analog prints era within a short span of one year. He also spoke about India’s pressing need for more screens and reduced screen density for the vast population.

Mishra added that digitization has transformed the face and functioning of the film distribution business, and he also touched upon the wider penetration of digitisation. “The cost of distribution has become one-fifth of what it used to be, but the reach has gone up by five times. In the next one year, it will be the end of print era,” he said, prophetically signalling the doom of the print era. He also put the numbers in perspective: as 500 to 600 prints play across 2500 to 3000 screens today.

The esteemed panelists also broached the topic of how digitization has helped fight piracy in film distribution. Said Vikram Malhotra, ruing the fact that a film’s fate is linked to its release: “We release 18 to 19 films a year but we still don’t know what the optimal release size is.” Reiterating his point, Malhotra added that “a film is defined by its release”, rather than the other way around.

Malhotra, speaking about the solutions for issues ailing the film distribution business, pointed out that the shift from big screen to small screen is evolutionary and will take a long time.

Said Vikram, “The top 2 challenges are analytics and experiences. One of the founding principles of any industry is to get access to data. What is the optimal penetration for any film? Is doubling our screen width the only solution? We can go from 9,000 to 18,000 screens- and that is convenience. The key is return on investments. Studios have promoted good content and professionalized the setup.”

Speaking about upcoming films like ‘Kahaani 2’ from the Viacom stables, Malhotra said: “Audiences are evolving faster. Consumer research showed the way for marketing spends. We would like to double screens for ‘Kahaani 2.’ Blockbusters will give deliver greater ROI across all value chains for studios. We are exploring TV releases too.”

Comparing the ground realities of film distribution between the UK, U.S.A and India, Senthil Kumar said: “In India 1.2 billion people have only 9000 screens . We have one-sixteenth the screen density of the US. UK has 8 times more (screen density) with 60 million people and 3000 screens. China added 5000 screens last year, with one chain alone adding 1000 screens.”

Speaking about the lack of proportion, he added that half the screens in India are located in four of the Southern states, which goes to show that in some parts of India the screen density is abysmal.

The discussion inevitably led to the question of raising ticket prices, on par with other South Asian countries. Some panelists, like Anil Thadani felt that high ticket prices would curtail and cut down on repeat viwers, and would lead to increased piracy of films.

Thadani used the prime example of a blockbuster like ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’, to justify his case: “It had 30 prints in Bombay with tickets priced at Rs 30 and Rs 50. The revenue was collected along the same range as now. It adds to the longevity of the film.”