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Bollywood needs to change to accelerate growth amid challenges from Hollywood and regional cinema

MUMBAI: Bollywood’s market growth is facing some threat from Hollywood and regional cinema, but there are bigger challenges in terms of piracy, inadequate screens, higher pricing of tickets at multiplexes and new movies being aired on television with less gap from theatrical release.

The alarming trend is that Hindi cinema is having fewer footfalls in theatres, even in case of stars like Salman Khan. Out of the 10-crore movie-goer base, Hindi has a base of four crore.

Ajit Andhare, COO - Viacom18 Motion Pictures (5)“Footfalls have halved over a decade. The multiplexes’ high prices have moved a chunk of audiences away. Films are available free of cost on television and pirated versions are also available. So there is no incentive for consumers to go to the cinema halls. How do you grow underlying demand? China has moved forward on this,” said Viacom18 Motion Pictures COO Ajit Andhare.

Andhare noted that while Hollywood and regional cinema segments are growing, Hindi cinema is not imploding. “Hollywood is localising at a faster pace than Bollywood is globalising. ‘The Jungle Book’ made 50% of its box-office collection from the dubbed Hindi feed. ‘Sairat’ tapped into the adjacent category of Gujarati and Hindi. Bollywood needs to do much better in crossing over to increase its market share,” he said.

Balaji Telefilms Group CEO Sameer Nair agreed that the genesis of falling cinemagoers was the lack of screens in the country and high price of tickets. He said that Bollywood was aware that the audience for Hollywood movies was increasing and giving a tough competition to Hindi cinema and models were being worked upon to maintain a balance.

Sameer NairNair, however, did not agree that Bollywood was in trouble. “Our (Bollywood) stars are everywhere, they are anchoring big-ticket TV shows, they are brand ambassadors and they get into newer kinds of deals with producers,” he said.

Though regional cinema was being aggressively promoted by state governments by way of various sops, this was not a threat to Bollywood in any way. One way of raising the dipping footfalls could be raising the TV-viewing window of new movies to six months, Nair said, while speaking on the concluding day at FICCI Frames.

According to Nair, piracy and low screen density were two big challenges that Bollywood needed to tackle. Multiplex owners needed to open more chains in Tier II and III towns, he noted.

Content windowing also needs a better structure; otherwise, people will simply wait for the movie to air on TV.

“India lacks a systematic windowing system. The Film Producers Guild needs to talk to the IBF and to the digital players to create a structured process for windowing of content,” Nair said.

Andhare noted that content windowing of theatrical releases needs to be pushed back to six months. “In America, people visit theatres because they know that they will not be able to see the film on TV for quite a while. If the telecast of a film on TV is pushed to six months or more, then the audience is not going to wait long to consume a film on TV. But this is not going to happen easily as the biggest expansion in India is happening on TV,” he said.

VRed Chillies Entertainment CEO Venky Mysore noted that the issue was how to grow a constricted market for Bollywood. There was a need for change in the business model of Bollywood and stakeholders needed to come together to resolve the issues.

In terms of actor fees leading to lopsided costs, Mysore noted that the situation would not sustain if an imbalance was created. He noted that actors’ capital was being invested and some actors had built their brands. However, things were changing as revealed by Hollywood, which had moved from a star-centric to a studio-centric model, he added.

Andhare noted that it was independent production houses like Yash Raj and Dharma who have created this generation’s stars. Corporates find it difficult to take long-term risks on talent. Talent is where the capital is but you need a longer window for it to develop. Unfortunately, corporates are stuck with the annual report millstone.

Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce president Suresh Babu said that the advantage of the Telugu market was that there were as many as 25 stars who could open a film. Last year, 300–400 single screens were renovated and the ticket price was Rs 80–100. “We need more multiplexes and lower ticket prices,” he said.

Addressing Nair’s point about putting in place rules and the industry coming together, Babu said that strong trade bodies were needed to combat piracy and push the agenda, which was lacking in Bollywood. Piracy could be reduced, but the cause needed champions and good leaders who could take the fight ahead.

“There should be people who will push for the problems to be solved. In Karnataka, there is no piracy of Kannada films, but piracy of other language films does happen as selfishness comes in. It is not that difficult to prevent piracy. People need to meet police and higher authorities. You have to meet people regularly to sort the issue,” he said.

What is also compounding the problem is that the Bollywood fraternity is disunited. “It is each person for himself or herself. On censorship and piracy issues, there is no united front put up to fight against them. Bollywood needs to come together as an industry and put rules in place,” said Nair.

Babu said that audiences were being alienated by multiplexes as they were removing a certain type of cinema for which there was an audience base. He added that, in the Telugu film industry, irrespective of the budget of the movie, the publicity in newspapers remained similar for all films and the same was done for TV promotion to the extent possible, which kept the marketing cost in check allowing all kinds of cinema the same visibility.

With the issues surrounding the industry, two studios have shut shop. “The fixed costs are humongous and the business model is risky. Hence, strategic players like Fox Star Studios and Viacom18 will remain, who, besides producing movies, also run TV channels or digital companies,” said Andhare.

For Andhare, storytelling is not a big issue. “The content has improved in Bollywood in the last 4–5 years. We have had some great content like ‘Queen’ and ‘Neerja’. Today Salman Khan is not doing a film like ‘Wanted’ or ‘Dabangg’. He is doing ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’. So, everyone including the stars is focusing on good stories.”

Bollywood is increasingly being content and script-led. There are a lot of small budget movies with contrarian ideas, Ranade said.

The emergence of digital platforms like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix has also opened new vistas for monetisation for movies. “The silver lining is digital, which can be a paid, secure window,” said Andhare.