Post covid, cinemas look at premium, luxury formats to woo audiences

NEW DELHI: Movie goers, confined to their homes in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, may need more than regular fare to be wooed back to cinemas. With most getting used to the convenience of watching web shows and films across languages in the comfort of their homes, cinemas and multiplexes plan to lure them back through luxury formats - smaller and more plush auditoriums, larger, high-tech screens, and customised menus.

Exhibitors said for people who are willing to spend, they will offer a premium service and an intimate, safe, hygienic environment.

Besides, producers and studios are lining up big tent-pole films in Hindi and southern languages, with Hollywood spectacles also on the way, necessitating big-screen experiences, experts in the film trade business said.

"People will crave large-format experiences when all this is over. There is little doubt they have been missed and may well be back with a vengeance in a year or so as people will want more premium experiences to make up for what they have missed out on," said Rahul Puri, managing director, Mukta Arts and Mukta A2 Cinemas, adding that while such experiences will not be for all segments, as disposable income may be tight for a while, those who can will certainly invest in big screens and luxury formats that will be much in demand.

“People will want a break from the norm. These could translate into gourmet menus, bigger screens, VR (virtual reality) set-ups in the lobby, premium seats, and service," Puri said.

The premium large format is a reason people will step out to go to the cinema, Preetham Daniel, executive vice-president - Asia, a screen manufacturing company Harkness Screens, said.

“The large screen experience, sound, and visuals cannot be replicated at home," Daniel said, adding that reports from other countries have shown that customers spent money on concessions (food, 3D glasses etc) and other luxury experiences post reopening of cinemas. “If the same trend follows in India, which I have no doubt it would, we will see customers looking to spend more money on everything that makes for the full cinema experience, driving chains to invest in expanding their menus and pushing the boundaries on what is being offered presently."

“Multiplexes are increasingly adding premium film viewing formats to better cater to their core audiences with a view to get a larger share of the pie and this trend will continue," Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Ltd said. In states that have a ceiling on ticket pricing, a premium format enables a multiplex operator to charge additionally over controlled ticket prices, he added.

“Against just viewing content at home which is more a utilitarian experience, cinemas are an experiential medium and would want to stay relevant and better serve premium audiences through newer formats, larger screens, better quality projection and sound systems to give an immersive experience to audiences which cannot be replicated at home," Dutta said.

At PVR, 11% of the total screen count is in premium formats and the company is looking to extend it to properties in tier-two and tier-three cities. Among premium formats, PVR SAPPHIRE offers recliners and personalised hospitality services, P[XL] has auditoriums equipped with extra-large screens, upgraded laser projection systems and advanced Dolby Atmos sound, and PVR 4DX has high-tech motion seats and special effects, in both 2D and 3D formats.

Rajender Singh Jyala, chief programming officer, INOX Leisure Ltd, said for spectacles or films at scale such as those from Hollywood, the company has always witnessed better occupancies in luxury formats as compared to regular auditoriums. "The experience definitely attracts viewers," he said.

INOX Leisure Ltd plans to add at least five more IMAX screen properties over the next year-and-a-half. IMAX is a 70 mm motion picture film format and a set of cinema projection standards where the screen image width is greater than the height.

While admitting there is a cost to luxury format cinemas that is ultimately passed on to the customer, Amit Sharma, chief executive officer at Miraj Cinemas agreed there has been an appetite for such experiences in certain cities, even before the pandemic. The company is in talks with screen and tech companies like IMAX to further plans for its premium segment, Miraj Maximum.

“Quite naturally, the investment in premium formats will be significantly higher than regular auditoriums," PVR’s Dutta said. For instance, a PVR IMAX with laser requires about Rs. 10 crore more than a regular auditorium; PVR 4DX, on the other hand, needs Rs. 3-4 crore more than the standard multiplex screen.

Trade experts said inflated ticket rates may be a cause of concern and will have to be justified by the experience and the film in question. "Safety protocols plus lucrative pricing will be key to bringing people back to theatres post the pandemic," said Girish Johar, film trade and exhibition expert. Several small and medium-budget films have suffered because of high prices in the past, he added.

“The luxury format would certainly gain more ground in India with a view to providing a differentiated movie-viewing experience to audiences in theatres which is not possible while watching movies at home. With rapid mall development in tier-two and tier-three cities, rising consumerism, brand awareness, more disposable incomes and limited out-of-home entertainment avenues, we expect the luxury formats to extend beyond tier-one cities," Dutta said.

Date : 20th July, 2021

Source : Livemint