Mr. Rahul Puri shares his views on the Cinema Industry performance in 2017

As we end 2017, hindsight is always a good (and easy) thing to see if there are any learnings that the cinema and exhibition industry can take and use in the new year. Without doubt this has been another challenging year for the Hindi film industry and although it may finish well and with the slate of releases early in 2018, we have plenty to optimistic about, there are some key considerations to reflect on.

Let's then begin with the most obvious one. Content is the most important thing for the industry to focus on build on. Yes, there have been periods where Indian films have broken records in 2017. Dangal continued on from 2016 and Bahubali 2 did monster business, never seen before. There were also some other good hits including Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya, Toilet Ek Prem Katha and more recently Golmaal Returns, but mostly there have been periods of genuine lull in the industry and some large films that have misfired badly.

The industry needs more films that play successfully across the country, not in small pockets. The film business is now a truly pan-India business and content has to support all regions, not just a few big ones. It's clear that films which do well in certain segments can and do exist - but this isn't the way the industry will thrive and prosper. Regional cinema - Tamil and Telugu especially, have managed to find a formula where films are made both for the class and mass in equal parts. This means they are currently in a much healthier state than Hindi at the moment. Perhaps Mumbai needs to look South for some inputs.

A variety of films is also something we are seeing do well. For every Bahubali, there is a Hindi Medium. For every Golmaal, there is a Bareli Ki Barfi. The film business needs to recognize that there is a segment of the audience that is demanding a different kind of content regularly. They also tend to be the premium audience, which today is a very important segment. This however does not mean that they are excluded from the potboilers and mass blockbusters. No, there is an intersection here and it's a large overlap of the audience. Genre content is something the audience has now understood well and if the film is well presented, they will patronize, whatever the genre.

Another key point to think about is that the audience truly has more choice now. There was a time when Film was the main and premier source of entertainment in the country. Then Television entered the fray and slowly has begun to usurp that position from Film. Now there are various VOD platforms and streaming services also entering thoughts of consumers and suddenly going to the cinema isn't the most obvious choice when it comes to consuming a film anymore. There are many considerations in terms of price, time and convenience and the film business as a whole needs to address how to segregate its content in a way it can still attract people to theatres first and foremost or else segment its content along the lines of the US. Even then there are no guarantees as non-film content is gaining ground, especially with younger consumers. Thought needs to be given as to how to attract these consumers consistently back to theatres.

Piracy continues to be a huge concern especially in the times of rapid internet expansion and more and more demand for cheaper content. It is still not clear exactly how much the industry loses to piracy, but I suspect its well over the levels that are talked about. Piracy is becoming a way of life in India and its up to the industry to ensure education and enforcement of this as if this doesn't come from within, it will continue to be a 'to-do' on every yearly list.

Food is a key element to the day out at the cinemas and for good reason. Everything is better when the box of popcorn you have is warm and tasty. However today patrons are looking for more than popcorn and theatres as a retail outlet need to rise to this demand. The new Inox in Atria Mall has started with a premium service built into the movie going experience and its something that many people were skeptical of, but it has begun well. More such segmentation is needed so that the theatre going experience isn't so standard and same.

The advent of VR and AR for use as promotional elements in theatres is also something that will come into play and needs to. Most of our cinema - going experience is standard and bland. The multiplex revolution is now a decade old and more than ever, we need to move on to the next level of entertainment where patrons can watch a film and have a fulfilling day out as well. How well these innovative technologies can be melded into film promotions, we will wait and see but there is enormous potential there.

More than ever, there is a huge brand value for films. English, Hindi and regional films are all doing well in pockets where the content is good and the promotion is apt but a lack of focus in major elements is letting the industry down now for the second year in a row. The future is looking positive with lots of potentially blockbusting films heading our way, can we take the best advantage of them by redoubling efforts? 2018 will tell us soon enough.

Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year!

- Rahul Puri is the MD of Mukta Arts Ltd.