Show starts for Kollywood again, OTT threat looms

We were able to recover from the pandemic losses this year, K Pandiyan, manager of Madurai-based Priya complex cinemas said.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

CHENNAI: Like the filmy comeback of Kollywood’s matinee idols, movie theatres in Tamil Nadu returned to profitability in 2022 after being hit hard by the pandemic for the past two years, with a few big-budget films bringing in the moolah and footfalls. 

We were able to recover from the pandemic losses this year, K Pandiyan, manager of Madurai-based Priya complex cinemas said. The man with 22 years of experience was initially unsure if audiences will return to the silver screen due to Covid-19 fears and losses. Vijay’s ‘Master’ brought the audience back to the big screen, he said.

While star-studded, big-budget hits like ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, ‘KGF’, ‘RRR’, and ‘Vikram’ helped us, small-budget flicks like ‘Love Today’, too, captured viewers’ fancy, says Tiruppur Subramaniam, president of Tamil Nadu theatre owners association. Content is all that matters, he said. 

“Theatres which upgraded themselves witnessed an increase in footfall and those that failed to match the pace of audiences’ changing preferences were forced to go out of business,” he said, naming a few. People visit cinemas for the ‘theatre experience’. They expect a clean environment, comfortable seats, and a pleasant movie-watching experience, Subramaniam said.

Owners of single-screen theatres to multiplexes that TNIE spoke to said the business was largely profitable in 2022. Earlier, we were forced to sell jewellery and spend all our cash in hand to maintain equipment and pay our employees, said Trichy S Sridhar, joint secretary of the theatre owners’ association. 

With OTTs or over-the-top streaming services posing a challenge, avenues for theatres to make money have changed, said SR Prabhu, producer, Dream Warrior Pictures. Currently, the share of non-theatrical revenue stands at 50% to 60%, compared to 30% five years ago, though the figure may differ for each movie. Of the non-theatrical revenue, 70% comes from streaming sites and the rest from satellite and music rights. OTT reduced video piracy to a large extent and has channelled the revenue to producers, which, hitherto, was a challenge, he said.  

In urban centres, multiplexes play a dominant role. Gautam Dutta, CEO of PVR cinemas, said, “The first quarter of this year brought the biggest-ever box office collection for PVR generating an all-time high food and beverages revenue riding on blockbuster content. In Q2, the box office was impacted due to the underperformance of some Bollywood flicks,” he said.

Vijay Goud head of India centre of Quickplay, a firm that offers the technological architecture for streaming services such as Aha gave a sneak peek into the landscape in 2023. “The important trend is that streaming platforms may turn more interactive with gamification, chatting and group viewing and by clubbing entertainment with news content,” he said.

In terms of technology, adaptive-bit rate control or adjusting video quality based on the network’s bandwidth will help platforms gain market control in tier-3 and rural areas, Goud said. He added telecoms and streaming firms are partnering to usher in zero-data streaming where content can be viewed on certain portals without data charge. 

Technology, the threat of a new pandemic wave, and increasing food and charges at theatres may disrupt the film market. Theatres may have to reinvent themselves to be ahead of the curve. 

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The New Indian Express