Indian cinema has continued to enchant the Indian audiences for almost a century now. Its charisma can be judged from the fact that each year, more than 1,000 films are produced and over three billion film tickets sold1. As we inch toward the industry’s centenary year celebrations, it’s time to pause for a few moments and ponder if the golden age of single-screens is now over?
From surround sound and digital screening to 3D and now 5D, the last 15 years of Indian cinema have drastically altered the cinematic experience for the Indian audience. The movie watching experience has only become more involved and real, yet larger than life. Multiplexes have been key catalysts of this change and have been directly credited with the decline of crowds at single-screen theaters. Consequently, single-screen theaters have lost ground in recent years, with many being compelled to shut down or convert into multiplexes. According to the Film Federation of India’s estimates, the number of single-screen theaters has dwindled from 13,000 to 10,167 in the past five years.
Many have written off the single screen format altogether. Yet, recent box office results show that for mass market content, the single-screen theater continues to be indispensable. Filmmakers are also cognizant of the fact that the basic essence of cinema is to thrill and entertain; as such, they cannot produce blockbusters unless their films cater to the masses. Recent boxoffice results of such films reaffirm this idea.
As single-screen theater owners strive to enhance the viewing experience, infrastructure and facilities at their theaters, many of them will continue to stay competitive. Pricing at single screens also tends to be lower than at multiplexes; this will continue to attract the masses. It is the profound contribution of single screens that has made films such as Dabangg, Ra.One, Don 2, Bodyguard and Rowdy Rathore INR1 billion+ grossers2.
In a bid to revive or retain their appeal, many single-screen theaters are reinventing themselves and upgrading their infrastructure to provide an experience that matches that of multiplex theaters. From improving picture quality, surround sound and air-conditioning to enhancing parking spaces and the quality of food and beverages.
Some players have also introduced online ticketing systems to curb black marketing and increase customer convenience. The Andhra Pradesh Film Chamber of Commerce (APFCC) has collaborated with theater owners and producers in the state to set up a portal for online ticketing in around 1,500 single-screen theaters across Andhra Pradesh3.
Digitization is playing a pivotal role in this transformation by providing singlescreen theaters with the advantages of flexible programming, the digital distribution of prints that allow the same day releases at theaters across the country; simultaneously, it helps achieve savings in overheads, including the maintenance of print projectors and labor costs. Digitization is also enabling single-screen theaters generate supplemental revenues through demographic focused in-cinema advertising and live screenings of events such as cricket matches.
Most single-screen theaters recognize a merit in upgrading infrastructure; however, the significant capital investment associated with such upgrades is a key deterrent. While a digital transmission system (DTS) costs more than INR0.4 million, air conditioning a single-screen theater that accommodates 1,000 people costs around INR2.5 million4. The proposed imposition of an additional 10.2 percent in service tax on theater exhibition is expected to add to the cost burden of single-screen theaters5, as many states impose a maximum limit on admission rates. For instance, multiplexes in Andhra Pradesh can charge up to INR150 per ticket, but a single-screen theater - even if it provides the best of amenities - cannot charge more than INR60 per ticket6.
KPMG in India’s point of view
Single-screen theaters can continue to co-exist with modern multiplexes provided they can attract audiences while ensuring profitability for sustained operations. They need to strike a balance between offering an enhanced movie
experience through using the latest technology and generating alternative revenue streams. Government support is required to facilitate single-screen theaters in adopting a flexi-pricing and flexi-content strategy. Current regulations across most states prohibit single-screen theaters from charging flexible admission rates based on a film’s duration and genre.
Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are among the few states which provide theater operators flexible pricing options6. If a theater has better facilities, it can charge higher admission rates. Single-screen theaters such as Devi Complex and Urvasi in Bengaluru are reportedly faring well as they now have the freedom to decide on ticket prices based on a film’s performance, the theater’s show timings and location of seats, among other factors6. Restricting screenings to four shows a day also acts as a growth inhibitor, since it restricts flexible content programming for single-screen players. Deregulating this restriction could help single-screen theaters run a greater number of shows and also encourage filmmakers to consider making shorter films.
Thus, the era of the 70mm silver screen will have many more miles to go provided the industry gets its act together and gathers sufficient support from the Government.
1. “Show time,” Business Today website, http://businesstoday.intoday.in/story/multiplex-boom-india/1/24168.html, accessed July 2012
2. “Single Screen Vs Multiplex B O Analysis Of 2012 Hits,” Boxofficecapsule website, www.boxofficecapsule.com/breaking-news.aspx?news_id=469 , accessed
3. “A portal to kill the black ticket,” Deccan Chronicle website, www.deccanchronicle.com/tabloid/hyderabad/portal-kill-black-ticket-703, accessed July 2012
4. “Single screen theatres hold their ground,” Times of India website, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-07-09/chennai/32603987_1_singlescreen-
theatres-multiplexes-abirami-ramanathan, accessed July 2012
5. “ Single-screen theatres oppose service tax,” Times of India website, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-02-27/pune/31104052_1_singlescreen-
theatres-poona-exhibitors-association-service-tax , accessed July 2012
6. “Single theatre owners in a dilemma in city,” Times of India website, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-02-
22/hyderabad/31086776_1_single-screen-theatres-theatre-owners-multiplexes, accessed July 2012