Indrani Sen: Reinventing the wheel: Mobile Theatre Vans

12 Jun,2017

By Indrani Sen


On last Saturday, June 10, 2017, Brand Equity carried a report on the Digiplex mobile theatre vans introduced recently by Picture Times for promoting high quality movie viewing experience on large screen in a near multiplex ambience for rural audience. According to the report, the venture is attracting advertising and merchandising support from private as well as public sectors (


I found the headline of the above article “Rural Media gets its dose of entertainment with mobile theatre vans” quite intriguing. Mobile vans, also known as Video on Wheels, have been an integral part of rural media and marketing operations based on staple diet of filmy entertainment for rural audiences over last five decades. Beginning its journey asa media innovation, VoW became a part and parcel of distribution and below the line promotion in rural India.  At present,video-van campaigns during the day includeproduct promotion with playing of popular film music, audio announcement and product jingles supported by interactive games. During the evenings, the same vans usually screen Hindi/ regional language films interspersed with product commercials.The vans are equipped either with a projector and a screen or with a flat screen large TV set for the evening entertainment. In more recent time, some of the mobile vans are equipped with dish antennas and have tie ups with TV channels for playing TV programmes and news to the rural audience. The mobile vans are used independently on a pre-determined route or are tied up with rural fairs and festivals.


So, what is new about the Digiplex mobile theatre vans launched by Picture Times? It is their scale of operation based on today’s technology which make the medium unique. On reaching the target village, the van converts a large land of about one acre into a DigiPlex marketplace with 100-meter-wide intranet sites, equipped with facilities offered by urban multiplexes with e-commerce enabled stalls for public and private sector organisations.


There is also the facility of Wi-Fi hotspot there and a Micro ATM enabling the villagers to link their Aadhar card numbers with their bank accounts. This new avatar of the village fair/ haat rolled into one has the potential of becoming a regular feature in large villages.


The entertainment offered by Digiplex does not come free of cost to the rural audience. The DigiPlex pitches a collapsible all-weather canopy that can accommodate at least 120 viewers and charge them Rs.30 per show for high quality movie viewing experiences. This approach reminded me about the travelling theatres in South India who used to travel in semi-urban and rural areas with a collapsible tent and movie projector and screens till TV became popular in late 80s of the last century. The paid for entertainment offering current movies will have a huge attraction among the rural audience as the VoW normally relies on old movies for entertainment. This offering with the internet facility and the state of the art market place makes the Digiplex mobile theatre vans a unique outreach medium for rural India.


Marketers must distinguish the Digiplex mobile vans from the current mobile vans operation in rural areas.  Most advertisers have been hiring mobile vans for rural advertising from a local service provider, who knows the territory and regional languages. There are a number of such local operators in each region. Very few marketers have their own vans due to the on ground operational hassles, Eveready being a notable exception as they own a large fleet of vans and use the vans effectively for distribution as well as promotion. Among the large media agencies, only Madison has an independent rural unit Anugrah Madison, though many others have experimented with the format.


Marketers have a different opinion about the value for money offered by the medium. Some are of the opinion that the medium does not offer good ROI while others have complete faith on its effectiveness.  The efficacy of the Digiplex mobile theatre vans cum marketplace will have to be evaluated afresh by the advertisers and agencies looking for bridging the gap in media consumption in rural areas.According to a survey “Masters of Rural Markets: From Touchpoints to Trustpoints — Winning over India’s Aspiring Rural Consumers”conducted by Accenture in 2015, rural India holds a large and attractive investment opportunity for private companies. It will require many more private enterprises to adopt the model of Digiplex mobile theatre vans for creating a viable outreach medium for entire rural India consisting of about 650,000 villages,  850 million consumers making up for about 70 per cent of Indian population and contributing around half of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).


Indrani Sen is a media services veteran, having worked with JWT, later Mindshare and then with Emami. She is a consultant and Adjunct Professor in charge of the Media Management programme at the Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication, Pune. The views expressed here are her own. 


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