Cinema: Mass Entertainment or Luxury Item?

21 Apr,2023



By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorJust 22 million (or 2.2 crore). That’s the number of urban adults who watched three of more Hindi films in a theatre in 2022. Add kids and rural audience to it, and the number will still struggle to cross the 3 crore mark.


This single data point, from our new report Ormax Cine Sense: 2023, brings a lot in perspective to how mass (or not) ‘Bollywood’ is. The equivalent of the 2.2 crore number was about 3.5 crore in the pre-pandemic years. It hovered around that mark pretty much through the period from 2013 to 2019, for which this data is available with us.


In effect, we are talking about only about 2% of India’s population going to movie theatres to watch a Hindi film at least once in 3-4 months. The equivalent numbers for the four South languages will be known soon, and the all-India number may look closer to 6-7 cr, which is still less than 5% of India’s population. Movie-going is clearly not as mass as many believe it is.


Over the last decade or so, the growth in box-office business has been fueled more by rising ticket prices than by footfalls. In effect, cinema-going habit has become more and more elusive. With a wide range of alternatives to watch movie content being available, including OTT and linear TV channels, there is very little incentive for an average Indian to visit a movie theatre. And once the habit is broken, it is a tough ask to reinstate it.


It’s not as if films themselves are niche as a content type. Theatrical films routinely outperform high-profile OTT originals on streaming platforms. Despite being a huge theatrical success, Pathaan has managed viewership numbers like Amazon Prime Video’s biggest hit series in recent times, Farzi. And this is despite theatrical and paid streaming categories showing a sizeable audience overlap, to the extent of about 75%.


Till a few years ago, there was a lot of talk about India being an “under-screened” market. But when most of India’s existing 9,000 odd screens are operating at less than 15% occupancy for at least 40 weeks in a year, opening new screens is not a prudent move.


Outdoor entertainment, by its very nature, if a luxury item in the budget planning of most Indian families. A single trip to a theatre for a family of four can cost them most than annual subscription of three OTT apps. That’s why, the youth (15-30 years), driven by social needs, have been the dominant target group for Hindi film consumption since the multiplex era started about two decades ago. But even with India’s young population, the numbers are not sizeable.


In what may almost seem like a contrarian view, I don’t see much of an issue here. If the Hindi film industry can come to terms with its premium positioning, they can go all out and target only the 2-3 crore people who really matter, and let others consume the content at their homes. This will lead to sharpening of focus at various levels. For example, you do not actually need traditional media to target these audience, almost all of whom are active on digital platforms. Or the entire debate about ticket prices will become irrelevant, once you identify a target audience who is willing to pay a premium for their outdoor entertainment.


But that’s not to say that the content needs to be ‘elitist’ too. SS Rajamouli, Rohit Shetty, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Rajkumar Hirani are the top four favourite directors for these 2 cr people. Escapism is still a dominant need that drives their decision to buy a movie ticket in the first place.


With the exception of South India (which is the topic of another article for another day), movies are mass, but movie-going is not. It’s about time the industry gets comfortable with this idea.


Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.

Today's Top Stories