Cricket Won’t Play In Indian Multiplexes As Film Strike Worsens

By Patrick von Sychowski | April 17, 2009 4:28 am PDT

Indian multiplexes will not be able to offset the impact of the film strike/boycott/non-releasing with screening of Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket matches. The imminent IPL season was anyways going to put a damper on the box office for the next six weeks, but with Hindi producers refusing to release any new films, screening of cricket matches would have provided some respite for the multiplex operators.

From the Economic Times:

A senior executive with a Delhi-based multiplex chain, who did not wish to be quoted, said, “The IPL committee was asking for a very high price as minimum guarantee, in addition to revenue sharing arrangements. This is not a financially viable business model that multiplexes operate on.” He added that multiplexes can’t hike ticket prices significantly as that would not help in attracting volumes.

As per another senior executive with a company that was looking to bid for the multiplex distribution rights, IPL was looking at a minimum guarantee of Rs 35-45 crore and was awarding the distribution rights only for a year.

“Since the matches are happening in South Africa this year, it would have been an even bigger business opportunity for multiplexes, distributors and advertisers,” UFO Moviez CFO Kapil Agarwal said. The digital cinema solutions firm had evinced interest in providing back-end technology for live telecast of the matches at multiplexes.

Meanwhile, there appears to be no end in sight for the stand off between producers and multiplex operators. Though no major films were set for release during the IPL tournament anyway, there are no dangerous signs of post-IPL releases getting pushed back. From Times of India:

Films like Shortkut, Luck, Kaminaay, Kambakht Ishq, New York and Love Aaj Kal are a few biggies awaiting release. Going by last year’s IPL record, all but one film (Jannat) released during the matches bombed. Then, Ramzan begins on August 22 and most producers won’t release during the holy month. That leaves about two-and-a-half clear months for movies to release between the IPL and Ramzan. “The current situation is so fluid that one can’t say anything definite,” says Dinesh Vijan, Saif Ali Khan’s partner on Love Aaj Kal. “Movies with release dates slotted for May have been postponed. We intend to stick to our scheduled release date (June 26) and hope this situation gets sorted out soon,” he adds.

Trade sources confirm Vipul Shah had chosen August 14 as his release date for London Dreams. The producer had assumed he would get a clear run until Ramzan, and even further. “Now that films are being moved from their original release date; there is going to be a big clash from the time the strike lifts,” says Mehra.

CNBC-TV18 does a good job of crunching the numbers of what the multiplexes are losing from the current standoff:

Here’s the math:

The big-five multiplex chains together have 1.62 lakh seats. Each seat screens at least 4.9 shows a day, that’s 34.3 shows a week. This means every week, 54.55 lakh seats are available to generate revenues.

But weekly occupancy levels at most multiplexes stand at around 27% even with higher rates on weekends and holidays. This leaves just 16.36 lakh seats that actually generate revenues.

On average, a seat at a multiplex generates Rs 121 per show, with an additional Rs 31 on food and beverage. That’s a weekly revenue of around Rs 24 crore for the big-five chains.

INR 24 crore (Rs 240m) works out to almost $5m per week, which is a LOT for the nascent Indian multiplex industry. Meanwhile producers have floated the idea of each production house ‘adopting’ a single screen cinema and refurbishing it to multiplex standard, though how much substance or chance of realization such a proposal has is open to speculation.

Meanwhile, Bollywood stars like Shahrukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty – who have tended to side with the producers, perhaps not surprisingly given that many of them have their own production banners – can afford to take a relaxed attitude about both films and cricket’s no-show on multiplex screens at least for now as they own stakes in the competing cricket teams. Moreover from AFP:

Action hero Akshay Kumar is brand ambassador for Delhi Daredevils, movie hearthrob Hrithik Roshan is flying the flag for the Mumbai Indians, while screen siren Katrina Kaif is supporting the Bangalore Royal Challengers.

Top performers and music directors have also got in on the act, producing music videos for many of the teams that owe much to Bollywood’s song and dance routine tradition.

In their oversized filmstar sunglasses and designer clothes, Shetty, Zinta and Kaif added much-needed glamour to the gathering of corporate suits at the auction for new players in the resort state of Goa earlier this year.

For the actors, many of whom who have been making the rounds at promotional events before the start of IPL’s second season, merging cricket and film makes perfect sense given the fanatical following that both have on the subcontinent.

As Shilpa Shetty correctly observes, “Cricket is not a sport in our country, it’s a religion.” But if multiplexes are the temples, then the gods have deserted them and show no signs of returning until the keepers of the temples appease them.

Patrick von Sychowski
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