FICCI Frames 2010: Digital may be just what film marketing needs

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media | March 19, 2010
On the concluding day of FICCI Frames 2010, experts in the film marketing arena discussed how ancillary revenue growth streams can be used in the business

Film marketing has covered a lot of ground in the last couple of years in India, but experts would agree that it has a long way to go. On the concluding day of FICCI Frames 2010, a session moderated by Colin Burrows, CEO, Special Treats Production Company, UK, dealt with the topic, "The future of film marketing: growing ancillary revenues".

& #BANNER1 & #The panellists were: Kapil Agarwal, joint managing director, UFO Moviez India; Sanjeev Lamba, CEO, Reliance Big Pictures; Siddharth Roy Kapur, CEO, UTV Motion Pictures; Sandeep Bhargava, CEO, Studio18; and Neeraj Roy, MD and CEO, Hungama Digital Media Entertainment.

Lamba began by citing the potential for films beyond theatrical releases -- DVD, video on demand services, satellite airing, and so on. "The rest of the world is high on 'all rights' releases, which means tying up with one company for all these rights," he said, "but in India, the tendency is to break up the selling of rights by tying up with different partners. This has its limitations, as opposed to obtaining everything under one roof/banner." Therefore, the success of film marketing begins by managing its rights successfully.

On the flip side though, Lamba said that Indian cinema is gaining popularity in overseas markets - Shah Rukh Khan's movies do rather well in Germany; while some Rajnikant films do well in Japan. Apparently, a film such as My Name is Khan is doing well in the Islamic world, including Egypt.

Giving his perspective on the film business, Agarwal of UFO Moviez said that the decade gone by has indeed seen the corporatisation of studios, but a large chunk of the business is disorganised. "Today we have over 900 independent producers in the country. Anyone, who wants to launch his son or daughter as an actor, turns producer for the job," he quipped.

Further, there is the perpetual problem of piracy, to which he suggested "going digital" as an answer. "Digitising movies not only counters piracy, but also helps achieve a widespread movie release, without print costs and other related costs," he said.

Roy of Hungama Digital Media Entertainment was upbeat about Indian films doing well abroad. "I recently met John Landau, the producer of Avatar, and I told him his film is doing rather well in India; to which he replied that it surely must not be doing as well as '3 Fools'," Roy grinned. What the well-intentioned Landau was referring to, of course, was '3 Idiots'.

The error in the title notwithstanding, the fact that Landau was aware of the latest in the Indian film business had Roy surprised. "There is definitely intrigue for Indian cinema abroad," Roy stated, "which is only set to increase as the digital landscape continues on its road to accentuating and complementing the entertainment industry."

As India is a market fascinated with entertainment, companies like Hungama are creating digital distribution networks. For instance, several Yash Raj movies will be available on I-tunes and other platforms. Roy conceded that 50-70 per cent of a movie's revenues still come from traditional theatrical releases; but this could soon change with the launch of technologies such as I-Pad, and 36 other devices over the next six months (at lower costs than the I-Pad) which would offer high-definition video viewing experiences. The launch of projectors (of video content), which are the size of mobile phones, is an example.

Further, these digital devices can allow for interactive content and scrollers, which impart tidbits on the movie being watched - services for which a consumer is likely to pay a little extra. "This isn't the far future; this is a reality now, which is likely to change the entertainment landscape," Roy said.

Bhargava of Studio18 agreed, citing an example of his own, where the digital world helped enhance entertainment. "We have realised in our experience that even if movies with smaller budgets don't have theatrical releases overseas, people want to see them on DVDs. And this often leads to piracy," he said.

To counter this problem for the release of the film 'Striker', Bhargava and his team tied up with YouTube to get the film available on its platform in markets other than India. As YouTube was officially partnering this initiative, no pirated links about the movie were allowed on its platform, thereby ensuring minimum piracy.

While Roy and Bhargava were gung-ho about the growing importance of digital in contributing to a film's revenues, Lamba tackled the problematic topic of screens in India. Today, there are 9,000 screens in India that are usable, and more than 40 per cent of these are largely in the four Southern states (as regional cinema there is a big industry). That would leave about 5,000-6,000 screens for Hindi and Hollywood cinema India's 1.2 billion people.

"In the US, there are 40,000 screens for Hollywood, for a population that is a fraction of ours," Lamba stated. Further, only 45 screens in India are 3D enabled. On the plus side, the expected emergence of 3D-enabled televisions would help propel entertainment in India.

Kapur of UTV Motion Pictures agreed that the availability of screens is an issue that needs to be tackled. "The growth of the production sector is linked to the exhibition sector. It is time we refurbished single screens, digitised them, and enable 3D on a larger scale," he said, adding that 3D is not only integral to the viewing experience of future times, but will also help address piracy issues. The success of films such as Avatar in various regions proves that language is no bar, when it comes to 3D.

Agarwal was quick to add, "We are set to digitise 350-400 screens in India in a year from now."

Lamba went on to talk about some of the key problems plaguing the film business in India, the rights management issue in particular. "We tend to structure our rights in favour of our domestic studios and partners, and not so much international ones. We mustn't ignore the latter for the former," he said.

As a prediction, Lamba said that just like in Hollywood, consolidation would soon enter the currently fragmented production industry in India; and a handful of studios would soon command 60 per cent of the market share, much like in Hollywood.

UFO Moviez has digitised drive-in theatres in Ahmedabad. Reliance screens in the US are showcasing live IPL matches. Citing such examples, the panel concluded that digitisation may well and truly be the way forward for film revenue generation in future.