From selling movie and concert tickets to streaming live events now, the brand's co-founder and director Parikshit Dar talks about survival.
Empty stadiums, cancelled concerts, no cinemas… as the Coronavirus pandemic hit India, the offline entertainment industry took a tumble. As the consumers started adjusting to the 'new normal', their spending on non-essential products and services fell drastically, leaving far-fetched impacts on the organisers and marketers of the entertainment world.
Amongst the first industry to be hit by the outbreak, out-of-home (OOH) entertainment is expected to be the last to reopen. Or so believes entertainment ticket booking service – BookMyShow’s co-founder and director Parikshit Dar. Founded in August 1999, the Bigtree Entertainment-owned app offers showtimes, movie tickets, reviews, trailers, and events to its customers.
From selling 23-24 million tickets at the beginning of the year (2020), to the number dropping down to zero, Dar says BookMyShow’s core business was hit hard when the lockdown was announced. “We all know how badly the economy has been hit by the Coronavirus, and especially us, as our whole business was around consumers stepping out of their houses for entertainment.”
Dar, who’s been with the company since its seeds were sown 21 years back, says he is today in the phase of developing an online entertainment market in the country. In an attempt to do the same, the brand launched ‘BookMyShow Online’ earlier this month. The online streaming platform, available across BookMyShow’s app and web platform, was beta tested in June. It has a host of virtual live entertainment offerings - music, elements of theatre, stand-up comedy sessions, e-sports, food, family entertainment, fitness and environment conservation, that could be experienced from the safety of one’s house.
Dar says that the idea for the digital live entertainment platform was on the whiteboard for the past one year, but was fuelled only after the brand lost over 50 per cent of its traffic in the past couple of months. “We were thinking of augmenting live events, especially the limited capacity ones and the ones with certain geographical limitations, by steaming them virtually. The plans were in pipeline, but we started building on it after March this year."
To begin with, the Mumbai-based brand started off by doing ‘free’ events. It partnered with content creators, who wanted to engage with their audience, and provided them with the platform to connect with them. The free-to-view events - theatre, singing, open mics and workshops - were live across social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Within the first four weeks, the virtual events had over four million viewers. Dar mentions, “This number is steadily rising by the day, with close to half a million viewers taking to these each week...”
"We do not want to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime."
Starting April, BookMyShow hosted over 750 virtual events in the first three months, and is adding between 100 and 150 events daily now. Some of these events include Live From HQ, Theatre Live, Vodafone #RechargeForGood, #StayFitIndiaChallenge and Seek Sanctuary with Bittu Sahgal of Sanctuary Asia fame, among others.
“When we started with the virtual events, we had no idea how people would react to it, and if they’ll consume the content. April, May were learning months for us where we were figuring what would work and what would not. We also have to figure out how to tailor content as per the market demand,” says Dar. As per the company’s data, comedy, music, educational masterclasses for upskilling, international music concerts featuring global artistes are among the categories that are doing well.
BookMyShow has partnered with Brightcove,- a video technology platform, as the underlying video streaming technology that powers the use case for BookMyShow Online. Brightcove’s underlying technology enables the platform to deliver a reliable, high-quality streaming experience that is easily scalable.
Talking about the challenges involved in putting together the platform, Dar mentions that they were mostly around manpower. “We had to repurpose our certain teams to build the product.”
“We were very clear that we don't want to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime. Our platform is largely targeted at users who are used to consuming live content offline,” he added. In the initial phase, the brand would be targeting the top 30-40 cities.
"We will probably be the last business to reopen."
As of today, over 65 per cent of these events are behind a paywall, while the remaining are free. The charges of each show vary. This, Dar says, depends mostly on the content creators as they fix the charges and the brand just takes a percentage on that. “Most of the charges of the offline world don't exist in the online one,” he says.
For the brand’s upcoming event ‘Sunburn’, a virtual music festival, ticket prices range between Rs 99 and Rs 499. Currently, the monetisation aspect is a pay-per-view format, but the company is also working on a subscription model that will be rolled out over the next few months.
Dar opines that people in India are not used to consuming live entertainment online, and that nobody wants to spend money on it. “India is in the market building phase and the biggest challenge with it is to make people pay for the content.”
The brand, he says, is in it for the long run. “In future, virtual streaming of live events is going to be an add-on to our offline events business when it gets back on track.” He anticipates the movie business to bounce back around Diwali, and offline events around February next year (2021).
"Indians are not used to consuming live entertainment online. We are in the market building phase."
The brand’s revenue rose by more than 52 per cent to cross Rs 619 crore for FY 2019, up from Rs 406 crore in FY 2017-19. Dar isn't sure of the kind of turnover the brand should be looking at by the end of this fiscal year.
“It is very early to comment on it (the turnover), we’re just scratching the surface. We have, for now, cut down our marketing spends, for both physical and digital, and are targeting to drive organic traffic to the platform. We are also looking at partnering with different innovative platforms to cross-pollinate traffic. We’ll see the true potential of business with time…,” Dar signs off.