Mumbai: Shemaroo has come a long way since its early days as a lending library in a corner of south Mumbai. Shemaroo Entertainment Ltd is now a leading firm in the home video business, spanning the gamut of content from old and new films and television series to movie song compilations and non-film programmes.
The DVD remains a key contributor to Shemaroo’s business, while television rights syndication is its biggest revenue generator. The company has taken on other roles, such as supplying content to a variety of platforms and restoring films. Digital is the buzzword at the family-owned business, which has its roots in a book library set up in 1962 by the Shethia family and the Maroo clan (hence Shemaroo). The Maroos subsequently took over the business and started the video library in 1979.
Hiren Gada , a second-generation family member and director of the company, said in an interview that DVDs are in no danger of dying—his label recently celebrated 50 years with the collectors’ edition 101 Silver Screen Stars, containing songs and trivia about Hindi cinema’s marquee names—but emphasized that there are newer forms of business that need attention. Edited experts:
Are reports of the death of the DVD greatly exaggerated?
The future of home video is great—the need for consumption will always remain. What will keep changing is the format of delivery. I still ship lakhs of units across the country. But the physical format is inefficient, expensive and far more prone to piracy. In digital, you can shut the tap on a site, which is what the music industry recently did to pirated music sites. The faster we move to digital, the happier we are.
When did you realize that digital technology is the present as well as the future?
We realized that digital would become indispensable in 2007-08. We own and aggregate content, so we thought we would be ready for the digital wave when it comes. We started tying up with regional players in the music and audio space to supply content in 20 languages in the form of ringtones, mobile radio and song downloads. We also worked on digitizing our library of film content and keeping it ready for various formats.
We are channel partners with YouTube and are also partnering with mobile companies. For instance, we manage the video deck for Tata DoCoMo—we plan, source and promote music videos, scenes from films, and devotional content. We have also launched apps on Android and are working on other platforms.
Earlier, we had a lot of PC (personal computer) consumption, now there is a lot happening on the mobile and the tablet. Our recent experience on YouTube has been that around 35-40% of the consumption is from mobile devices and the remaining from computers. But I think we are still some time away from achieving critical mass.
DVD pricing has been an issue—companies like Moser Baer transformed the market by selling DVDs for as low as Rs.50.
A perception was created in the minds of consumers that DVDs could be purchased at Rs.30 and Rs.50. Everybody discovered that demand was not price elastic. The problem was actually elsewhere—the window between the theatrical and DVD release was huge, and in between, the pirate made merry. This never got addressed, and people tried to fight piracy on the issue of price. The dust has since settled, but people still expect films to be much cheaper. So about a year ago, we thought we’d shake off the gloom and doom. We did some research and figured out that there is still a DVD-buying population of between 35 and 50 million homes. Good content can sell at a good price, we felt. When we acquired The Dirty Picture (two years ago), we priced its DVD at Rs.400. What better film to stake the idea on, we thought? We have come out with flying colours. The industry has shrunk 50%, but it is stable, it is not shrinking further.
Which cities drive DVD consumption and mobile downloads?
Twenty-odd cities in India are the principal consumers of DVDs, including Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Indore. There is also a lot of online consumption.
On the music side, movie songs, devotional and regional songs are popular in places like Rajasthan. That state alone has two crore mobile subscribers. Smaller places like Ajmer and Bikaner consume local stuff, which is why some of our content providers are very small and local. These are people who have produced CDs, videos and even the odd movie, but for them to go digital, they need an aggregator, and what’s where we come in.
How popular is video downloading?
Video consumption on 3G is still at a nascent stage. On something like YouTube, Bollywood overall is the thing. Within that you have songs, film scenes and coverage of celebrity parties. User-generated content hasn’t really taken off in India. Because of the nature of the format, the consumption of full-length movies is still low-key. The shorter versions and formats are consumed more. The tablet is hugely suited for video consumption—it’s on the go, has a bigger screen and better battery life. However, people are still watching video in their homes in some form or the other.
Whichever medium wins, whatever comes, we are not worried. Our play is to provide content across platforms.
How do you cope with the rising cost of acquiring film content for television?
The prices have gone up phenomenally. For new films, the price range is huge, between Rs.1 and Rs.50 crore. The back catalogue still has some science and sanity to it. For new films, the problem is about demand and supply. We have taken a relative back seat on new films—the larger films are in the hands of bigger production houses who have direct relationships with channels.
You have also experimented with non-film products, like the DVD based on Radhakrishnan Pillai’s ‘Corporate Chanakya: Successful Management the Chanakya Way’.
We are investing in the special interest category—why should it be restricted to films? In the health and fitness category, we did Shilpa’s Yoga (featuring Shilpa Shetty). We did two videos with Bipasha Basu and one more is in the pipeline. Then there are self-development videos—for instance, we are the distributors of The Secret in India. This stuff does pretty well. Corporate Chanakya was an effort to produce local content. We launched the DVD four to five months ago in Hindi and English and it has done very well. We are now in the process of creating a toolkit called Chanakya and You.
Cinematically, you might not agree with the treatment, but you need to look at the larger context.