For some reason, Viraf Sarkari, director at Wizcraft International Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, arguably India’s largest event management company, thinks that he can make consumers pay up to Rs 6,000 each for a musical that he is directing and producing. Written by Javed Akhtar, the musical Zangoora will soon be performed at the strangely named Kingdom of Dreams—the ornate art and theatre venue developed jointly in Gurgaon by Wizcraft and the Apra group, the real estate and hospitality firm.
Think Broadway, West End and Moulin Rouge, Sarkari argues, justifying the high ticket price. If consumers abroad can pay as much as £60-200 just for a seat at such shows, Indians, armed with larger disposable incomes, can surely pay Rs 6,000 for a Bollywood-style musical extravaganza complete with cutting-edge technology and visual effects, he maintains. For Rs 6,000, the viewer will get to sink into a Lazyboy and relish butler service. For the rest, tickets will range between Rs 1,000 and Rs 5,000. The show opens to the public on 22 September.
For a fraction of that price, filmgoers can watch a movie and eat a three-course meal at Cine Diners, the 36-seater auditorium at the Big Cinemas multiplex at Ghatkopar in Mumbai. At Cine Diners, for a luxurious home theatre-like experience, consumers pay Rs 500 for the morning and afternoon shows (including food), while the evening show costs Rs 600. You pay for the extras.
The public relations executive for the brand says Cine Diners is a year old and its average occupancy is 35%. That’s way below the optimal, considering that close to 40 million people view films at Big Cinemas annually at its 250 theatre screens across the country. Of course, the experience of theatre owners with similar formats in other cities or locations may be different, but the fact is that Indians are stingy about spending on entertainment.
Experts who organize live events and concerts agree. For instance, Indians are crazy about classic rock. Yet the country isn’t able to support the cost of an international rock concert because not enough people are willing to shell out enough money. Of course, a lot depends on the popularity of the performer. Event managers say that over the years, Pink Floyd has drawn a crowd of 12,000, Shakira collected an audience of 4,000 people and 15 years ago, Bon Jovi attracted 20,000 people. Yet ticket sales (the price varies between Rs 600 and Rs 3,000) does not pay for the cost of the event, gripes Farhad Wadia, chief executive officer of E-18, the brand solutions and event management company of the Network18 group.
Few Indians are willing to pay a premium for a live experience. Therefore, advertisers are asked to sponsor such events—a practice not popular in, say, Britain, where the cost has to be recovered from gate collections. By and large, the artistes refuse sponsorships and if they don’t, they keep the larger portion of the money spent by advertisers.
In India, not just live entertainment but even television entertainment is subsidized by the sponsors. Television channels are dependent on advertising for revenue generation. Subscription revenue is still insignificant. One of the reasons, among many others, is the inability of the companies to collect a higher charge from the consumer. The monthly cable TV bill has remained stagnant for most viewers. Digital TV has arrived in the form of direct-to-home (DTH) services, but it’s only marginally costlier than cable. The DTH operators are in the red as they are unable to collect a higher fee from the consumers of entertainment. Why, even newspapers, though not strictly in the realm of entertainment, are hugely subsidized by advertisers. Publishers avoid taking the risk of increasing the cover price.
Clearly, the Indian consumer has been thoroughly spoilt and is just not used to paying for entertainment. It must be provided cheap or, better still, free. No matter how rich or poor you may be, you will wait to get a free pass to a concert or theatre even if you are genuinely keen to watch it.
The craving to consume entertainment free is ironical for a country that is splurging on global luxury brands and the finest cars. But then spending on an event does not deliver the same brand value. Possessing a premium product has a distinct show-off or badge value.
But Wizcraft’s Sarkari, a veteran in organizing ticketed events in India and abroad, stands by his theory that Indians have the capacity and will pay if the product (musical in his case) is good. And that Zangoora will attract both Indian and foreign viewers. Meanwhile, a marketeer friend says that sometimes an entertainment event in India can take the form of a brand to aspire for. Else, how do you explain the craze to be at the semi-finals of the Indian Premier League match in Mumbai earlier this year? There was a major scramble for tickets, and it did not matter that the most coveted ones cost between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh!
Shuchi Bansal is marketing and media editor with Mint. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org