E-City plans theatres, malls across 45 cities

E-City plans theatres, malls across 45 cities

E-City Ventures, Zee group’s cinema infrastructure and real estate arm, is planning to invest Rs800 crore to expand its presence in 45 cities by 2011.

E-City will put up 1,500 screens around the country, most of them in a digital format in small towns and cities. It will also develop malls in at least a dozen cities within the same period.

“Our plan is to move out of the so-called cinema strips and move to towns and cities that are not saturated in terms of screen capacities," Atul Goel, chief executive officer of E-City Ventures said. Goel said the group will focus on tier II and III cities for both cinema and retail infrastructure expansion. “That’s where we see the growth coming in the near future," he said.

Of the 1,500 screens planned, 1,000 will be digital, 250 will be the premium brand multiplexes—Fun Cinemas and the rest, 250, Talkie Towns. Existing single screen formats in small cities will be converted to digital screens.

Used to combat piracy worldwide, the digital format prevents unauthorized duplication as the film is downloaded into the exhibitor’s server in an encrypted or coded format. It also enables exhibitors in smaller towns to screen films on the same day they are released in the metros.

E-City already has a presence in more than 50 towns and cities, where it operates 90 digital screens and 50 multiplex screens. E-City has a market share of around 20%, while competitors—Fame Cinemas, PVR Cinemas and Cinemax India Ltd control 22%, 25% and 33%, of the Mumbai market. An E-City spokesperson said national figures are not comparable because the presence of various players across the country was not uniform.

E-City has screens in cities such as Latur in Maharashtra, Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh and Vapi in Gujarat. Most of these are small towns, which have large, single screens formats with additional land surrounding the cinemas. Goel said E-City was also looking at redeveloping these lands too.

E-City Ventures is the holding company for Zee group’s entertainment brands, such as Fun Republic—the lifestyle retail malls, Fun Cinemas—the multiplexes, E-City Digital— the film distribution company, EPMS—the mall management company, and E-City Media— the new media space buying venture launched by the group. E-City Media will buy and sell advertising spaces in theatres across the country. It is also floating two new ventures—Talkie Town, a value brand of theatres for smaller cities and a yet-to-be-named retail infrastructure company, which will build 12 malls in tier II and III cities by 2011.

Spread over small towns and cities, India has around 14,000 screens, mostly in the single screen format.

In recent years, while the film exhibition formats have been changing in the metros to multi-screen or multiplex formats, the smaller cities, which account for almost 80% of the box-office collection, are only just beginning to see the multiplex boom.

Goel estimates the potential of the overall cinema infrastructure business in India to be in the region of Rs6,000 crore, which could grow to Rs12-13,000 crore in the next five years. He also expects the average price per ticket to go up.

Rajesh Jain, national leader for the entertainment and media practice at global consulting firm KPMG, said digital environments let an exhibitor minimize the cost of prints— digital copies can be bought for as little as Rs1,000 a copy, while prints can cost between Rs70,000 and 80,000 a copy. “Digital formats also allow exhibitors to capture the first-day, first- show cash flows," he said. “These crowds have emerged as the key to the success of a film. Anything else that you give the audience can only enhance your cash flows, especially in underscreened and underdistributed country like India." India has a low per capita theatre seat availability.

Goel said the company will invest Rs600 crore over the next four years in its upcoming mall business. The money for the venture will be raised through private equity but Goel declined to name the prospective partners.

The first three malls will come up in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, Jammu in J&K and Udaipur in Rajasthan by 2009. He said E-City’s goal is to offer both premium lifestyle experience in the big cities, while offering value to the small-town clientele, through Talkie Towns.

“The premium brand will have add-ons like lounges and gaming in the same complex, while the Talkie Towns will try to provide the similar ambience without the gaming and other add-ons," Goel said.