Today, audience tastes have broadened: Walt Disney India’s Siddharth Roy Kapur6 min read . Updated: 26 Dec 2015, 01:12 AM IST
On the potential of Hollywood in India, and the challenges and opportunities for the Disney brand
It’s been an exciting couple of months for Siddharth Roy Kapur, the dapper managing director of the Walt Disney Co. (India) that operates Disney and UTV Motion Pictures as well as a network of television channels. He’s been busy putting together Beauty and the Beast, the company’s first-ever Broadway-style musical as well as promoting Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Disney’s hugely anticipated J.J. Abrams film that hit theatres in India on 25 December. Luckily for Kapur, 41, both the film and the musical got an overwhelming audience response. In New Delhi to oversee the launch of the musical, the former Star India executive spoke in an interview about the potential of Hollywood in the country and the challenges and opportunities for the Disney brand in the fast-changing Indian consumer market. Edited excerpts:
What’s been the initial response to the film in India?
It’s too early to comment. For most people, Star Wars is a global cinematic event, if there ever was one. It comes after eight years and has a huge fan base. But a lot has changed; so it’s about reintroducing it to a new generation completely.
What major changes has the Indian entertainment industry seen since 2004 which is when UTV Motion Pictures entered the film market and Disney started its operations in India?
The last decade in media has seen tumultuous change. Television, for example, was a completely analogue world. With phase I and phase II of digitization, the cable and satellite distribution market has changed completely, as has the break-up between advertising and subscription revenue. Also, there were probably half the number of channels there are today. The TRPs (television rating points) and GRPs (gross rating points) of the top shows then were significantly higher. Now the audiences are fragmented.
The accessibility to and immediacy of content from around the world, the exposure to social networks and the immersive and interactive experience people have with media as a result, instead of it being a one-way experience—these are all important changes. It’s not that the soap operas and family dramas are not doing well. But it’s not that homogenous anymore. Channels are going for day-parts apart from prime-time slots and programming content accordingly.
Similarly, on the movies side, 70-75% of the revenue is now coming from multiplexes, the number of screens has risen, the exposure of people to international and world cinema has increased. In 2006, Khosla Ka Ghosla was one small film that went big.
Today, audience tastes have broadened so much that along with a Chennai Express or a Rowdy Rathore, even a Haider or Tanu Weds Manu Returns or Piku can do the kind of business it does. This would have been unimaginable then. So, pretty much everything has changed.
In a cluttered film market, how does a Disney film—with its clean, family audience vibe—stand out?
I think our Indian sensibilities are very Disney. We love our families, we love films we can watch with our families. So Disney as a brand just resonates intrinsically with our audiences. Our slate for next year includes Jagga Jasoos, Mohenjo Daro and Dangal that are very different from each other but they are all films the family can watch together. A Haider or a Fitoor would not fit into that definition. That is why those are UTV-branded movies meant for young adults or couples. They are not movies you’d necessarily want to watch with your family. Of course, that distinction is subjective but for us the decision is very instinctive.
The strength of the Disney brand around the world is that it stays true to its roots regardless of which culture it is taken to. What you need to do is understand various cultural nuances and tweak yourself accordingly to appeal to the family in that country. What may be acceptable in India may not be so in another country.
After ‘Star Wars’, you have an exhaustive Hollywood movie slate ready for next year. Do you think Hollywood is finally making inroads into India?
I do. We still love our Indian movies. Earlier, Hollywood would have a couple of franchises that would come in and do really well. Disaster, creature or superhero movies have always resonated in India. Just this year, three of the top 10 movies are from Hollywood—Fast & Furious 7, Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Hollywood has rarely gone beyond the 10% share in box office (collections) in India; it’s at 14% this year.
Now a lot more tent-poles are coming out. Plus they are dubbed into local languages. And Disney is well-placed to deliver on that front with its Marvel acquisition and a Star Wars movie every year.
It’ll be a little difficult for non-mainstream Hollywood to make inroads though. We love our local movies and stars. When it comes to cultural understanding…as in the case of comedies and dramas…I think we prefer our own movies. But when it comes to scale and spectacle, it’s tough to beat Hollywood. Take the example of Baahubali. Something that audiences feel is a cinematic spectacle can transcend language and culture. A dubbed film with no known faces doing more than ₹ 100 crore in Hindi is an encouraging testament.
How have your children’s channels performed over the years in terms of market share and revenue?
We are the number one children’s channel network in India in terms of viewership share with Disney, Hungama, Disney XD and Disney Junior. Even in terms of advertising, both individually and as a network, we do make money. We wouldn’t be in business if we didn’t. There is a premium that advertisers associate with Disney.
In the television ratings by the Broadcast Audience Research Council, your film channels are lagging and there was talk of closing them down.
There are all kinds of talk in the market. But we don’t plan to divest any of our channels. We’re an eight-channel network and we intend to keep it that way.
You’ve entered the live entertainment space with ‘Beauty and the Beast’ this year. What potential do you see for this business?
I’m pretty hopeful. We started this as an experiment because we wanted to give people a Disney experience. Shows in Mumbai were sold out and people really didn’t mind that the tickets were priced as high as they were. The all-Indian cast and crew was appreciated. The challenge here has been the venues. We haven’t found venues where Broadway-style productions could be mounted. So we went into stadiums. We don’t know if this would be scalable, but we do intend to take it to other key cities like Bangalore, Pune and other metros.
Globally, how much does merchandising contribute to your revenue?
It’s pretty significant, 10% globally—in a revenue of $52 million, consumer products contribute around $4.5 million— because that’s where you can truly take the brand home with you. In India also, it’s an important part of our business. We plan to double it every couple of years. We’re selective about our licensees but growth will happen with more licensees. Currently, we have 250 licensees and 2,500 SKUs (stock-keeping units), which range from apparel to toys to stationery and home.
Like other members of your family (wife Vidya Balan and brothers Aditya Roy Kapur and Kunaal Roy Kapur are film stars), have you ever thought of facing the camera?
Not for the last 20 years. I grew up reading Screen and other movie trade magazines. I always knew which film had had its mahurat. I was just desperate to do something in the movie business and I’m glad it happened.