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Mumbai: Analogue will be dead by the end of 2014 and all of India will be watching digitally transmitted movies. This was the upshot of the panel discussion “Film Distribution and Exhibition: Challenges and the Way Forward" at Ficci-Frames, the annual trade event on various aspects of the movie business being held in Mumbai.

Moderated by Ashish Kumar, chief operating officer of exhibitor Reliance BIG Cinemas, the panel comprised Rajesh Mishra, CEO of digital cinema chain UFO Moviez India Ltd, Senthil Kumar, CEO of digital technology company Real Image Media Technologies Pvt. Ltd and Anil Thadani, an independent distributor.

“Analogue is on its way out, and I say this with some sadness since it is 100 years old," Mishra said. “After a year, we will see the end of the analogue days."

The process of converting all of India’s 9,000-odd screens to digital screening technology will be complete within the next year, predicted Mishra. He linked the expansion in digitization to the growth of the movie business.

The challenges used to be the cost of distribution and reach into the cinemas, Mishra said. “The biggest blockbuster would release with 500 or 600 prints; now, blockbusters go to 2,000-3,000 screens," he said. “The cost of distribution has come down by one-fifth, while the reach of films has increased by five times."

Mishra gave the example of the Shah Rukh Khan movie Ra.One, which was released in Orissa on 105 screens in 2011, whereas earlier, 60% of new releases could not reach the state because of the costs involved. The state governments and the Centre should facilitate the process of digitization, he said.

Kumar pointed out that the US has 38,000 screens for a population of 320 million. Greater digitization will influence the kind of movies being made, he said.

“States in India that have a higher percentage of digitization have produced many more smaller films, but the number of screens limits how these films release," Kumar said.

The gap in reliable data and analytics remains an issue, said Vikram Malhotra, chief operating officer, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures. “We talk about 9,000 screens, but the fact is that I don’t have any idea of the optimal release size for any of my films," he said.

Apart from productions and co-productions, Viacom18 is also involved with releasing Hollywood movies in India. “In television, ratings define a lot of the commerce of that industry, and they even define the product," he said.

Malhotra also called for increasing ticket prices, especially in smaller cities and towns, to increase a movie’s box office takings.

Thadani, whose family-owned distribution company AA Films is a veteran in the trade, said higher ticket rates will only drive down the business. “There needs to be a cap to ticket pricing, otherwise the repetition of a film will be limited," he pointed out.

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