Box office popcorn for cinemas; but where are the viewers?

Average ticket prices (ATP) grew by 9% over in 2023 over 2022, according to the Ormax report, and are now 22% higher than 2019 levels.  (HT)
Average ticket prices (ATP) grew by 9% over in 2023 over 2022, according to the Ormax report, and are now 22% higher than 2019 levels. (HT)

Summary

  • Footfall in cinemas has fallen by 10-20% across multiplex chains and single screen cinemas, partly due to higher ticket prices and increased popularity of OTT channels

New Delhi: The Indian movie industry raked in record ticket revenues of 12,226 crore in 2023, but the number of people who watched movies in the theatres that year was fewer than before.

The previous box office record was 10,948 crore in 2019, according to the report Box Office Report: 2023 from media consulting firm Ormax. Meanwhile, the number of viewers fell from 1.03 billion in 2019 to 943 million in 2023, though the latter was about 6% higher than in 2022.

Experts say a chunky rise in ticket prices has helped bridge the ‘footfall’ gap for the movie industry. Average ticket prices (ATP) grew by 9% over in 2023 over 2022, according to the Ormax report, and are now 22% higher than 2019 levels. Plus, theatre owners say movie makers are not spending enough to promote their movies; so people aren’t coming to the theatres because they don’t know.

The contrast was stark in Hindi films, where footfall fell to 275 million in 2023 from 341 million in 2019, even though box office collections rose to 5,380 crore in 2023 from 4,831 crore in 2019.

Industry experts say footfall has fallen 10-20% across multiplex chains and single screen cinemas, and add that the rise in ATP, estimated to be up to 35% in the case of some multiplex chains, has alienated a section of the audience that sees home viewing on OTT channels such as Netflix or Prime Video as a cheaper, more convenient option.

Ajay Bijli, managing director, PVR Inox Ltd claimed higher ticket prices had not pinched consumers. “Pricing is not a deterrent for cinema-going audiences who are very conscious of how they spend two-and-a-half to three hours of their time," he said. “If we do not include rates of luxury formats, pricing is not that high." PVR Inox reported a 2% dip in admits in the third quarter of FY24 compared with the same period a year ago.

Several trade experts point out the increase in pricing was a strategy adopted by multiplex chains that were in the red after covid.

Since a chunk of audiences was hungry to step out, it was easy to cash in on revenge consumption trends along with the slate of big films that was ready for release, including the likes of Pathaan, Jawan and Animal.

However, the strategy may have backfired for films that didn’t find positive word-of-mouth, or those that didn’t feature big stars and were made at smaller scales.

If prices weren’t as high, some titles could have managed better numbers, as was the case until a few years ago.

“While audiences are ready to spend on premium, luxury experiences when the film demands it, the options are many now. Films are streaming at home within eight weeks of theatrical release," film distributor and exhibitor Sunny Khanna explained.

Others point to low levels of marketing by studios, which translated into low awareness levels among viewers, especially those beyond the metros, and lowered footfall.

“Awareness levels are so low that there is no urgency created among people to come watch a film. There has to be a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out)," Amit Sharma, managing director, Miraj Entertainment, a company that runs movie theatres, said, and added that overall admissions were 20% lower than pre-covid days.

Rahul Puri, managing director, Mukta Arts and Mukta A2 Cinemas, said covid caused a break in the habit of people visiting cinemas, which has affected both footfall and revenues. However he remains hopeful that things will change.

“We see a change in the pattern and, going forward, we do expect footfall to go back to pre-covid levels, and even exceed them due to the accessibility of screens increasing in smaller towns," Puri said.

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