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NEW DELHI : Though multiplexes have fast-tracked their expansion plans, screen count will take time to reach pre-pandemic levels in India, said industry experts.

The first and second wave of covid had sounded the death knell for 2,000 single screens across India and multiplexes will be able to add a maximum of 500 new screens by the end of 2022-23, they added.

While PVR, INOX, Cinepolis and Miraj are looking to add 70-100 screens, each, during this financial year, expansion is expected to slow down in the next few years, they said.

According to analysts, multiplexes signed many properties before the covid outbreak and the new screens will not be able to fill the void left by single screens in smaller towns.

Multiplexes are likely to add 35-40% of the new properties for the premium segments, catering to the higher income groups, they said.

“All cinema operators are looking to open new properties that they had signed and those that were ready for fit-outs but delayed because of the pandemic. So in that sense, the industry could see around 500 new screens in this financial year, compared to the 350 annual additions one would see in pre-pandemic times," said Amit Sharma, chief executive officer, Miraj Cinemas.

Miraj is looking to double its screen count over the next 20 months with a focus on south India, especially Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, despite the challenges to find retail spaces.

“Expansion may slow down considerably in FY24-27 as new retail spaces will come up 2023 onwards. Film exhibition business is seeing a gradual recovery," Sharma added.

Though the movie industry is emerging from the shadows of the pandemic, exhibition companies are cautiously optimistic, said Pankaj Renjhen, chief operating officer and joint managing director, Anarock Retail. “Expansion plans are not as aggressive and the major thrust is on the regular five- to six-screen properties instead of the big eight to nine-screen theatres," he said.

India with about 10 screens per million, was an under-penetrated market even before the pandemic. With the shutting of 2,000 screens, there is a huge opportunity for all players to grow and recover the losses of screens, said Devang Sampat, chief executive officer, Cinepolis India. “Most losses occurred due to single screen closures and the key challenge will be to attract this audience back, with the right offering in terms of price and ambience."

India is a priority market for Cinepolis, and it plans to open about 60 screens in 2022 with an average investment of 3 crore per screen. “We will be opening more than double the number of screens, compared to our five-year average, with higher overall investment. In addition to it, we will add another 40 screens which will be taken into the fit-out stage over the course of the year – translating into a total of 100 screens either in fit-out or opening by the end of 2022," Sampat added.

Vishal Sawhney, director and chief executive, Carnival Cinemas, said it suffered during the pandemic, but is now raising money to clear its liabilities and grow.“We strive to reach out to more people in tier-three and tier-four markets, as 85% of our screen portfolio is in those markets."

Satwik Lele, chief operating officer, MuktaA2 cinemas said the company that is targeting 100 screens is looking for investments to support its growth plans. Meanwhile, Cineline India Ltd, owned by the Kanakia Group that has interests in real estate including hotels, has re-entered the Indian film exhibition business by launching Movie Max, a multiplex chain brand. Ashish Kanakia, CEO, Cineline India said the company currently has a presence in the north, west, and south of India and is looking to provide a platform for regional content to be showcased so as to ensure consumer satisfaction.

“The advantage is that the single screens and standalone multiplexes that shut down were hardly contributing to the overall business," said Rajendar Singh Jyala, chief programming officer at INOX Leisure Ltd that has properties planned for Delhi, Gurugram, Hyderabad, Jodhpur and Vijaywada, and is targeting a 100 screen count for this fiscal year.

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