Small Indian cinemas take on big Hollywood studios

Hollywood Studios fail to see the difference between multiplex and single-screen audiences. Photo: Mint
Hollywood Studios fail to see the difference between multiplex and single-screen audiences. Photo: Mint


  • Small theatre owners who disagree with onerous conditions of Hollywood studios don't get the rights to run films.

NEW DELHI : India’s single-screen owners are on a collision path with mighty Hollywood studios.

With big films such as Avatar: The Way of Water and Black Adam releasing in the coming months, small theatre owners are increasingly finding their clientele, usually in small towns and cities, unable to afford the ticket prices that the big studios are demanding.

Hollywood studios insist on higher ticket prices, minimum guarantees and virtual print fees that price out audiences keen to watch these films in small towns and cities, owners of these theatres said.

Small theatre owners who disagree with these onerous conditions do not get the rights to run these films.

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“Hollywood films are great for the theatre business, especially as far as the superhero franchises are concerned. But when there is a minimum ticket rate dictated to single-screen cinemas, it acts as a major challenge," said Pravin Chalikwar, director of Priti Cinemas in Maharashtra’s Parbani.

Several studio heads think of multiplex and single-screen audiences as the same and refuse to see that there may be a huge difference in their paying capacities, Chalikwar said. Over the past few months, several single screens could either not play Hollywood hits such as Thor: Love and Thunder and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness or saw their clientele too restricted for them to earn any profits. Given that the two films clocked in significant box office of 101.71 crore and 130 crore, respectively, in India, there isn’t enough conversation on high ticket rates and unfair treatment to small town cinemas, said a trade analyst on condition of anonymity. Not agreeing to terms set by studios or asking for concessions results in the non-availability of Hollywood films in these cinemas, the person said.

“There should be a minimum of 100 difference in what is charged at multiplexes and in single-screen theatres. A 150 rate for single screens should work, as it will bring in more audiences and benefit the producers as well as us," Chalikwar said.

The other big challenge with Hollywood films for single-screen theatres is that the latter have to bear the cost of VPF (virtual print fee) charges for digital distribution players such as UFO Moviez, which could range up to 25,000 per title, said Pranav Garg, managing director of Maya Palace, a two-screen cinema in Muzaffarnagar. “The expense of running a DCI (digital cinema initiative)-compliant cinema itself is high enough; these costs only add to that," Garg said. DCI is a joint venture of several film studios, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros, to set up a common set of requirements that ensure a high and uniform standard of digital cinema viewing. VPF is a cost usually borne by producers to show their films using digital projectors and technology. This fee is paid to digital service providers (DSPs) such as UFO Moviez and comes at between 12,000 and 15,000 per screen, per show, plus taxes.

Hollywood studios Disney and Warner Bros. India did not respond to Mint’s queries on the fracas over these issues.

To be sure, American films that are increasingly finding an audience in small towns are driving the need for large-format cinemas in such places, where young viewers closely follow franchises and characters, trade experts say.

In 2019, Hollywood movies made nearly 1,300 crore out of the total 4,400 crore made by films in Indian cinemas across languages. Hollywood has also rebounded far better than Hindi films in the post-pandemic period, necessitating their release in cinemas across the country that acknowledge their draw among audiences.

Like large-scale south Indian films, the general perception among audiences today is that Hollywood movies are best enjoyed in theatres which explains more than 100 crore box office collection, even for a film like Thor that was panned by critics. Starting with Spider-Man: No Way Home, that made over 218 crore upon its release in India last December, Hollywood has given hits like The Batman ( 48.10 crore), Doctor Strange ( 130 crore), Top Gun: Maverick ( 34.50 crore), Jurassic World Dominion ( 68.56 crore) and Thor: Love and Thunder ( 101.71 crore) over the past few months.

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