Saturday, 4 October 2014

The reel truth: Movie theatre screens per film up six-fold

Feature films are being released simultaneously in thousands of halls. TOI explains why this is so and what effect it has

When Salman Khan's box-office beast, "Kick", was unleashed in over 5,000 screens worldwide last July, the action-thriller created a record as the widest-ever release for a Bollywood feature film.

Such records though hardly exist for a few months. "Chennai Express", "Krrish 3", "Dhoom 3" — all of them created new benchmarks for being released in maximum screens before being overtaken. It is only a matter of time before "Kick" meets a similar fate.

Over the last decade, the average number of screens per Bollywood film has grown exponentially. If one takes the top 50 grossers from each year between 2004 and 2013 and calculates the average number of screens, one sees a sharp rise in the number of screens per film. Data collated from and interpreted by TOI shows there is about 500% rise — from an average 302 screens per film to 1,824 screens per film — in this period. It is essential to point out here that the data refers only to the top 50 money makers each year.

Advancement in technology is key to this shift but its impact on film business is huge. Earlier an analogue film print cost anything between Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000. Digitization has brought down costs to Rs 10,000 to 12,000 per screen. This has brought down costs per screen by 15th, thereby enabling a producer to release his films in more theatres.

"Now one can release over 5,000 screens at one go that one used to hear about Hollywood movies some time back," says distributor Shyam Shroff.

Every analogue print weighed 40-50 kg which were shepherded by agents and ferried by coolies to cinema halls. Now, an entire film can be stored in a pen drive or downloaded directly to a cinema hall's projection room through satellite. "You don't require storage rooms for your analogue prints or huge trunks to carry them," says Shroff.

State-of-the-art-technology has enabled films to be released in cities, towns and kasbas at the same time. A simultaneous release also means less money lost to piracy. Earlier, it took about six to nine months for a film to exploit a territory commercially. The lag of time created a gap between demand and supply and gave DVD pirates a natural opportunity to exploit. While piracy still continues, a faster release has minimized that opportunity.

The digital format had started making inroads in film business in 2007-08. But "Dhoom 3", a major hit in 2013, wasn't released in analogue format at all. "Since then, print is history," says Sanjay Mehta, regional distributor, UFO. According to FicciKPMG Indian media and entertainment industry report 2014, approximately 95 per cent of commercially viable screens have been digitized.

The simultaneous release of prints has also reduced the role of audience feedback — and consequently the risk — in deciding a movie's fate. Earlier, movies were shown in theatres for weeks, even months creating expressions such as silver jubilee, gold as silver jubilee, gold en jubilee and so on. Good, small-budget movies thrived on word of mouth publicity. But the window for such an eventuality is very short these days. Nonetheless, Shroff says the audience feedback still matters to some extent. "Even the most hyped movie can collapse on day two if it is rejected by the audience," he says. Express,Movie theatre screens,Krrish 3

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