Recent earnings of the newly-merged PVR Inox entity showed a 16% drop in ticket sales in the last financial year, compared to the pre-covid year of FY20, along with a 21% dip in occupancy.
Trade experts say PVR Inox, which enjoys the maximum presence in north and western India, has been hit by failing box office in the Hindi-speaking heartland. Other than Pathaan which found favour with audiences pan-India, no Hindi film in recent times has penetrated deep into smaller towns. Meanwhile, the urban, multiplex crowd has primarily moved to OTT platforms, reducing opportunities for niche or experimental cinema. Further, increase in average ticket prices (16%) and spends per head (30%) showed that unreasonably high rates are also playing spoilsport and alienating audiences.
“It is clear that audiences in north India are not as loyal to cinemas as those in the south. Even the craze for big stars or their tentpole releases is far greater in the south,” independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said. Two of the biggest hits so far this year have been led by Tamil stars, Vijay and Ajith, whose Varisu and Thunivu released for the Pongal weekend in January, Pillai pointed out.
According to PVR Inox’s earnings, there has been a major shift in the mix between Hindi and regional content from pre-pandemic to FY23. While regional language content made up 41% of India’s box office pre-covid, the share rose to 54% in FY23. For PVR Inox box office alone, the share has risen from 23% to 33%. On the other hand, Hindi language films have lost their share of the Indian box office, from 44% to 34%, as well as of PVR Inox box office, from 60% to 51%.
PVR Inox didn’t respond to queries. However, in an earnings release, the company admitted to the “underperformance and volatility” of Hindi movies.
“The year gone by marks the first full year of uninhibited operations for the exhibition industry. There was considerable volatility in the box office quarter-on-quarter. We believe that the two major factors that marred the industry in FY’23 – underperformance of Hindi films and less number of Hollywood releases, will both ease out in FY’24,” Ajay Bijli, managing director, PVR INOX had said in a statement.
Independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan said elite multiplex chains like PVR Inox have failed to establish a presence in the interiors of south India and are primarily seen as an urban phenomenon. “They’re also seen as patronizing cinema made for the rich. What has happened post covid is that content-driven cinema with social messaging, featuring the likes of Ayushmann Khurrana or Akshay Kumar, is not working anymore and has migrated to OTT. People only want to go to theatres for the big-scale films, also because price points are so high,” Chauhan said adding the multiplex experience is out of reach for the common man.
In an earlier interview, Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures Ltd had said theatres have always practiced variable pricing depending upon films, shows and day of the week. A recent report by media consulting firm Ormax said only 22 million Indian urban adults had watched three or more Hindi films in a theatre in 2022. The equivalent figure was 35 million pre-covid.
“Over the last decade or so, the growth in box office business, especially Hindi, has been fueled more by rising ticket prices than by footfalls. In effect, the cinema-going habit has become more and more elusive. With a wide range of alternatives to watch movie content being available, including OTT and linear channels, there is very little incentive for an average Indian in the Hindi-speaking markets to visit a movie theatre. And once the habit is broken, it is a tough task to reinstate it,” the report said.