Will Reliance Jio’s First-Day-First-Show offering disrupt the cinema hall business?

At the outset, neither Inox nor PVR seem to be too worried with the announcement. The theatrical experience is what they are betting on.
Will Reliance Jio’s First-Day-First-Show offering disrupt the cinema hall business?
Will Reliance Jio’s First-Day-First-Show offering disrupt the cinema hall business?

When Jio entered the telecom market three years ago, it disrupted the telecom segment like never before. Its attractive pricing and features led incumbents Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to raise their game big time. Despite efforts, these companies continue to struggle.

Three years on, at Reliance’s 42nd Annual General Meeting (AGM), Chairman Mukesh Ambani took the stage to roll out its next disruption – JioFiber. While Jio took the telecom industry by storm, Jiofiber is set to disrupt the home broadband service. Apart from ultra-low pricing, JioFiber comes with a bunch of freebies. One of them being an offering called First Day First Show.

“Also, for the first time in India, we are introducing a disruptive concept for watching new movies. Premium JioFiber customers will be able to watch movies in their living rooms the same day these movies are released in theatres. We call this Jio first-day-first-show. We plan to launch this service in the middle of 2020,” Ambani said.

The company has not elaborated further on what type of movies will be a part of this and how it would work. The tariffs of JioFiber too, haven't been revealed yet, except that it would start from Rs 700 and from speeds of 1 Mbps up to 1Gbps.

But anything coming from the Ambani stables makes one sit up and take notice. As did this announcement. It brings one question to mind. Would this disrupt the movie-going business? Especially given that going to the movies in cities such as Bengaluru and Mumbai has become very expensive with prices for premium tickets going up to Rs 1000 a movie on weekends.

The stock of PVR and Inox too, reacted badly following the announcement. The shares of PVR fell by 4.28% to Ra 1,403.5 while Inox fell by 4.66% to RS 287.40 at the time of market closing on Tuesday

PVR and Inox, which run around 800 and 600 screens respectively across the country, were quick to respond to this.

At the outset, neither Inox nor PVR seem to be very worried with the announcement. The theatrical experience is what they are betting on.

“Theatrical and at-home are two completely different experiences and each has their own place. Both these experiences have co-existed and prospered for decades and will continue to do so in future. We are extremely buoyant about cinema exhibition’s growth prospects and remain committed to expand PVR’s reach in cities and towns across the country, while delivering an unmatched movie-going experience to the Indian consumers,” PVR said in a statement.

Inox too, says that the theatrical exhibition industry, led primarily by the multiplex industry, has made significant investments in world class cinema theatres, by bringing in state-of-the-art technology, luxurious ambience, bespoke comfort and unmatched service, ultimately curating an experience which can never be matched by watching movies on television screens at home.

“We strongly believe that Indian movie watchers’ love for cinema on giant screens is deep-rooted and unshakeable, and this has kept, and will continue to keep, the industry alive and thriving for the past several decades, and for several decades to come,” Inox added.

Experts agree as well. Senior film journalist and tracker Sreedhar Pillai says that movie going has been a part of our culture, especially in south India. He says that this is not easy to change. “Jio’s offering is for their high-end customers. The urban audience may opt for JioFiber, but if you look at masses in tier 2, tier 3 markets, they like going out and watching movies. In my opinion, cinema theatres will survive another 20 years easily since it’s a part of our culture,” he adds.

Jinesh Joshi, research analyst at Prabhudas Lilladher also points to the way film distribution works. When a producer produces a movie and an exhibitor gets rights for it, for nearly 8 weeks, he has the rights for the movie and that cannot be shown on any other platform. Jinesh says that this is an advantage that exhibitors have, that protects them from competition of OTT (over-the-top) platforms.

This is something that has been pointed out by Inox as well.

“This exclusive theatrical window is a model that is followed internationally, in order to ensure the robust financial viability of all the segments of the sector, and has been replicated in India. The producer of the film is the owner of the creative content and is therefore entitled to choose the platform for distribution and consumption of his content,” it says, adding that in view of this window, he would have to choose between theatrical exhibition or release on any other platform, since release on both simultaneously would breach the mutually agreed exclusive theatrical window.

Jinesh adds that in JioFiber’s case, it could be that certain smaller budget films made for a smaller audience could be released on its platforms, similar to how Netflix launches original titles.

“OTT platforms will remain more restricted to small budget movies that are produced for OTT and not big budget movies that require a larger theatrical release to earn higher return on investments. You won’t be able to make money for this on OTT because there is not enough reach. So I don’t see an immediate threat to the film exhibition industry and I doubt that wider theatrical release will be impacted,” Jinesh adds.

While both Jinesh and Sreedhar agree that the number of people going to watch movies may not fall drastically, Sreedhar says that this could lead to prices of movie tickets coming down.

This is what also happened in the telecom industry when Jio launched. While telecom players like Vodafone offered 1 GB of 4G data for around Rs 250 a month, Jio offered 1GB a day for 3 months at as low as Rs 450. Eventually, all telecom players majorly slashed data charges to survive in the industry.

Sreedhar says that once JioFiber comes, prices of movie tickets, especially in cities such as Bengaluru and Delhi could come down.

However, as far as movie going is concerned, both the companies and experts maintain, will not be greatly affected. But the devil is in the details. What remains to be seen is how exactly JioFiber’s ‘first-day-first-show’ offering works and what benefits it will entail. 

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