Movies

"We are looking at a 50 per cent growth in the TV software sales front" : Ajay Gupta - E-City Entertainment business head (films)

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The chain of Fun Republics across the country are the more obvious face of this Essel Group subsidiary. E-City Entertainment, however, is much more than that.

Apart from the Family Entertainment Centre (FEC) chain, E-City is also emerging as an outsourcing hub for international broadcasters and production houses. It markets and exports television software and films. E-City has positioned itself as a one-stop-shop for all network television channels and distributors in various countries.

Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with E-City Entertainment business head (films) Ajay Gupta for a lowdown on how the company is faring.

How did E-City fare in 2003?

The multiplex business grew. We opened in Andheri (Mumbai) in August and in Chandigarh in November. Apart from that, we are in the area of television syndication. It is a new market that has not been tapped. It will grow with the world opening up to Indian cinema and television.

How fruitful was Mip TV for E-City?

We met a lot of potential buyers. Countries that we are focusing on are China, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and Macau. We have had very good inquiries for our documentary series from television channels.

"China is more interested in acquiring the home video rights for Indian films. In Thailand we have been able to sell the costume programmes"



The Fun Republic multiplex at Andheri, Mumbai

Which markets are growing for Indian television content?

The growth lies in the non traditional markets. The traditional markets, be it the US or UK, are saturated. South America is another country that we would be looking at.

If their telly novellas can do very well, then there is no reason why our telly novellas which are very similar, cannot be successful there.

Could you dwell on the content requirements of different international television markets vis-?-vis Indian content?

We are at a nascent stage where we are ourselves trying to find our bearings as to what works where. In international markets, terrestrial TV is separate from pay channels and home video rights.

China is more interested in acquiring home video rights for Indian films. In Thailand, we have been able to sell the costume programmes. These sell more towards South East Asia because to some extent the cultures are similar. In other countries though, it is not easy to sell telly novellas because our shows are very long.

People do not look for 150-250 episodes. They are looking for a far more brisk product. The distribution scenario has also changed. There was a time when Russia used to buy a lot of our films. Then when they broke up into CIS, things changed. Fact finding on our part as to what kind of content works is still going on.

Could you talk about how E-City is going about consolidating its content library?

E-City is basically focussing on the Zee Library, which itself has a large enough library with lots of potential. Apart from that, if we do get inquiries for other genres, we do look around and do it on a case-to-case basis. We touch base with a Balaji or a UTV depending on the genre.

As far as Fun Republic is concerned, how many FECs are running and how many do you plan to set up in the future?

We have three multiplexes running. Ahmedabad has six screens while Mumbai and Chandigarh have four screens each. In the offing is Bangalore, to be followed by Hyderabad and three sites in Delhi and Lucknow. At the end of 2005, we should have over 50 screens all over the country.

The cost of setting up an FEC differs from place to place on account of the land, the quality of materials used and the labour. That is why Mumbai is more expensive.

Have any targets been set in terms of revenue for the year?

We always set budgetary targets which we hope to achieve. For multiplexes, a lot depends on the kind of content that comes in. 2004 looks more promising than 2003. If the content goes well we can expect an increase of over 10 per cent.

On the television sales front, we are looking at a 50 per cent growth. The more we network at events like Mip TV, the more we will be able to stay in people's minds. Requirements keep changing. We are in the process of defining our niche market. However, I would not like to divulge the names of my buyers.

Are there any factors that are hampering the growth of multiplexes in the country?

I don't think so. The only thing is that it will take time to grow. What is happening is that a lot of players are jumping into the same city without assessing as to whether the city can take so many of them. For instance, when Maharashtra announced its policy on the issue, there were 250 applications. Not even 50 will see the light of day.

The thing was that real estate people who are not familiar with the cinema business put in a lot of applications. Later, they realised that they would need an operator. They can make the cinema halls, but who will run it for them?

Are you thinking in terms of setting up FECs in other countries like China and Pakistan?

Not at this stage. We are not thinking about that. Firstly a lot will depend on the bilateral treaties that the countries have. Today that is amiss.

Could you talk about the role that digital cinema will play in the future of Indian films?

Digital cinema is a thing of the present and the future. With the exhorbitant costs of prints, you cannot have a mushroom release where you can cover a lot of stations in your territory. Digital cinema allows for simultaneous coverage. It will help curb piracy and the returns will be much faster.

Could you talk about how the concept of the FEC has redefined entertainment in a metro like Mumbai?

Earlier when you had standalone cinema halls, you just saw the movie and you were out. Today with the hectic pace of life you want to go to a place where more than just a film is offered to you. It saves on travel time if you can get three things at one place instead of going to three different places.

Therefore we offer game parlours, food courts, retailing activity. We also have a speciality restaurant in Chandigarh. All this makes for a wholesome family outing.

 

"On the television sales front we are looking at a 50 per cent growth"

How many retailers does Fun Republic have?

We have around 10-12 retailers like McDonalds, Levi's in each centre. However, there are no all-India tie ups. The companies vary from city to city.

Could you talk about the different services that Fun Republic has added to retain consumers?

Competition is healthy. When there is competition and everybody is offering the same content, the key in doing well is in how you are able to differentiate yourself. If I have more facilities and services like car parking, I will be able to beat my rival in retaining a customer.

Secondly, from the time you visit the box office till the time you leave the multiplex, the service has to be very high. It may be the concessions offered during intervals, how the usher makes you sit inside or how clean your toilets are. The ambience is also crucial because that is how you build loyalty. The total experience is what counts.

Going to a multiplex is not just about watching a movie. Our other services like food parlours complement each other. I would also like to reiterate the fact that car parking is important. If that is not present you are throwing your customer out. In Andheri, we have space for 500 cars which nobody else has. In fact, there are instances all over the country where shopping malls with the best of brands have not been able to attract customers as they are situated on busy roads without adequate parking.

"The moment you can control Amitabh

Bachchan with your remote, the

charisma of movie-watching is gone!"

Today with the plethora of television channels, the Indian consumer needs a reason to come out. Do you do a lot of marketing and promotional activities?

We do activities like cinema premieres or having special shows for children. We also have movie based activities like a contest. We have a fully dedicated marketing team which looks after these activities on a day to day basis. We get media coverage regularly.

I would like to know your views on convergence.

Well, movie-going has picked up over the past two, three years. The fact is that, the moment you can control Amitabh Bachchan with your remote, the charisma of movie-watching is gone! You may have a home theatre but it cannot give you the same uninterrupted pleasure that you get on the big 50 feet screen.

When convergence comes in, you will be able to see movie clips on your mobile. Will that satisfy you? Most people would rather see the big picture.

Do you see the Imax format being used for Indian films in the near future?

Imax Films cannot run for too long. Most films are 45 minutes. It tends to be a strain on the eyes if it runs into three hours like our films do. There are also no Imax screens. You can cut Sholay into an hour and a half but where will you show it in Imax? Only in Mumbai and Hyderabad.

Internationally, where you have 250 Imax screens, it made sense to convert Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions into that format. People cannot keep seeing the same documentary again and again.

Have you tied up with hotel chains and tour operators to promote Fun Republic to the domestic and international tourists?

We do a lot of online activity. At our website, tickets can be booked. There are some cities where it makes sense to tie up with hotels like The Taj. In Mumbai it doesn't make sense as it is in town. Also I would rather look at the three star hotels to create aawreness about my product than a deluxe hotel.

The three star clients will come out to see a Hindi movie. Executives in five star hotels do not have the time usually to spend a few hours outside.

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