Scripting a business for World Cinema

A small group of 40-somethings is discussing Akira Kurosawa‘s film Seven Samurai in a roadside tea shop in Mumbai. The ravages of nature, the tension between good and evil and the painting-like visuals are heated points of discussion.

It is this crowd that Shemaroo Entertainment is aiming to grow, as the home video major aims to grab a major slice of this premium segment in an otherwise cut-throat mass market driven by price wars.

"While our main business will continue to be mainstream Bollywood, World Cinema will give us a niche, upscale market with pricing power," says Shemaroo Entertainment director Hiren Gada.

Shemaroo faces competition from Moser Baer which has assembled over 100 World Cinema titles, most of which are procured from Palador. The advantage Shemaroo has built over its home video rival is by striking an alliance with UTV. According to the pact, stitched in November, Shemaroo will have access to UTV‘s World Cinema titles for home video distribution.

But it is not competition that is worrying Gada at this stage. "We will together have to grow the market. It is at a very nascent stage for us to fight for market share," he says.

Agrees Moser Baer COO G Dhananjayan, "World Cinema is a very small market at this stage. And to add salt to the injury, we have to fight against piracy. We have to expand the market."

Which is why Shemaroo has kick-started a four-day long Kurosawa film festival in Kolkata. The idea is to spread awareness and visibility for such genre of movies. Says Gada, "In India, the theatrical release of world cinema films is more of a promotional activity."

UTV, which aims to play in a bigger canvas, is also planning theatrical releases. The first to roll out on 29 July will be the Iraninan movie Waltz with Bashir. "We are getting producer Roman Paul here and the red carpet will be held at PVR. Our plan is to have one such big release every month," says UTV Global Broadcasting executive director Shantanu Aditya.

For UTV, the other avenue to tap audiences is through film festivals. Recently in March, UTV held a Russian Film Festival that was followed by the French Film Festival in June.

"It is necessary to simultaneously create new audiences for world cinema, thereby increasing the overall consumption," says Aditya.

Keeping this in mind, UTV organises regular film shows and has its own film club that has 6.5 lakh members. "We have tie-ups with Alliance Francaise, NCPA and other attaches of different countries along with whom we hold a lot of events including film festivals. The attempt is to educate people about the quality and know the impact of World Cinema," avers Aditya.

For UTV, the bigger revenue pie is in broadcasting. UTV World Movies is trying to carve out a space for itself outside the two English movie channels - HBO and Star Movies. Avers Aditya, "Television is a mass medium compared to home video or theatre. We will first showcase the movie titles on our channel before we move it to the other revenue exploitation platforms like home video and theatrical release."

Having a similar business model is NDTV Lumiere with broadcasting as the pillar around which would revolve home video and theatrical releases. The joint venture company, with NDTV Imagine holding 51 per cent and Manmohan Shetty and Sunil Doshi having the balance 49 per cent, has already invested $10 million in the venture.

"We plan to invest $7 million over the next 18 months for augmenting our reach and replenishing our catalogue," says Doshi.

NDTV Lumiere is currently available on digital cable and is in talks with DTH operators to widen the channel‘s presence. High carriage fee is not making it feasible for the channel to be on analogue cable at this stage.

On the home video front, NDTV Lumiere has tied up with Excel Entertainment and has already released 15 DVDs.

Sourcing content is an ardous task as the market is scattered across the world. "It needs special skills as one has to select the right content from several sources at a competitive price. Making the right buys, however, is possible if one has an expert eye," says Doshi.

Piling up content at low costs is what is attracting players and presenting a case for a viable business model down the road even as revenue opportunities are limited. Locking in long-term content means creating an entry barrier while building a nest for future exploitation as the market sizes up.

NDTV Lumiere has invested around $7 million to build a library of approximately 400 titles, 75 per cent of which are contemporary-led. "We are looking at procuring 250-300 more films over the next 18 months," says Doshi.

UTV, which entered early in the market (except Palador), has invested close to $6 million for building a library of 700 titles.

Piracy is hurting the home video market for World Cinema. With prices of DVDs being higher, pirates have a costing advantage. While Moser Baer has priced its content at Rs 399, Shemaroo has kept its DVD price at Rs 349.

Says Gada, "In case of Hindi films, Moser Baer‘s mass pricing has acted as a deterrent against piracy. But that is not the case with World Cinema where the DVDs cost higher."

The challenge is to sell more DVDS at a brisker pace. "We have sold 5,000 copies in the last two months. We have already released 10 home video titles. The target this year is to have 50 releases and sell 60,000 units," says Aditya.

Agrees Doshi, "On the home video front, getting volumes is a long way off. As for the TV side of the business, the pay-TV environment needs to move towards digitalisation."

So what would sustain the World Cinema movement as a business proposition? "It has to have a multi-pronged revenue approach. But broadcasting has to be the main side of the business," says Aditya.

World Cinema players have a long road to cover before they can make their ventures profitable. But at least the script is being written now.

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