Diwali is a good time to do an annual health check up of our businesses. So where does Bollywood stand today.Well we are the crossroads of change. Either we accept the change and go down the right path, which leads to success, or take the wrong turning and end up in the dumps. Instead of accepting that the cinema is fast losing its primacy as the most popular mass entertainment, Indian Film Industry has been in one long denial. Instead of taking corrective action we keep shifting the blame for our sorry state the corporates have spoilt the business. The Government is not helping us. Poor Content, Star System, Excessive cost, Piracy, Censorship are responsible for the mess. I have heard similar sob stories for the past 5 decades since I entered the Industry. So now we blame demonetization and GST for the slowdown. The fact is that less people are going to theatres to watch movies today than five years ago. We have fewer hits and more loss making propositions.

Today unlike ten years ago cinema is no longer the premier source of mass entertainment in India. It is television and its derivatives today. This can be confirmed by the size of the TV Industry, which is now 3 times the size of films. Peak viewership of TV is about 400 million and Indians spend more than 2.5 hours a day before the idiot box. Besides newer access platforms like video on demand, and over the top (OTT) services like Netflix and Amazon. Mobile Screen is now the most watched screen in India with nearly a billion mobile phones and 600 million users. The problem is further compounded by other leisure alternatives like live sports, amusement parks, and concerts and hanging out which are attracting more and more crowds.

Total number of admissions to cinema houses is down on a compounded annual growth rate of 6%. Combine this with the mere 8200 screens in the country there is no way in hell that we can support more than 400 films across all languages (and the actual production is upwards of 1500 per year). India just cannot consume so many films. The result is last year more than half the films produced in India did not get release on any platform. What a colossal waste of money and talent. Luckily new suckers keep investing and more films keep getting made. But how long will this farce last. Can an Industry, which is a wealth destroyer, be ever taken seriously? In any case the way our celebrities are exploiting their star status in a matter of time they will lose their charm and luster.

One cannot fight technology but one can harness its strength. In this new post digital world Cinema has to rediscover itself. Engage the audience better and monetize this engagement. Either through spectacle through dazzling special effects or more engaging  slice of life films appealing to the youth. What can ease the pain further is if we learn to harness the awesome power of the digitization. Internet is a force multiplier if used correctly. Up till now film industry has been using the net like a stepchild. Most film stars and filmmakers and other celebrities use only social media and the net to promote their films and themselves. Except for a few the films fraternity has adopted a patronizing attitude towards the online world. They talk about it but don’t put their money behind the talk(Ekta Kapoor has done it with ALT). Except for appearing on Talk shows or the so-called reality programmes film people have failed to capitalize this new opportunity. When Netflix and Amazon come to India all major stars and production houses rushed to do deals and collect hefty advances but when it comes to actual production they assign their assistants to produce sub standard programming / films for the web. Little do film folk realize that in a couple of years this will be their bread and butter and cinema will be merely the additional revenue. I can safely predict that within next five years more people will get their revenue from Pay TV and on line services. Mobile Broadband will be the big pipe, which will take all content directly to people’s homes if not their mobile devices.

Its all round growth in various media which has taken the total Media and Entertainment Industry (this includes sport) worldwide to a gigantic figure USD 2 trillion per annum whereas the Indian M&E is struggling at a mere USD 40 billion annually. We are still fighting piracy.Cinema has to realize that theatrical experience will no longer be the driver (and this myth about single cinemas attracting real audiences will be shattered soon). Our entertainment spend is less than 2% of the GDP against China’s 4% and US of 5.5%. So, it’s obvious that there is massive room for growth. Here traditionalists keep blaming studios, multiplex owners and the stars for their pitiful performance. Hello when the game itself is changed you will not succeed by scoring more runs but perhaps by getting goals. We are no longer playing cricket (as an example) we are now playing basketball and you are busy perfecting your stroke play instead of learning to dribble. It’s a new ball game all together. Go learn it.

A filmmaker basically tells a story to entertain or in a few cases to provoke the audience. Then why are we hung up how and where the audience watches films as long as they watch filmed content either short form or features and pay for it. As long as it is compelling narrative people will pay to watch. Conventional wisdom is no longer enough. You need to learn that a vast majority of today’s young are glued to their mobile phones and spend over two hours on it –texting, whatsapping, facebooking ,tweeting, gaming or just chatting .Their attention span is also is much less than the previous generation. We must tailor our films for this short span audience. The adrenalin rush has to increase by the second not minutes. We have to turn to this large potential audience base for monetization. Narrative formats and stories for the younger generation is the answer. The M&E Industry employs 5 million people directly and indirectly. The digital world offers us an opportunity to double this number or conversely leave thousands unemployed.

I remember when I had written in this magazine a decade ago that film would be dead in a few years only to be replaced by digital cameras, post production and projection systems. I was laughed at. Today there is no film negative or prints in play and everybody works with digital. Similarly the medium of cinema is set to change forever. Only spectacles and larger than life films with all the bells and whistles will survive along with a few auteur films (which will be screened in a few selected screens nationwide). The rest will become digital junk to be sold at trash prices. The smart few who will adapt to this new eco system will thrive. The others will struggle to survive.

Digital is the new mantra. Its new media like gaming live streaming, top of the line dramas and comedies and specialized content, which will dominate the entertainment scene. Even today the Digital gaming Industry is bigger than the global fi lm Industry and in many countries like USA, Japan, South Korea and even China gaming is mainstream entertainment. In India IPL alone attracts more audience and money than the entire Hindi film Industry. Customization and curating of content are the new watchwords. Personalized segmentation of the audience is important. Better stories, sure. Aggressive marketing, yes. Cost control, definitely. But the answer goes beyond the obvious. That is why I am not talking about Bahubali,  Toilet-Ek Prem Katha, Shubh Mangal Savdhan or even Newton –a few of the successes of this year. Nor am I talking about the Khans (they are in the twilight zone already) or emerging stars and sleeper hits or about product placement and live concerts. These are remnants of a fast fading era.

This Diwali lets rediscover our business and creativity. There is life beyond the darkened auditorium. Augmented Reality and Virtual reality are upon us. Lets talk about the opportunity, which the always-online world is offering us. Cinema as we have known so far is long past its sell by date. We must rework our strategies for tomorrow’s audience and live happily or dwell on the past glory and wallow in mediocrity.

When the pioneers of our Industry started with the moving image they had more than just dreams. They had foresight and determination to accept change and rewrite history. If we follow these trail blazers we must also accept change and arm ourselves for tomorrow.

The future has arrived.

Happy Diwali

 

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