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Attendance Register

A recurring theme on this page is that while the Indian film industry may be the most prolific in the world – and also enjoys a very high profile in the national mind space – when it comes down to what really matters i.e. revenues, the size of our market doesn’t really do justice to either the quantum of our output nor the theoretical potential of the world’s second-most populous nation.

Continuing our exploration of this mismatch between potential and reality, this week we are putting the spotlight on one of the most important determinants of success or failure in our business – footfalls or the number of tickets sold, or as the Americans like to call it: bums on seats!

To get a sense of perspective and a benchmark for comparison, we are looking at the attendance numbers for the Top 5 films during the last three years in both India as well as the world’s largest market by revenue, North America, which comprises the United States and Canada. Further, we are mapping these ticket sales counts with the respective population sizes of each geography to get an even clearer picture of the market penetration in both regions. Take a look at the table below:

Top 5 films In India and North America By Attendance, 2014-2016

*Estimated tickets sold, rounded off to the closest 5 lakh mark

^Based on estimated population of 127 crore in India and 36 crore for USA and Canada combined

The way to read this table is: The most-watched Hindi film in India last year was Dangal, with an estimated 4.85 crore tickets sold at the domestic box office. That figure equates to 3.82 per cent of the Indian population. For the same period – calendar year 2016 – the film that recorded the highest attendance in the North American market was Finding Dory,with ticket sales of 5.6 crore, which translates to 17.03 per cent of the total population in United States and Canada, the two countries that make up that market. 

On reviewing the figures, the extent of India’s lag is obvious from the fact that in 14 out of the 15 instances above, Hindi films fail to match up to their corresponding Hollywood films even in absolute terms, despite the size of our population being almost 4 times that of the USA and Canada combined.

That being so, it is hardly surprising that the gap widens even more significantly when we turn to the population share comparisons.  So much so that the highest share registered by a Hindi film (Dangal with 3.82 per cent) is not even half of what the lowest ranked Transformers: Age of Extinction (8.34 per cent) managed to muster in North America. 

Indeed, an examination of the North American figures is an exercise that evokes not only awe but also envy. Virtually every film in the sample above managed to attract (and extract money from!) more than 10 per cent of the total population of these two countries. And in the case of a film like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the figure soars to an eye-popping 26.67 per cent. Put differently, 1 out of every 4 Americans and Canadians went to the theatre to watch the sci-fi epic. Whereas in the case of Dangal, hugely successfully though it may be, less than 4 out of every 100 Indians have experienced the film in a cinema hall, even if we assume that every ticket sold was to a unique individual and not for a repeat viewing.

It is obvious that we are not doing too good a job in harnessing the one resource that our nation has in plenty – people! And it is critical that we examine the reasons behind this failure – whether this is a symptom of poor screen availability, both in terms of density as also uneven geographical distribution; or ticket price unaffordability or quite simply the lack of a compelling quality in our content that prevents more Indians from visiting the cinema.

Quite simply, there’s a whole other India out there, and, to use another Americanism, they ain’t buyin’ what we’re sellin’.

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