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Is there anything Hindi film fraternity can learn from the marketing and distribution strategies being deployed by Hollywood in India?

A country like India, so immersed in cinema, goes into a spin when a big-ticket film releases. For years, we have seen big-banner and superstar cast Bollywood films go all out, not only with humungous marketing and promotional strategies, but also with the distribution of their films.

The fight for more screens is well-known in the trade as filmmakers and production houses battle it out to attract more and more movie-goers. But, recently, we have seen several Hollywood films come in as a breath of fresh air and show us that box-office success can very well be achieved by a more focused strategy.

In the first half of 2018, we have seen movies like Black Panther, Deadpool 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and of course Avengers: Infinity War conquer the Indian box office. These films not only had a limited marketing strategy, focusing their promotions through digital platforms to their target audience, but they also had a very controlled distribution plan.

Even studios backing big-ticket films are being smart and employing a controlled release plan in the market. Despite these limited, strategic moves, Hollywood films are racking up phenomenal numbers at ticket counters in India.

We spoke to some studios who handle the distribution of Hollywood films in India, executives from noted multiplex chains and a few other exhibitors to get their take on Hollywood adapting this different marketing and distribution strategy to release films in India.

Neeraj Goswamy, VP, Sales-Distribution Motion Pictures, Viacom18

The biggest change is the infrastructure of our cinemas. There are more and more theatres supporting the 2k and 4k formats now. In the past, a couple of Hollywood films had released on E-Cinemas and delivered fantastic results. But, as a global policy, Hollywood films do not play on the E-Cinema format. As a result of which, the size of the film releases is much smaller than an Indian tent-pole, blockbuster film that hits theatres. And even though the number of screens is much less than that of the big Hindi films, people will go theatres where Hollywood film is playing.

If we look at Hollywood films that released, say, five years ago, the number of 2k screens these films had to release in India, are not what they are today. What has happened is that a lot of conversion from E-Cinema has moved to D-Cinema. And it has happened because Hollywood is available not just in the original English language, but the films, especially the bigger ones, are also dubbed in languages like Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

The reason that the films are working so well today is because a greater number of international films are also releasing in India. The market has grown. The world has become smaller thanks to social media. Earlier, movies would release in other countries and would come to India a few weeks, sometimes even months later. But, now, India has become a part of the global release strategy for these international studios.

We are one of the few growing markets of the world. India has shown fantastic growth for the Hollywood film business even in a less developed market. And, nowadays, Hollywood movies are releasing in India either in the same release week as everywhere else or even a week earlier, like we saw with Avengers: Infinity War. As a result, the excitement of seeing it before the world does increases. Our marketing teams are very famous for using these lines to lure audiences. So it is the whole idea of seeing it before your friends and relatives living overseas do.

I guess it is a fact that India, being a growing market for Hollywood, is definitely on their release plan. As far as marketing budgets of these films are concerned, Hollywood spends millions of dollars, not only in the US but also around the world. And that rubs off on the audience even in our country. You cannot have a social media page for India and another one for the rest of the world. The promotions and marketing campaigns are displayed on one page that everyone has access to. You can customise it for your local audience though. So they do spend money, if not here then somewhere else, which has an impact here.

In fact, if you look at the P&A budgets of these films, they will be more than the actual production budget for some smaller films. That is the kind of muscle they have behind their marketing. And Hollywood has got it right because they clearly know that their market is not just the US but also the Western markets. They dub their films in other international languages or use subtitles. They have started customising this and that is a huge benefit for them.

They are doing this because the US audience is showing no growth. The growth is coming from other markets, like India and China. People are going in those kinds of numbers to the theatres because the product is available at their doorstep. And it’s great how the Indian and Hollywood film industries continue to co-exist in harmony. This year, we already have four successful Hollywood movies released in 2018 and one of them broke quite a few records. I think, collectively, it’s great for the business of the Indian film industry and the audience.

Mahendra Soni, Co-Founder & Director, SVF

Hollywood films this year have done extremely well in our territory and the success proves that the audience is now much more aware than ever before. Due to social media and the digital explosion, the young generation is fully aware of what is happening around the world and their choice of entertainment is also dependent on what people are watching internationally. There is also a considerable increase in the number of 2k screens, which adds to the numbers as well.

It is evident that old marketing strategies like TV, outdoor advertising and print are becoming less effective. The audience is now spending more time on the digital medium, so it makes more sense to target them through digital properties. And, as always, word-of-mouth is becoming more effective every passing day. First show reports can impact the total business of any film to a large extent. It is important that a film needs to be good to be a successful film, no matter how big the campaign is.

Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures and Chief of Strategy, PVR Ltd

Studio marketing is aimed not only at the domestic market, but encompasses the global markets as well. So we see the benefits of a well-mounted domestic (US) marketing campaign trickle down to other countries. The consumption of foreign films in English and other languages, is high in India and this audience is internet and social media-savvy. With most films releasing day and date, studios are able to convert the consumers of their marketing campaigns and promotions into eyeballs.

The audience demographic has been shifting / converting for a while now, thanks to dubbed films screening on TV channels. Internet penetration has also helped bring about awareness with the demographic unexplored hitherto, not to mention that along with spectacle, Hollywood has started adding universal emotion to their superhero stories. The shift is restricted to action and spectacle films. The original film, across all languages, still struggles to reach its intended audience.

Devang Sampath, CEO, Cinepolis

From an international perspective, what has happened for Hollywood now is that our box office includes healthy collections from English movies. And as much as half the audience, especially those watching Hollywood films, book their tickets online. Therefore, Hollywood studios have started to focus on digital platforms. They don’t go above the line with their marketing techniques. I believe it is a very good strategy to focus on the digital medium, especially when the preference of the people is not the traditional medium.

You cannot rely on, say, the print media to reach out to the masses that are the target audience for these films. You have to be visible on key digital channels, social media platforms, which is what movies like Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 have done. They partner with certain digital platforms to promote their films, which is the right approach. They have to be active on social media and the platforms where the audience books their tickets.

And, now, I think they have also tried to focus on how to do the right kind of activations in cinemas. For example, with Deadpool 2, we had this activation at Cinepolis across all screens where the target audience is.

Hollywood studios are following a focused marketing approach and I think that is the right way to do it. Hollywood now contributes about 20 per cent to the total box-office collections, whereas it used to be 7-8 per cent a decade ago. It has grown quite a bit in our country and I see it growing further, not only in India but in other countries and other territories as well. Our dependence on Hollywood is pretty low right now but it will increase in the near future, which is a very good thing for the industry.

Rajender Singh Jyala, Chief Programming Officer, INOX Leisure Ltd

International films are subjected to the DCI formats they get released in. Even if they want to go all out with distribution, they cannot go beyond a point because they cannot release films in non-DCI formats. So, the maximum footprint for them is 3,000 screens. It is not by choice that the Hollywood films have different strategies. If one Hindi film releases, we advertise it with 5,000 screens. Movies like Avengers: Infinity War can get up to 2,000 or 2,200 screens.

And in a multiplex, one cannot show one movie in all the screens. Even if it’s a big film, one can give maximum two to three screens in a, say, four-screen multiplex. Any Hollywood film, without another Bollywood release competing with it, cannot get a 100 per cent release and hence, that marks the difference between the distribution strategies.

As far as marketing is concerned, yes, the fan following of Hollywood films has increased in India over time. Kids, youngsters and adults are big fans of Marvel and DC characters and movies. That helps us get more footfalls in our cinemas.

Secondly, Hollywood films come in only DCI format and earlier the screens compatible with that were very few. Now, more and more theatres are able to screen such films. Hence the numbers are going up. When Avatar released in India in 2009, we had 100-odd screens that were suitable for that film’s format. After that, more multiplexes have opened and there is more penetration.

For Bollywood, films are releasing in 2k and non-2k format. Hence they have a greater reach. Because of this, there is a difference in the number of screens for Hollywood and Bollywood films. But the numbers for Hollywood will go up. In the last two to three years, even Hindi film producers have been refraining from releasing their films when a big Hollywood film is coming out. They don’t want to compete with it and try to keep a week-long gap.

Mohan Umrotkar, CEO, Carnival Cinemas

The market is changing drastically. This week, there are 11 new releases in theatres. Of these, three are Hollywood films and rest regional. There are no new Hindi releases. Despite the limited promotions and marketing initiatives in India, which are also changing with films like Deadpool 2, the most preferred tools of promotions are still cinema trailers, local level brand integrations and digital promotions. There are different distribution strategies with the different set of Hollywood (English and dubbed), Bollywood and regional films, category-wise, depending on genre, A/B list actors etc.

For example, A-lister Bollywood films (Khans, Kumar etc) generally get 70-80 per cent shows and the big-ticket Hollywood films like Avengers: Infinity War and the Mission Impossible franchise get 50-60 per cent shows. For example, this week at Carnival Cinemas, Incredibles 2 will get 25-30 per cent shows, Ocean’s 8 20 per cent, Hereditary is a limited release, Race 3 around 25 per cent shows in the second week, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is still doing well and regional films will get the rest of the shows, market-wise. Earlier, the audience ratio of English vs regional dubbed was 80:20; now it 60:40 across India. The audience is always game for good content, whether Hollywood or Indian films. Good content always wins.

Bhuvanesh Mendiratta, AVP, Miraj Cinemas

As an exhibitor, I am very happy to see how well Hollywood films are performing these days. Ultimately, that is opening a new window for us among the audience. It is also helping us to reduce our complete dependency on Bollywood movies. The way Hollywood movies are performing right now is giving us some breathing space in the industry.

In the end, it is all about the footfalls that come into the theatre to watch a certain film. There are times when Bollywood movies fail to get these footfalls and Hollywood movies are stepping up to do so. That is a good sign for exhibitors. The popularity of international films has been increasing every year, especially for the last three years. And one of the reasons is that these Hollywood films are marketing their products very well right now. If you look at superhero films, this genre is popular across the globe but is becoming popular in India only now.

With the kind of content, merchandise, posters, lure on social media and everything else, these films have been exciting the audience. This marketing is expanding not only to social media but to the print media, shops, malls, multiplexes, promotional activations etc. The different marketing techniques that they use for different multiplexes are working in getting eyeballs.

We are excited as exhibitors about this because it is filling the gaps that Bollywood movies leave. These films started out slowly in a few theatres, to now being screened in so many multiplexes. The ‘slow and steady’ policy works for them. It takes a lot of money for a production house to print these films on reel, even when it is digital. Slowly and steadily, they are trying to increase their base in terms of exhibition and the influx of 2k theatres in India is helping them achieve that.

Since they know that their product is going to work here, they are going all out in India. It is a viable strategy for them. Right now, even Tier II and Tier III markets have quality theatres,, which was not the case two to three years ago. All this helps Hollywood films reach out to more people in India. The quality of theatres plays a major role in increasing the business.

Yogesh Raizada, MD, Wave Cinemas

When it comes to Hollywood films releasing in India, there are no different distribution strategies as such. There is a huge fan following for these movies, for the heroes, for the content and for the technology. If we compare any Indian film to Hollywood superhero movies, they are poles apart.

Let us take the example of Ant-Man And The Wasp, which is coming out in July. The build-up is great. Everyone knows that such a film is releasing. As far as Hindi movies are concerned, no one is aware about which movies are coming after Sanju. There has been a generational shift also. Now, most superheroes have been converted into The Avengers, Hulk and Iron Man. These movies are performing better than Hindi movies. Earlier, we only knew about Spider-Man, Superman and Batman. Today, they don’t stand anywhere.

These Hollywood films have a target clientele. Most of the clientele are digitally equipped. So, their promotion is also targeted. Most of their promotions are online and gaming-based; there are so many popular superhero games. They are creating a wider base and trying to implement their strategy as per the norms of the industry.

To top that, the admission rates in Tier 1 cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata are higher. Audiences are also evolving with time. Globalisation is the in-thing. Everyone knows about what is happening in the Hollywood industry. Because of the globalisation effect, various trends are penetrating into the masses. As a result, the education structure of the nation is also changing. This is the reason audiences are accepting diverse genres of Hollywood films that are releasing in India.

Pushkaraj Chaphalkar, Owner, Citypride

Most Hollywood films, especially the recently famous Marvel series, will by default have a limited release and a controlled distribution because they all release in 3D. Not all theatres are equipped to show 3D films and people do not like to watch these films in 2D. Moreover, some studios are even more selective than others; they release only in screens and regions where they are confident the movie will do well.

I think it’s a good strategy that they don’t go overboard even with big films. On the other hand, look at Race 3, a big-budget Hindi film, whose occupancy has already fallen in theatres despite its wide release. It is 10 per cent. It is better to employ a controlled release with a focused target and concentrate more on digital marketing. Also, people know that the content of Hollywood movies is good before the release.

Gandharv Sharma, Owner, Redrocks

The biggest reason audiences are drawn  towards Hollywood today is the amazing content. They are really good with their star cast too. Their distribution and marketing strategies may be different but their biggest asset is their content. The way they picturise their films and their performances in certain roles is far superior to what we see in our films. So, different strategies or not, good content, whether Bollywood or Hollywood, will always work.

Ashutosh Agarwal, Owner, Star World

It is not a different strategy as much as it is common sense, that a good movie is shown in a limited number of screens. Those who want to watch the movie will rush to that theatre. Whether Avengers: Infinity War or Deadpool 2, they have a limited number of people in a country like India who want to watch these films. Hence, the number of screens is less.

English language films generally have to be in limited screens; they cannot have widespread releases like a Salman Khan movie does. And with social media today, these international movies don’t need to do a lot of marketing and promotions. It is all very well marketed by Twitter, Facebook or Google. It is a good strategy, they are saving on that and making better content instead.

Audiences like these films because the quality of content is so great. Avengers: Infinity War is a multi-starrer and we don’t have that in Bollywood any more. They have better quality films, so the audience likes those films more.

Satadeep Saha, Owner, SSR

Nowadays, English language movies in India are doing really well. The eye-opener for all was The Jungle Book. Lately, we have seen Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity war, Deadpool 2 and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom doing really well. The numbers for these films will only increase day by day. One reason is that the number of multiplexes is increasing all the time. This is good for the industry as well.

People are converting single screen theatres into multiplexes and making them suitable to screen bigger films. Even theatres in smaller cities are making their screens friendly for Hollywood films. People used to have a hard time watching English movies and finding shows for English films before but that is not the case now.

For example, I have a property in Agartala which would only screen Hindi and Bengali films. But now we have converted it in a four-screen multiplex, made it 2k friendly and are screening English films as well which are giving us good collections. For Avengers, we got around `22 lakh in the first week itself. That is a huge amount for a Tier II centre like Agartala.

More potential markets for English films are opening up everywhere and we are planning to open up more multiplexes to cater to them. And since these films are also dubbed in other languages like Hindi, it helps to reach a wider audience.



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