Multiplex players INOX and PVR have defended the long-standing theatrical release window, essentially placing their views on Reliance JioFiber’s offering ‘First Day First Show’, which would let premium users watch movies the same day that they are released in theaters. Reliance group chairman Mukesh Ambani had announced the ‘disruptive’ offering two days ago at the company’s AGM.

PVR pointed out that the theatrical release window has been a ‘valuable model’, producers have maintained a ‘sacrosanct gap’ between a theatrical release and release on all other platforms like DVD, DTH, TV, and OTTs. Both INOX and PVR noted that this is a model followed internationally and replicated in India, and it is how the multiplex business has remained viable. Cinema continues to deliver robust box-office performance in India and also “matured” markets such as USA, China, Europe, where cinemas already compete with newer initiatives like Netflix Original movies, noted PVR.

The film producer is the owner of the creative content and is entitled to choose the platform for distribution and consumption of his content, said INOX. In a scenario where movies can be released on theaters or on other platforms, the producer would have to choose between either theatrical exhibition or release on any other platform “since release on both simultaneously would breach the mutually agreed exclusive theatrical window”.

Both multiplexes avoided mentioning Reliance or Jio, and both said they’re placing their initial observations, as little detail is available about the offering. PVR operates 748 screens in 64 cities in India (as of March 2019), it had acquired Chennai-based Sathyam Cinemas last year. It opened 36 new screens in May-July 2019, and is on track to open another 80 screens this year. INOX Leisure operates 595 screens in 67 cities.

Although both multiplexes extolled the theatre experience. INOX Leisure said theaters bring technology, luxury, unmatched service, and this cannot be matched with watching movies on TV at home.  PVR noted that both theaters and at-home are have their own places, and “both these experiences have co-existed and prospered for decades and will continue to do so in the future”. “We are extremely buoyant about cinema exhibition’s growth prospects” and remain committeed to expanding PVR.

MediaNama’s take

Nikhil adds: Remember that most films earn around 70% of their revenues in the very first week of release: this money is earned directly by the film exhibition industry, which consists of chains like PVR and Inox. There is an additional dependence of online ticketing companies like BookMyShow and Paytm on this business. A simultaneous release will have a direct impact on these businesses.

If there is a push from Jio for a simultaneous release of films, the exhibition industry has two choices: it can bully producers/film distributors into ensuring that they don’t do a simultaneous release online by threatening to boycott those films for exhibition, or they can choose to lobby the government to protect the theatres business. Governments are likely to be aligned towards protecting the exhibitions industry because they contribute significantly towards entertainment tax.

But Reliance is powerful. This development is worth keeping an eye on.

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The statements from the film exhibitions industry: