Covid-19: Bleak Times and Silver Linings for Entertainment Industry

Harsh decisions will need to follow for many exhibition companies to ensure that they can meet their cashflows with many already invoking 'Act of God' to ensure that rental agreements can be made 'Force Majeure'

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The next year or so for the Film industry will likely be a pretty bleak situation with the after-effects of the COVID19 pandemic ensuring that delayed releases and a shortage of consumer confidence bring little cheer to an industry that has suffered badly during the preceding lockdown. Since March 16th, most cinema halls across the country have been closed, those that did operate after that date were then closed down completely by the time the PM made the decision to effectively lock down the country on March 21st. The exhibition, with high fixed costs and needing customers to ensure revenue streams, like all other hospitality and outdoor businesses, therefore have been left in a state of limbo. Harsh decisions will need to follow for many exhibition companies to ensure that they can meet their cashflows with many already invoking ‘Act of God’ to ensure that rental agreements can be made ‘Force Majeure’. 

Pixabay

In addition to these significant losses that will come from an extended period of closure, there will be a huge loss of confidence from the audience who will view coming back to cinemas as a risky proposition in the current environment. This would certainly lead to major releases being pushed back a considerable period to try to mitigate this risk, which again would lead to low occupancy even if theatres would be able to reopen. Some clue can be seen from the Disney-Marvel slate which pushed back its film ‘Black Widow’ a full 6 months from May to November to ensure that there are no repercussions of this pandemic by then. Now, this could be wishful thinking on their part but the logic is clear. This summer blockbuster season of 2020 is a write-off and many a theatre business may well be with it.

Production has ground to a halt as well. This means that films that were due to hit theatres will now not make their release dates, meaning that films perhaps a little long in the tooth - take their place and this could lead to audience apathy. Film-watching is a habit and this quarantine period has squeezed that habit out of us and the film industry will in many ways pay a direct result of that as box office occupancy levels have been downgraded across the world for the whole of the financial year 2020-21. This ebbing of the film watching habit though maybe a small sliver of a silver lining for another part of the M&E business, one that has been perfectly placed to capitalize on the extra time millions have had to while away hours while sitting at home - OTT, and Television.

 

The past three weeks have seen an unprecedented rise in the viewing of the television screen. Some studies have suggested that TV viewing has grown anywhere between 8-15% in some places and no doubt the other time is certainly been taken by the rise in streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and the newly launched Disney+ Hotstar. Now as yet, there are no figures on just how much these services have gained in the last three weeks but without a doubt, they have been the major benefactor of people being incarcerated at home. Whether these services are being viewed via AVOD or SVOD, the hours of viewing has certainly been hugely boosted with binge-watching becoming a norm throughout the day and night. How much this retained time online has caused a conversion from AVOD customers to SVOD, we will have to see but I am under the impression that this has happened in a significant number. 

Surely though this is something that can easily be expected but there is a catch. That is that these services are of course also dependent on new production and the longer the quarantine goes on, the slower the delivery of this new content will be. Disney+ has already announced that some of its marquee shows will be delayed as a result and it is the same for the other streamers as well. How long the pandemic lasts may have a direct result on how these new subscribers are retained by the OTT’s in the long run. The recession which will likely follow may also cause rationing of expenses in the household and entertainment like OTT subscriptions, may end but rationalized as well. Hypotheticals maybe, but not without some reason.

What does this mean for the long run? Is this a new normal for entertainment viewing even after Coronavirus is left as a distant (hopefully) memory? Well, there is no doubt that some of the OTT gains made will be lasting. As I mentioned, the movie-going business may take time to recover both in confidence as well as in content, which would mean that habits formed, may last and I would suspect, that once someone has bitten into that OTT apple, it will be hard to take it away. Everyone won’t stay but many conversions will be permanent. Television isn’t quite so lucky as appointment driven TV will continue to be the main draw and as people return to work, the extra time available to watch the idiot box will be taken away. Viewing habits though may be permanently altered and the march to OTT supremacy in our lives may have been hastened by the unlikeliest of all sources.

Rahul Puri

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Born a small Welsh village of Neath in the UK, Rahul’s family shifted to New Delhi, India when he was 10 years old.He completed his 8 IGCSE’s from the Cambridge Board (7 A’s and a B) and received a scholarship for his performance when he was admitted to complete his ‘A’ Levels from the British School. Finally completing his 4 ‘A’ Levels — at the time, 3 ‘A’ Levels was considered the standard — he decided to apply to colleges in the UK, where he had family and knew the environment well. Kings College’s prestigious Business Management programme accepted him and in 1996, he joined the programme as an undergraduate. During his time at King’s Rahul won the Dean’s Award for the most meritorious student in Business Management (a class of 120) three years in a row and finished his degree with a 1st class distinction. He also represented the college at football and cricket for the three years he attended.Moving on from there, he applied and was accepted into UBS Warburg’s highly competitive Analyst Training Programme for Corporate Finance. After finishing that, and passing his Securities and Derivatives Exam in the UK, he spent a further 3 years working at UBS in corporate finance.

Staring from the Mining and Metals Origination Team and moving to the European Media and Internet Team, he worked on international transactions worth up to US$10 billion. In Mining and Metals, he advised Anglo American and Alcoa at board level on strategy as well as advising Impala Platinum on their takeover of Platexico in Canada and Norsk Hydro on their acquisition of Wells Aluminium. In the Media and Internet Team, he advised Denstu Advertising on their global expansion strategy and subsequent IPO, advised EMTV with regards to their Formula 1 rights and advised Publlicis on their merger with Saatchi and Saatchi.

In search of a new challenge and in a fast growing and developing environment, he moved to Mumbai in 2002, and he joined Ambit Corporate Finance where he advised the management of UDV India on their buyout of the global drinks portfolio of UDV Limited. Rahul then moved on to Nimbus Communications where he assumed the role of Corporate Strategy Manager, he helped build a successful motion pictures division for the company and developed strong global relationships.

In 2003, he joined Mukta Arts Limited as Vice President — Finance and Business Strategy and has been involved in the development of the company and the release of over 15 commercial films including ‘Aitraaz’, ‘Kisna’, ‘Shaadi Se Pehle’ ’36 Chinatown’, ‘Apna Sapna Money Money’, ‘Yuvvraaj’ and many more. On the creative side, he was instrumental in the set up of the company’s niche film banner, Mukta Searchlight and he produced Mukta Searchlight’s first production, the critically acclaimed blockbuster ‘Iqbal’, in 2005. He has also been involved in various regional production of the company including ‘Valu’ (Marathi), ‘Nauka Dubi’ (Bengali) and ‘Double Di Trouble’ (Punjabi). He is now actively involved in producing the company’s new slate of films.

In 2009, he ascended to the company’s Board of Directors and became Executive Director and is now involved in all aspects of the company including financing, distribution, production, exhibition and marketing. During his time at Mukta Arts he has amassed a wealth of knowledge about the film space and also many of the allied industries including television and the digital space.
 

 


He was also keenly involved in the financing and set up of the company’s biggest asset, the US$ 20 

million Film, Television and Animation School in Film City, Whistling Woods International (WWI). The school opened its doors in July 2006 and now has over 500 students and has been voted one of the 

best schools in the world by Hollywood Reporter. He has been teaching regularly at the school as well since its inception. He helped start India’s first MBA in Media and Entertainment — through WWI and Manipal University, lead the start up of WWI’s own MBA in Media and Communication and has overseen the expansion of WWI to other campuses and country’s including Nigeria and the UK.

He has since taken over the role of Head of Academics at WWI as well. This includes the Directorship of the School of Communication and the Head of Department of Producing at the school. He regularly teaches, takes master-classes and invites the cream of the film and media industry to interact with students at WWI and provides the industry mentorship and guidance to all the school’s students across specializations.

In 2014, he was promoted to Managing Director of Mukta Arts, responsible for the overall day-to-day operations of the company and all its group holdings as well as the future strategy and expansion for all businesses.

His current project is the set up and expansion of Mukta A2 Cinemas. The company has now rolled out 17 multiplex properties (of which 1 is an international property in Bahrain) and will be opening soon in Gujarat (Vapi and Kheda), Haryana (Gurgaon and Cheeka), Maharashtra (Ambernath), Pune (Viman Nagar), Chattisgargh (Raipur) and Bihar (Bhagalpur) to name a few. He also oversees Mukta Arts programming and distribution business, which currently controls over 750 screens across India and was instrumental in inking the joint-venture deal with UFO Films to combine these two huge programming businesses.

He spends most of his free time enjoying big budget commercial films. He is a avid reader and loves books, especially pulp fiction. He is a keen observer of current affairs and politics and is an avid sports fan.