Rocking the Big Screen

With a clear vision and persistence in demanding deliverables from the team, Gautam Dutta, the CEO of PVR, made sure the company survived to thrive in the post-pandemic world

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Theatres, cinema halls, multiplexes, hotels and restaurants: in March 2020, these establishments were looking at an endless dark tunnel. These were the most affected sectors, and possible still are, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

PVR

Braving the odds induced by the pandemic, one CEO kept the company afloat. “During the lockdown period when our cinemas were closed and we had zero revenues, we decided to hold on to our people through salary cuts and stay afloat to keep our kitchens running so that we could all bounce back together when good times return,” said Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Ltd.

Having a clear vision, thinking out of the box, keeping persistence in demanding deliverables from the team and having a great team are his key assets.

“I feel the real turnaround came when I made the team members foresee a larger vision. I feel that I tasted success when I was able to align the core team to a common vision of thought. I realized on the way that I knew little and needed experts’ point of view in order to excel. Once I started to align people and give them a common goal post to aim at, things began to roll. Today, I feel satisfied that I have been able to create a culture of utmost professionalism both in heart and mind and a unified team bonded together with a shared purpose,” he said, terming this as the most defining moment in his professional journey. 

The unprecedented health crisis rocked the economy and the cinema sector had to navigate through it. Describing his most daring step, he says, “I was instrumental in spearheading the structural change in the organization when we created a decentralized structure in operations with a regional director at the helm of affairs which was needed for a company like PVR. I was able to give empowerment at the ground level such as the unit head of our cinemas to be able to speed up the decision making process.  During the lockdown period, when we were facing the brunt and suffering huge losses, we took upon ourselves the cost of vaccination of our employees and their dependents.”

In the new normal, he explored new ideas of expanding the business. “We started to look at our huge customer base as an asset beyond the brick-and-mortar asset of our cinema. We discovered a gold mine of ideas when we engaged with them.The seeds of many such new businesses have emerged. Some of these are PVR Popmagic microwave popcorn that is sold on food aggregators and e-commerce sites or the V Café, our food selection in cinemas made available to people’s homes through food aggregator platforms. There are many such businesses that you would hear about in the subsequent months.”

Talking about his management style, he says, “One should have the humility to learn from people who know more than you.” He joined PVR as the chief marketing officer in 2006 and was later promoted as COO in 2011. In 2014, he became the CEO. 

In 2014, cinema media sales in PVR was INR 142 crore which grew to INR 376 crore by FY19-20, pre-COVID times with a five-Year CAGR of 16 per cent. “In fact media sales was in line to touch INR 400 crore-plus revenue till the pre-COVID-19 period. Today PVR commands a market share of over 33 per cent  in the in-cinema advertising segment of the multiplex industry in India,” he says. 

Explaining the growth of the company, he said, “The average ticket price was INR 160 against INR 204 what it is now. The spent per head, the barometer of F&B amount spent per admit, was INR 56 which is INR 96 today.  We have the highest F&B spend per patron in the Indian film exhibition industry. Our F&B revenues have seen a 12 per cent y-o-y (year-on-year) growth, the highest in the industry.”

“In 2014, there were 421 screens and 97 cinemas, today we have 849 screens and 177 cinemas. At the cinema level, it was the first time in our more-than-two-decade history that we witnessed over 10 crore patrons entering our premises in the pre-COVID year of FY 2019-20. We are the largest in the world by admits per screen and seventh largest in the world in terms of total admits. Our loyalty programme, PVR Privilege, the first-ever in the multiplex industry, had a stellar year with an accrual over 1 crore members, a growth of three times.” 

Giving an insight into the growth strategies, he said, “Constantly thinking beyond the obvious, reinventing business models and working on every aspect of the business to make it more relevant is important. We must remember that what is good today may not be good tomorrow.  Even while doing the best of innovations, there is a constant need to think out-of-the box to stay ahead of the curve.”

The company has  built a lot of SOPs and invested in a lot of training during the lockdown period. Now, as the cinemas have reopened, it is looking forward to implement them.