In the years since the Covid-19 pandemic shifting audience tastes have given rise to two divergent trends in India’s exhibition industry.

According to the latest Ficci-EY media and entertainment report, footfalls in theatres (single screens and multiplexes) have fallen by 9% to 900 million in 2023 from 994 million in 2022. But, gross box-office collections (before tax) of single screens and multiplexes expanded 15.3% and 13.7%, respectively.

To be sure, the base effect plays a role in the quantum of increase.

Still, growth in gross box-office collections of single screens has been higher than for multiplexes. These divergences help explain how audiences are watching content in theatres after the pandemic.

Not Theatrics, Meaningful Content  to Drive Fortunes of Film IndustryET Bureau

More than two years since the re-opening of theatres after the pandemic, footfalls have not touched pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, they were 1.46 billion, sliding to 900 million last year. The cost of going to a movie (not just ticket price) outweighs the cost of buying relatively economical entertainment: streaming and social media platforms. Also, audiences are willing to wait for films to release on streamers (high viewership of Hindi film Animal on Netflix is a case in point) after the theatrical release.

This fall in footfalls is compensated by high-ticket prices, which audiences are willing to pay if rewarded either with well-made, big-budget massy films or mid-budget films. Today, with the exception of Hollywood tent-pole movies, the content that works in multiplexes (12th Fail, for instance) is not materially different from what works in single screens.

Indeed, a Hindi filmgoer has become more accepting of non-Hindi content, provided it is engaging and entertaining. This is reflected in the box-office collections of southern films. According to the Ficci-EY report, the gross box-office collections of southern films in 2023 were ₹5,200 crore. For Hindi films, by contrast, the collections totaled ₹5,300 crore. The space for meaningful content, which was considered exclusive fiefdom of multiplexes, has been taken over by streaming platforms (especially YouTube).

Hence, going to theatres is no longer a weekend tradition or ritual followed without careful assessment of its effectiveness in delivering worthy entertainment. As loyalties among audiences shift more toward engaging and entertaining content or stories than stardom of stars, the decision to watch films in theatres is formed after considering three things.

One is either watching trailers of films. Two: Following films’ reviews of trustworthy people. And three: How competing available sources of entertainment – streamers and social media – would fare against a theatrical experience.

So, when entertaining massy films were released in 2023, single screens, which were shut for a while due to the pandemic, saw higher collections in 2023 compared with the previous couple of years.


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