Theatres have opened in Maharashtra since October 22. What has been the initial response?
Things are coming back to normal now. Cinemas have opened in all states across the country and in a lot of states we are operating at 100% capacity. The three big movies released – Sooryavanshi, Eternals and Annaatthe are all doing extremely well. Pre-Diwali, things were moving slowly because there were no Hindi movies releases. But we were happy that we got 8-10 days to oil the machinery so to speak and have a soft opening.
When do you expect occupancy levels to cross pre-COVID levels?
Before the pandemic, daily footfalls in our multiplexes were about 3.5 lakh-4 lakh. I think we have to wait another 3-4 months to see if current numbers are sustainable. The line-up of films is very exciting all the way till May-June next year. All these movies which were waiting for the last 2 years are now lined up for release across Hindi, English and regional languages. I am positive about things improving from here on.
Have you revived your expansion plans?
We had to put our capex and expansion plans on hold post the pandemic. But now we are looking at starting capital commitments into projects that we have already signed and committed to. Even in the last one year, we managed to open 14 screens during the pandemic because we had made commitments already. We hope to open 20 more screens till March 2022. And post that, we will aim to open at least 16-17 screens every year, which was our run rate pre pandemic. We have lined up very exciting projects which we can focus on over the next 5-7 years. Some of them are in metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru. At the same time, we will be entering new markets such as Jamnagar, Rourkela, Patiala, among others. We continue to solidify our presence in existing markets. We have earmarked annual capex of about Rs. 100-120 crore going forward.
With the convenience offered by OTT platforms, do you think there will be a structural shift away from theatres?
The pandemic exacerbated the discussions around OTT versus cinema halls and the convenience of OTTs because we were shut. Obviously consumers did not have a choice but to consume content on OTT platforms. Now that things are coming back to normal, there will be days when people will want to go to cinema halls for the movie experience. I believe both OTT and cinema halls will coexist going forward. Some content is best viewed on a cinema screen and other content, is best suited for OTT platforms.
How are you ramping up non-movie screening revenues (live sports, gaming, corporate events)? How is the response to the same?
A large part of our revenues continue to come from showing films. These are a very small percentage of our revenues, which we will continue to experiment with. But these are unlikely to get large revenues for us but they helped occupy the cinemas where they were almost empty.
Several analysts believe leverage levels are high for PVR. Are you looking to reduce the same?
Right now, our debt to equity ratio is at reasonable levels. We will look at paring down the debt as and when our revenues bounce back fully to pre-pandemic levels.
Share with us some of the key innovations undertaken by PVR to tide over these tough times?
Innovations in our industry will be driven by technology. What we intend to do with our digital assets – our website, our apps and trying to make the customer experience as frictionless and as seamless as possible. There is also product innovation to amplify the movie watching experience whether its sound, screen, seats, food, among others.