Big Tree Entertainment’s BookMyShow rolled out its homegrown transactional video-on-demand platform – BookMyShow Stream earlier this month. With over 600 movie titles and 72,000+ hours of content which users can either rent or buy, BookMyShow Stream will feature a specially curated library of content from around the world. Built on the back of over 21 years of consumer understanding and data insights, BookMyShow Stream focuses on relevant and targeted content for consumers across specific film categories such as premieres, exclusives, world cinema, missed in theatres, festival favourites and dedicated bundles.
In this conversation, Ashish Saksena, COO - Cinemas, BookMyShow tells us more about the platform and the new entertainment ecosystem that emerged out of 2020...
Q] Given that Indian OTT viewers are most comfortable with SVOD and telco bundles, what gave you the confidence to opt for the TVOD model?
BookMyShow Stream follows the global traditional theatrical window as yet not prevalent in India and one which precedes the window for SVOD platforms. It is a natural extension of our cinemas business and empowers users to pay only for the content that they watch – a prevalent trend in other global cinema markets. Indian audiences like to watch a film as soon as it releases, and we are confident that they would welcome watching a film on our platform, even before it goes to the SVOD platforms. By the very nature of its placement in a film’s life cycle, BookMyShow Stream will enable users to catch films that they missed watching in theatres or ones that premiere exclusively on the platform and are unavailable anywhere else. This makes it compelling offering.
Q] When you say that the launch of BookMyShow Stream is based on ‘two decades of rich user understanding and data insights’, what does that refer to?
BookMyShow Stream is an innovation that stems from BookMyShow’s robust data analytics and in-depth understanding of our consumers’ preferences for movies, their consumption patterns and journey on the platform. With this data BookMyShow Stream can anticipate the kind of content that people will like and we acquire such content from our partners. It also helps us in deciding what kind of content will appeal to which user. So, no two users will see the same content. Our teams have worked extensively to handpick and customise content for different users basis their individual past transactions, search behaviour and interests as seen on BookMyShow and how these have evolved through the years. This will reduce the time spent on browsing, while enhancing the discovery experience at the same time.
Q] What is your target audience for BookMyShow Stream? Will you describe it as a niche offering?
The content on BookMyShow Stream is curated for a cross-section of audience profiles and their language preferences. While it features a handpicked library of niche content, there are also popular genres, languages, and box office bestsellers from around the world that Indians haven’t watched. We do not want to define our content as niche or massy. We will deliver what we believe is liked by our large user base and remain neutral when it comes to visibility of all genres, languages or films..
Q] How was the launch of BookMyShow Stream affected by change in trends last year?
At BookMyShow we were inundated with traffic, searching for ‘what next’ in entertainment during the early days of the pandemic. Moving swiftly to address this need, we launched the first version of our virtual entertainment offerings within one day of the national lockdown being announced in March. We began with free offerings for the initial few months, and today over 80% virtual events on BookMyShow are ticketed. It was clear that people will pay for content that they would like to watch, and BookMyShow Stream strengthened this belief as we got ready to launch our TVOD service.
The launch of BookMyShow Stream was not an afterthought from the pandemic; the pandemic rather helped us prioritise its development as the resources required for launching a product of this scale were available to work on full time. Thus we could launch BookMyShow Stream in less than eight months!
Q] Talking of theatre in particular, is it possible to replicate the experience online? Is there any feedback on it given that 2020 saw many theatre performances been taken to the online medium?
We’ve all come a long way and changed many habits over the last several months. In March, BookMyShow was quick to recognise consumers’ need for entertainment during the extended lockdown and launched a slew of virtual live offerings across genres and formats such as ‘Live From HQ’, ‘Theatre Live - The Stage Comes Home’, ‘#LiveInYourLivingRoom’ and #StayFitIndiaChallenge. Our endeavour of bringing popular artists and performers live from their homes to the safety of users’ homes was our way of doing our bit for the consumers and the community at large by encouraging them to stay home.
With this in mind, we launched BookMyShow Online, India’s first streaming platform for live entertainment with some of the most compelling events streamed seamlessly. These include Sunburn Home Festival, Rambo Circus’ digital edition - Life Is A Circus and international performances such as The Buckleys, Willie Gomez, Taylor Castro and Ellie Goulding to name a few. Until December 2020, BookMyShow had hosted over 6,400 virtual events of which over 80% were ticketed.
We believe that with Digital being established as an active medium of choice for entertainment, it will play an important role even as live out-of-home entertainment makes a comeback. There will be a step-out experience and a stay-home one, delivered digitally. Moving forward it is likely to be a hybrid format of both on-ground and online entertainment events with the digital experience for the latter only getting enhanced further with newer, richer formats emerging.
Q] With the growing trend of direct OTT releases, do you see new business models emerging? How will the cinema exhibition ecosystem evolve?
Unlike any of the other global cinema markets, theatrical release is unavoidable in a film’s journey in India – it is a major revenue stream for producers and film makers contributing over 60% to a movie’s overall collections. With large screens and exceptional ambience sound, theatrical experiences are unmatched, making it audiences’ preferred form of entertainment. Online streaming and OTT platforms have been a strong avenue for movie releases across markets globally. In India, the OTT medium has grown considerably over the past few years as a result of growing internet penetration and affordable data. It has brought more people into the fold of niche content in cinema that has ultimately seen great results on the theatrical medium with more filmmakers experimenting with narratives and genres in Indian films in the past few years.
However, the Indian cinema industry remains one where theatrical releases still form the bulk of the movie business. For the foreseeable future, we do not see the OTT industry competing with cinemas or the exhibition industry, but instead as complementing it by increasing the life cycle of a film, while also enabling audiences in India to sample more and more content, which was thus far not available. Having said that, the decision remains one that producers will have to take given the economics of the business involved.
Q] Is the ‘old normal’ for the industry returning yet? What’s your outlook for 2021?
We are seeing a steady increase in the demand for out-of-home entertainment experiences, including both live entertainment and cinemas. BookMyShow contributed over 50% to overall box office collection for Christopher Nolan’s much awaited Tenet in early December in India. This was followed by a slew of releases such as Wonder Woman 1984 and Solo Brathuke So Better (Telugu) in December and Master (Tamil), Krack (Telugu), Red (Telugu), Eeaswaran (Tamil) and AlluduAdhurs (Tamil) in January, contributing to an outstanding start to 2021 with BookMyShow selling five million tickets in January alone, even as we crossed overall 13 million tickets in three months since cinemas reopened.
While the recovery of the sector may take longer and it will be dependent on the SOPs, as new films make their way to the silver screen gradually but in a sustained manner, we expect a steady recovery cycle April onwards.