Research re-evaluates India's cinema biz

Reports of 4 bil visits per year exaggerated, study says

LONDON -- Reports claiming that there are 4 billion cinemagoers in India are well wide of the mark, according to a contentious report released Tuesday by boxoffice specialist Dodona Research.

The annual report titled "Cinemagoing India" instead estimates that movie admissions on the subcontinent are "in the region of 1.5 billion," with admissions to Bollywood films outside the territory adding a few tens of millions more.

The estimates from Dodona, radically lower than those usually quoted, are the result of comparing data from a range of sources.

Dodona points to the fact that, while the number of cinema screens in the country has fallen sharply in recent years, admissions estimates have climbed.

Not only is this counter intuitive, it results in the number of moviegoers exceeding the seating capacity of the country's cinemas, Dodona said.

But the U.K.-based research company says the prospects for growth in India remain healthy, despite the quality of data coming out of the territory.

India is in the middle of a multiplex boom, with aging traditional cinemas being supplanted by new multiplexes, Dodona said. There are now 1,350 multiplex screens compared with 80 at the end of 2002, and they are estimated to account for approximately 190 million admissions.

With India's emerging middle class migrating to the new multiplexes, traditional cinemas now rely increasingly on a lower income and rural market -- and must also contend with rampant film piracy. The result has been a swathe of closures, with more than 3,000 screens closed since 2002. The 7,650 remaining traditional screens are estimated to have welcomed 1.3 billion guests in 2007.

Closures would spell disaster were it not for the fact that the new multiplex cinemas are charging much more per ticket than traditional rivals -- an average of 88 rupees ($2.15) compared with 27 rupees ($0.65) in 2007.

Dodona argues that ,rather than being an exceptional case, the Indian cinema industry is now undergoing a typical pattern of transition familiar from such markets as the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Dodona's report suggests total theatrical boxoffice will reach 63.3 billion rupees by 2012, 25% ahead of the 2007 figure.

And multiplexes will account for more than 50% of boxoffice receipts, compared to less than one third in 2007.

"With just six circuits today operating more than 50 screens the opportunity exists to build substantial businesses in the Indian exhibition sector," Report author Karsten-Peter Grummitt said. "The leading Indian companies will be able to add literally hundreds of screens before the transition to a modern industry is over."
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