'Revolution' in the works at Indian b.o.

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A frenzy of multiplex building and the digital conversion are "revolutionizing" the Indian cinema experience and will fuel gains in admissions and revenue for the territory, according to a report released Tuesday.

Indian theaters will see 4 billion moviegoers a year by 2011, up from 3.7 billion in 2006, the report from U.K.-based exhibition specialist Dodona Research says.

The report also predicts that boxoffice revenue for the territory — which accounts for half of all cinema visits worldwide — should hit 84 billion rupees ($2.1 billion) by 2011, up from 64 billion rupees ($1.6 billion) garnered during 2006.

The report says that a strong economy, retail boom and a rising middle class will fuel boxoffice growth.

Meanwhile, multiplex building is "taking off" in India. Although multiplexes now account for just 4% of India's cinema screens, they can account for 40% of some films' boxoffice because of their much higher ticket prices, the report notes.

Because of this, six companies — Adlabs, PVR Cinemas, Inox Leisure, E-City Ventures, Shringar Cinemas and Cinemax Cinemas — have built war chests to fund ambitious nationwide multiplex circuits and among them plan to open 1,500 screens in the coming years.

India also has developed "a novel digital cinema business model," one that ignores the Hollywood studio-inspired DCI 2K/4K standard, the report says. Using lower-resolution 1.3K or HD projectors, exhibitors are acquiring and converting old single-screen venues to create sizable networks of digital screens.

The fall of the 35mm print means that digital files can be delivered more quickly, cutting down release and, therefore, piracy windows.

The biggest player in this sector, UFO Moviez, operates 918 screens, followed by Pyramid Saimira with 371 and E-City Digital with 90. By 2011, the three companies will expand their digital networks to cover more than 5,000 screens.

"Although there are still problems to be surmounted, such as high entertainment taxes and piracy, India's exhibitors are showing ambitions on a grand scale," report author Katharine Wright said. "On the basis of current plans, in 2011, half of all the screens in the country will have been built or re-equipped within the past five years."
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