India’s largest movie ticketing platform turns to virtual events to survive the slump

A long interval.
A long interval.
Image: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri
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Cinema halls remain an exception to India’s “unlock” phase.

With fresh Covid-19 cases every day, going to a music gig, a food festival, or the simple act of watching a movie on a big screen is unlikely to return for the foreseeable future. Given this scenario, various allied businesses, including platforms that sell tickets, have had to think on their feet and find ways to survive.

BookMyShow, India’s largest platform for tickets for movies, plays, and other entertainment media, has been squarely in the eye of this storm. While its movie tickets business came to a halt, the company scaled up its BookMyShow Online offering, modelling itself to become a platform for hosting events virtually. During this pandemic and the economic slowdown, this has been a viable revenue stream for the company. “The phenomenal uptake for these properties and formats is an indicator of the latent demand within the entertainment ecosystem,” said Parikshit Dar, co-founder and director of BookMyShow.

In an interview with Quartz, Dar spoke about the gigs that had to be cancelled, the unprecedented economic hit the pandemic brought with it, and how he’s hopeful that people will return to the movies. Edited excerpts:

Since large venue-based options for entertainment are limited, how are performers and entertainers pivoting?

During the lockdown phase, we had well over 750 content in-home offerings in the first three months, with about 100-150 events now being added daily. These virtual in-home entertainment series worked phenomenally. We saw 4 million viewers in the first four weeks itself, and witnessed a strong growth of half a million consumers engaging with the platform each week on an average since.

To make this experience more frictionless and hassle-free, we recently launched BookMyShow Online, our global online streaming platform for live entertainment. With this, consumers will be able to view live entertainment experiences virtually (paid as well as free) from any location of their preference, and all within the BookMyShow platform. It offers artists globally an opportunity to stream their live performances directly on the platform.

We have the capability to host a smooth experience for over 50,000 concurrent viewers per minute at any given point. We are currently testing it to take this to 100,000 concurrent viewers as well.

How much revenue did BookMyShow lose because of the pandemic?

The effect that this pandemic has had on the business has been significant, with out-of-home entertainment coming to a complete standstill the world over. Especially with the cinema halls and on-ground events facing such unprecedented times of inactivity, the obvious impact on revenue has been rare and exceptional.

But we are confident that BookMyShow will rise on the other side of this pandemic, stronger and raring to go as ever.

Are you expecting the online-only model to fulfill that revenue gap?

Though it is too early to comment on the scale of revenue this alone can garner, early signs during this lockdown period have been extremely encouraging, indicating a growing demand for the format. We expect this model to strengthen revenue stability during such unprecedented times.

What happens to crowd-pullers like music festival NH7 and other large events?

Parikshit Dar.
Parikshit Dar.
Image: BookMyShow

Some of the marquee entertainment experiences that we at BookMyShow had planned for the year, including beauty festival Nykaaland, comedy sensation Trevor Noah’s India Tour, pop singer Khalid’s Free Spirit Tour and Lauv’s How I’m Feeling World Tour: Summer Tour of Asia 2020, have been postponed in the wake of health concerns due to the pandemic.

Nykaaland (headlined by make-up artist Mario Dedivanovic) has been rescheduled for November, and BookMyShow is working on new dates for Khalid, Noah and Lauv and will finalise them as the situation unfolds. Some of the biggest and much-awaited theatrical releases of the year, both Indian and foreign, have also been postponed for later dates.

Some of these festivals have kept their promise of keeping the audiences entertained even during this period. For instance, Sunburn, Asia’s largest electronic dance music festival, has been keeping the audiences engaged with various performances throughout the lockdown and hosted the Sunburn Home Festival on July 11 and 12 on our platform.

The phenomenal uptake for these properties and formats is an indicator of the latent demand within the entertainment ecosystem, where consumers are more than willing to pay for top-notch events. Today over 65% of the events on BookMyShow are ticketed.

Will these changes be short-term or do you see them completely transforming the idea of entertainment?

Having risen from the impact of both the dot com bust (2001-02) as also the global recession (2008-09), we believe these are the best times to experiment and innovate, keeping various possible outcomes in mind.

We have been active observers of changing consumer behaviour with the advent of smart devices, affordable data, better bandwidth, and fair content pricing, which has skyrocketed during the lockdown phase. This gives hope that a new normal with commercial models that go with it may be the reality sooner than we expected. In all likelihood, both an out-of-home live experience and a live experience delivered home may coexist perfectly well.

As movies now move to OTT platforms, how does BookMyShow plan to overcome that loss of revenue? Do you expect the movie business to bounce back soon?

Despite changing global trends and the rise of OTT platforms, the Indian cinema industry remains one where theatrical releases still form the bulk of the business. The OTT medium will remain complementary in its role to the theatrical business in the foreseeable future. Cinemas and movie releases via the theatrical medium are still the major revenue stream for producers and filmmakers, contributing to over 60% of a movie’s overall revenue collections, thus making it unavoidable in a film’s journey.

Having said that, the decision remains one that producers will have to take as they have, given the economics of the business involved.

Yet, we are certain that once we overcome the pandemic and can be out and about, cinemas will experience booming business again.