Starved for films, theatres look to play IPL matches; permissions not easy to acquire though
Theatre owners now believe they have the perfect way to lure audiences back: Screening matches. However, it's easier said than done
Around 1,000 theatres in Tamil Nadu have been hit by the ongoing TFPC strike that has been in effect for the past one and a half months. In a bid to keep the cash registers ringing, theatres have been forced to keep some films running longer than usual, and even bring back older films like Vikram Vedha. With IPL commencing though -- and Chennai Super Kings returning -- theatre owners now believe they have the perfect way to lure audiences back: Screening matches. However, it's easier said than done.
Udhayam Theatres was the first wake up to this opportunity. Shanmugasundaram, director of the complex, says, "We employ almost 40 people and have had to keep paying maintainence and electrical charges every month. To pay salaries -- and to stay alive in this business -- we have no other solution than to go for this. As we are within city limits, the commissioner of police has to give permission for us (since he is the licensing authority) to screen anything other than films. We approached him with the request on April 2 and have been waiting for a response."
He didn't resort to taking potshots at anyone for his current predicament. "I am just sad that this decision could now halve the total number of screens in the State. Maintenance costs a lot, and should Star India permit us, screening IPL matches could really save us."
Star India apparently is unwilling to make exceptions for one State alone. "We can only hold further talks with them after getting permission from the government." Should it work out, Udhayam intends to screen all IPL matches, not just ones featuring CSK. "We can play films in the noon and IPL otherwise," he adds.
Rohini Silver Screens has also applied for the license. Nikhilesh Surya, owner, is waiting for Star to sanction approval, but isn't too hopeful. "They can't grant permission for one multiplex, and it doesn't seem like they are too keen to have this happen across the country," he says.
Veteran distributor and exhibitor Tirupur Subramaniam points out that as many as 50 theatres in the city are ready to play IPL matches. "We have asked government to give us permission to use cinema theatres for other monetising options," he says. "Say, a wedding, football matches... The Government has assured us that they will consider it. People will definitely come in for such screenings. We have to hold talks with three parties: Star, the Government, and the DSPs, so we can use their projectors. We are in contact with Star and soon as the Government permits us, I am confident we will get the nod from Star."
All the parties say that the prices will be the same as a movie ticket, should they go on with plans. However, a senior industry insider thinks the idea is fanciful. "The IPL feed belongs to the broadcaster which has pumped in hundreds of crores of money to get the rights. Advertisers are a big part of how the channel recovers investment. How can it allow theatres to completely bypass this arrangement? They won't earn much either. But in the off chance that it does happen, it's definitely a good move."
Sathyam Cinemas is reluctant to comment on this issue, but a source just says, "Keeping with our philosophy of providing new experiences, this is something we are open to."
Meanwhile, though there have been plenty of requests country wide from theatres to telecast IPL matches, the tournament's governing body has traditionally been against this idea. In fact, as an alternative, the IPL governing council introduced the concept of Fan Parks in centres that don't have an IPL team. This season will see 34 such centres across India where public screenings will take place. "From the very first season, there have been requests," says an IPL governing council member. "But ultimately, we have to remember that if this happens, the revenue of the broadcaster gets hit. Furthermore, the IPL doesn't allow for a third-party to make commerical gains out of it." Even in the case of Fan Parks, IPL decided against having them in host cities because it could potentially affect stadium entries.
Tiruppur Subramanian points out losses for the industry in the tune of 300 crore so far. "Exhibitors alone must have lost over 150 crore. We have to do something fast."