Cinema-going culture will persist despite Covid 19 challenges, writes PVR CEO Gautam Dutta
'The extinction of cinemas has been talked about for time immemorial and has been written about by experts during most important junctures. But we are certain that we will always be in the business of spreading happiness and creating special experiences,' says PVR CEO Gautam Dutta.
The challenges since 17 March 2020 has been nothing like the cinema industry has ever witnessed before. In just a day, all our theatres were brought to grinding halt and we came to nil revenue. Even as disbelief marked the first few days of the coronavirus pandemic, without wasting any time, we began planning our next course of action. Unprecedented as this scenario was, there was very little that was known from past experiences and collective knowledge to navigate this unchartered territory.
Being a people-centric organisation, we knew early on that this pandemic needed to be, first and foremost, treated as a personal crisis. We immediately began working towards insulating our employees from the impact. We agreed that it would be the leadership that would take the brunt of the economic calamity this crisis had brought and that the salaries of the employees would remain unaffected.
As the next step, we began brainstorming with world leaders from our industry to come up with the best and safest practices for our customers to return to the movies. And in addition, we engaged in discussions in global forums as a member of Global Cinema Federation (GECF). The plan was to implement stringent hygiene protocols, social distancing and food safety measures, along with minimal human contact across all touch-points to make theatres safe.
Apart from regular safety measures — like staggered auditorium seating, social distancing marked queuing, digital transactions, operating 50% of the restroom facilities, installation of fiber — we adopted industry defining practices like deep cleaning and disinfection regime every night by specially trained staff using medical-grade disinfectant chemicals, using an EPA approved complete ULV sanitisation process at regular intervals which helps in coating the surface with anti-microbial layers with electrostatic machines for up to thirty days, the use of anti-microbial film on most-touched surfaces, hourly disinfection of key touch-points with hospital-grade virucide and the use of UV cabinets to sterilise all food packaging.
To further improve our sanitation, we collaborated with Dettol to deliver an industry-defining standard of cleanliness and disinfection.
Soon there was a glimmer of hope, as news of the possible lifting of the lockdown in June began to come in. It was around this time, that cinemas around the world had started to open. We immediately sprang into action and began to plan our opening, highly motivated and with our chins up.
To our pleasant surprise, we received support on social media from people throughout the country who were aware of the dire situation the cinema industry was in. Recognising that people too were forced to stay in the confines of their homes for months, we announced the #OuchTheCouch digital campaign inviting cinema enthusiasts to share video clips or images expressing how much they miss watching movies in a theatre.
At the end of the campaign, the participant entries were to be compiled into a film that would run in PVR when the cinemas reopen and would also feature on the brand’s social media pages.
Although there was a long wait before the opening date was finally announced, there was positivity and a zeal among our staff. If ever there can be a silver lining to such a crisis, it is that we have created a stronger family, where people no longer restricted themselves to their roles and responsibilities but looked for every opportunity where they could contribute to the organisation.
Our primary aim in our reopening strategy is building customer confidence. In the initial ‘Evangelism’ phase, people will have the opportunity to experience the enhanced safety features first-hand. This new phase will involve several goodwill screenings, participants of which would later act as evangelists for the brand. To further incentivise this phase, movie festivals on themes such as ‘Return of Blockbuster’, ‘Unmissable Hits’, ‘Halloween Film Festival’, ‘Pujo special’, ‘Tribute Film festival’ and Private Screenings have been planned. Further promotional offers include flat ticket price and discounted F&B.
Scepticism about the opening of theatres has generated discussions challenging the relevance and value of cinemas. The extinction of cinemas has been talked about for time immemorial and has been written about by experts during most important junctures. First, it was piracy, then it became television and satellite channels, later it became the introduction of DVD players and more recently it has been the IPL. Cinemas have always proven them all wrong, by offering a unique out of home entertainment. We are certain that we will always be in the business of spreading happiness and creating special experiences.
Gautam Dutta is the CEO of PVR Cinemas.
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