PVR’s Kamal Gianchandani: Film distribution poses many challenges

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A founding member of PVR Pictures Limited, the distribution company of PVR Ltd., Kamal Gianchandani has been helming the division as CEO since 2010. As such, he has pretty much been the architect of distribution operations as they stand (and continue to evolve) today.

“The biggest challenge has been to pivot the operational strategy from a movie production company to a pure film distribution company,” he recalls. This was done with the intention to mitigate the risks associated with film production and derive a more consistent and predictable revenue-generation model. “Considering PVR’s huge presence in the exhibition sector, we initially focused our distribution business on foreign-language films and then gradually expanded it to include domestic films as well,” he says.

The main issue with film distribution in India is similar to the one faced by other cinema distribution firms around the globe—dealing with high P&A. Another hurdle is the fact that India remains a severely underscreened cinema market. As between 900 and 1,000 films are released in the country every year, individual release windows often are ridiculously short, which of course reduces the revenue potential for practically everyone, including the distributor. Furthermore, India is a high-tax market, with almost 25% of box-office revenues going to the government. This stands in great discrepancy to the generally rather modest ticket pricing.

The decision over which film to distribute and which one not is thus privy to very careful considerations at PVR Pictures. “The acquisition of films is a bit of science, as well as art,” Gianchandani observes, “and we allocate major resources for this purpose. The principal considerations are always the subject matter of the film, as well as the talent associated with the film.” The company is also constantly monitoring its slate schedule, assessing the gaps that exist. “It’s our ongoing endeavor to have releases evenly spread out over the year,” Gianchandani says.

PVR was the first major exhibitor to bring the latest Hollywood releases to India, and remains at that forefront today. Accordingly, PVR Pictures has developed into the largest and most important independent distributor for Hollywood productions in the country. Yet PVR Pictures is compelled to occasionally walk a bit of a gauntlet. After all, domestically produced films still make up the vast bulk of screenings, as they remain hugely popular among audiences—and in fact are generally preferred over imported movies.

“We treat distribution as a separate business with independent P&L and hence it becomes imperative for us to fully realize the potential of each film that we distribute,” Gianchandani explains. However, he adds that “over time we have seen increasing demand [for foreign films], but it is limited to certain geographical boundaries—for example, metropolitan areas like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, Gurgaon, Pune, Chennai and Kerala.”

Some of the most successful foreign films in terms of attendance in recent years include Now You See Me 2 (2016), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), American Hustle (2013), The Imitation Game (2014), Atomic Blonde (2017), Escape Plan (2013) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), just to name a handful. Bahubali 2: The Conclusionturned out to be this year’s most successful Indian movie, while Fast & Furious 8 led the Hollywood phalanx, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was the favorite in the independent film segment.

“It gives me tremendous joy to see the size and scale that we have achieved today [as a company]. While I am involved in many other aspects of our exhibition business, our success in distribution remains my biggest achievement,” Gianchandani concludes.

“I am feeling immense pride and at the same time a sense of keen responsibility to take forward the brand. A lot of our success is due to Mr. Ajay Bijli and his brother Mr. Sanjeev Kumar’s vision. I do think the award has come to PVR at an apt time.”—Kamal Gianchandani