Building consumer confidence

Topics PVR Cinemas | theatres | Coronavirus

As the script of the po­st-lockdown story un­folds here’s the de­nouement of the “movie” on the cinema industry. After finding a cure for this dreadful virus or finding a way to coexist with it (preferably the former) the passion for cinema within Indian moviegoers outweighs the impediments we see today. In the end, the great Indian consumption narrative resuscitates the film industry and other consumer-facing businesses. A recent Or­max Media report states, “More than 80 per cent of Hindi, Ta­mil, and Telugu audiences miss the theatres.” That is what our internal surveys conducted with our loyalty members suggest.

PVR is India’s leading cinema chain. It attracted a large and disparate audience of close to 110 million last year. PVR will implement guidelines to ensure customers once again feel comfortable returning to the number one form of out-of-home entertainment in India. A reduction or deferment in GST can further stimulate demand but that is in the hands of the government. What is in our hands is the primary responsibility of rebuilding consumer confidence and getting people back to the cinemas. It’s the least we can do for a community that gave us the confidence to build our brand to what it is today.

PVR will articulate protocols prioritising health and safety in cinemas. However my belief is that these will only be temporary until a vaccine is discovered for the pandemic.

When customers do return, we will uphold a safety-driven strategy, benchmarked by global practices adopted across in­dustries (like aviation or hospitality) and adhere to guidelines provided by health organisations and governments. These will encompass every aspect of the movie-going experience starting with ticketing.

Our digital collections are between 60 and 70 per cent of the total. We are certain this will grow as customers avail of the online option. Meanwhile, all employees at interaction points will wear the required safety gear and also sell PPE kits to customers who need them. Our aim is to ensure an adequate gap amongst customers, and between customers and employees.

To mark the required one-meter gap indicated by WHO, floor markers or stickers will be placed across the customer journey — from the point of entry to exit. Our employees will remind customers on maintaining spacing. Soft operating procedures, such as security will be amended. Door frame metal detectors will be used instead of handheld ones. Temperature checking will be introduced. Any customer displaying even minor symptoms will be restricted entry and will get a refund on his ticket. Taking a leaf out of the aviation industry, we encourage all our customers to download the Aarogya Setu app, which will be looked at at the entry point. Similarly, we’ll ensure all our employees have it installed and checked regularly.

As customers make their way into the foyer, they’ll see hand-sanitisers at various touchpoints — near auditoriums, F&B counters, restrooms. Furthermore we are installing sensor-based equipment wherever applicable and coating all door handles with micro-shield film.

The area where food is served is another transaction and potential queueing area. Its offerings will be amended. Counters for pick-up and payment will be separate, all cutlery and packaging will be disposable and additionally disinfected using UV treatment. Here too, we encourage the use of online ordering and transactions, using the one-metre stickers as a guide. In addition, between the guest and PVR personnel selling F&B, a Perspex sheet which acts as a “sneeze guard” will be installed.

The core of our business, film-viewing, will be made safer without compromising on the quality of the experience. We will introduce a one-seat gap between groups (each booking transaction) to maintain the social-distancing norm, except in premium auditoriums that already hold spaces be­tween seats. Moreover, to avoid crowding, intermissions will be extended, exits will be staggered row-by-row and restrooms will operate at 50 per cent capacity. I emphasise that all areas, from the restrooms to the concession to the seats inside the auditoriums, will undergo deep and periodic cleaning and sanitisation.

Finally, equally important is the safety and health of our employees. They will be trained heavily on all the new protocols and hygiene practices, will undergo fortnightly medical checks and daily health monitoring. To reiterate all of the above, we will make a short film and circulate it digitally to give the consumer a complete picture of his experience.

It sounds clichéd. But through PVR’s 30-year journey a dialogue from the movie, Field of Dreams, has stuck with me. Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, hears a voice that urges him to create a baseball field. The voice says, “If you build, he will come.” The same thought resonated with us and encouraged us to expand our cinemas across the country. PVR is a company that began with private equity investors and later listed on the stock exchange. We have backed up our expansion with feasibility studies and market research. We knew deep down that if we build high-quality environments, the Indian consumer, with its insatiable appetite to escape into the world of big screen movies would come. It is what urges us to create high-level guest experiences, deploy the best technology possible, diversify our F&B offerings, and raise the bar of health and safety.

It is my unequivocal belief that the propensity of humanity to socially engage, go out and indulge in first-hand shared experiences  always will, keep the cinema going.
The author is chairman, PVR Cinemas

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