Last week, movie theatre chain INOX Leisure Limited presented its best-ever quarterly performance in the 20-year history of the company, with Q1'23 revenues reported at Rs 589 crore. The company also reported its highest ever Average Ticket Price of Rs 229 for a movie-goer. Just before that, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) gave its approval for the proposed PVR-INOX merger.
For Alok Tandon, Chief Executive Officer of INOX, this is good news indeed, as he goes about putting in place strategic steps to make sure that the growth momentum is maintained and the merger is on track.
Here are excerpts from a conversation with Alok Tandon:
INOX just completed 20 years of operations and you have been a part of INOX for all those 20 years. How have you seen the brand evolve over the years?
Twenty years ago, we started with one multiplex and a dream of bringing the best cinema experience to India. For the last 20 years, we have redefined and re-written what cinematic experience should mean to our guests, by offering them the best cinema technology, bringing grandeur and luxury to every cinema screen and expanding the definition of what is considered cinema food. We have curated the signature INOX experience, right from the moment the patron decides to watch the movie, till the time he exits the multiplex.
As a member of the start-up team, I recall the time we opened our first theatre INOX Bund Garden, Pune back in 2002 - it remains my most cherished memory. It was a mesmerizing feeling, watching the building structures take shape as we started constructing our own cinemas. That is not the case now. The last 20 years have been nothing short of a dream. I have the same feeling as seeing your kid grow and outshine its peers when I look at the progress we have made.
The INOX Group is official sponsor of Team India at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and has released the ‘Chookega Nahin, Jeetega India’ campaign to support the team. What does this association mean for Brand INOX?
As the official sponsor of Team India, we recently unveiled the campaign ‘Chookega Nahin, Jeetega India’, to support and cheer Team India at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022. The campaign features star athletes Bajrang Punia, Manpreet Singh, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Lakshya Sen, Sakshi Malik and Lovlina Borgohain.
This campaign honours and celebrates the unique attributes of sportspersons, which make them fight back after narrowly missing on moments of glory, in their sporting careers. The ‘Chookega Nahin, Jeetega India’ experiential campaign is curated by INOX and is being promoted through unique experiential activations at cinemas, radio and digital mediums.
Last year, as the official sponsor of the Indian Olympic Team, INOX Group unveiled the ‘Aayega India’ campaign anthem to support and cheer Team India at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. INOX Group has always been at the forefront of promotion of sports in the country.
What are some of the innovations and tech advances taking place on INOX screens currently and what is in the pipeline?
We were the first ones to introduce the 270-degree projection technology in India, called ScreenX. We also became the first theatre chain in India to bring in an auditorium with MX4D theatre effects, which is a multi-sensory cinema viewing experience through 14 atmospheric and seat effects.
Technology remains one of the three key pillars of our business. We have put technology to use, in all our processes, be it consumer marketing, operations or for enhancing the viewing experience of our guests. Our focus is on strengthening the ‘experience core’ which is a convergence of all the processes in the consumer journey, right from the moment they decide to watch the movie, till the time they exit.
We are focusing on developing large scale experience-driven entertainment destinations, be it watching movies, or having gourmet meals, or both. We have already opened two megaplexes in India, and a third one is opening soon in Lucknow. These house various cinema formats, numerous F&B options and ample spaces for socializing, all under one roof.
We have also introduced India’s first cinema payment wallet, InstaPay, which allows contactless payments for tickets and F&B across all INOX multiplexes in India. Recently, we rolled out our line of merchandise, where INOX fans can buy products and feel connected with their favourite superheroes or movie franchisees.
What has been the post-lockdown experience at INOX? What are the big-ticket releases lined up over the next few months?
We witnessed a tremendous response in terms of footfalls and occupancy, similar to pre-COVID times, making us optimistic about a bright future for the cinema exhibition industry. We have a fascinating content pipeline – in Hindi, we have massive tentpoles like Lal Singh Chadha, Rakshabandhan, Maidan, Brahmastra, Vikram Vedha in the immediate six months from now, besides a slew of content-driven small budget movies, which might just spring a surprise.
On the English front, we have movies like Nope, Beast, Halloween Ends, Black Adam, Ticket To Paradise. Starting from Liger, Kaartikeya, Cobra, PS1 and Ravanasura, movies from other Indian languages are also going to provide the boost to BO collections. There are plenty of movies in Marathi, Punjabi and Gujarati which would keep the cash registers ticking at a healthy rate.
Tell us about your plans to grow the Food and Beverages portfolio in cinemas and beyond cinemas, as well as expectations from all alternative revenue generation initiatives.
We have reported our highest ever F&B revenue collections with the help of a totally re-engineered approach to our F&B business. Our endeavor is to take our F&B contribution upwards from the current 28% to 35%. We are doing a lot of menu re-engineering and adding new cuisines and concepts in our F&B offerings apart from making our food available on Swiggy and Zomato. Recently, we launched a Monsoon Mania Menu curated by Vicky Ratnani. We are also engaging with our consumers through chef workshops and experiential events at our cinemas. We have enhanced the brand verticals like Café Unwind, Insignia and Delights and positioned them as full-service restaurant brands.
What is the outlook and overall growth and expansion plans for the next financial year?
I am absolutely hopeful that FY23 will be the best year for INOX and the cinema exhibition industry. While our teams are putting in their best, we will surely look up to great content and a sustained audience appetite, which is pretty evident already. Further, with a strong pipeline of movies, ensuing festive season and rising popularity of non-Hindi releases, the industry will bounce back stronger. It gives me a lot of pride in sharing that we continue to remain the only net-debt free cinema chain in India, with a solid balance sheet.
We stayed committed to our growth and expansion plans despite COVID and added 17 screens across three properties in Q1’FY23. We will look to add 60 more screens with 13 new properties in the remaining part of FY23. As for future plans, we want to get closer to our consumers, and leverage the dynamics of huge appetite with low screen penetration in our market and also take our signature experience to the masses. Going forward, we will look to add 80 to 100 screens per year.
What is the update on in-cinema advertising currently at INOX? Which are the big advertisers and what is their percentage contribution to revenue for the group?
The interest level among advertisers is back, and we are curating the best possible media plans and campaigns for them. Recently, we executed an experiential campaign for ice-cream brand Kwality Walls, which included on-screen gamification, advertising and sampling in the lobbies. We are seeing a lot of new advertisers exploring the unique benefits of in-cinema advertising. All the new-age companies, start-ups, companies in the category of fintech, health-tech have shown key interest along with our traditional old clients like luxury brands or brands from the FMCG sector. The performance of this quarter would surely make a lot of new brands look up to us.
What is one strategy that has worked while marketing Brand INOX? Tell us about some of your recent marketing initiatives.
There has been a lot of focus on building our experience story, through our marketing efforts. Recently, to show support and encouragement for our athletes at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022, we installed a fun set-up for our guests to play hockey at selected locations of INOX. We carry out a lot of innovations on digital, besides the conventional mediums.
What is one motto that guides you as a business leader?
In a leadership role, while dealing with a diverse set of evolved stakeholders, you not only have to remain prepared, but inculcate the habit of looking at situations from their perspective. While this practice helps you take quick, collective and unpretentious decisions in the best interest of the organization, it also helps you grow, as a human being, and as a leader. I also roll up my sleeves and work shoulder-to-shoulder with my team-mates, as per the need of the hour. While my experience of having faced and handled tough situations comes handy for the team, it also helps me to stay battle-fit and agile.
ON COMPETITION FROM OTT PLATFORMS: OTT will continue to co-exist with theatrical entertainment as both are differentiated by content, while catering to the entertainment-seeking audience. One needs to understand that OTT is a long-form story-telling, and cinema is a three-hour movie-cation which offers a more wholesome experience of watching a movie on large screen.
ON HIS FIRST MEMORY OF WATCHING A FILM IN A MOVIE HALL: I have some fond memories of watching ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ in a cinema in Delhi. Don’t remember the year.
ON HIS PERSONAL PASSIONS, BEYOND WORK: I am extremely fond of collecting memorabilia, and I am proud of my collection which includes memorabilia from some of the topmost sportspersons and a world leader.