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India’s Eros Fast-Forwards to Asia’s Film Future

India's Eros Fast Forwards to Asia's Film Future

Bollywood distribution giant Eros Intl. is positioning itself to explode in the Indian and Asian regional film industries via co-productions between India and China. And Eros chairman Kishore Lulla says that producing the first $1 billion-grossing film from Asia is now a corporate objective.

“The idea of a $1 billion grossing movie from Asia is no longer unrealistic,” Lulla told Variety in Cannes. “China has proved that it can make movies that gross $400 million at the box office. Indian movies are now making up to $100 million. Given the pace of growth of these two markets and the strength of our partner, $1 billion is only a few years away.”

To date there have only been 24 movies that have scored more than that total. And all are English-language.

Last year Eros, which to date has largely focused on distribution and finance, launched wholly owned film development and production subsidiary Trinity Pictures. The group is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and has a market capitalization of $870 million.

One of Trinity’s first moves was to sign a slate deal with Chinese state-owned enterprise China Film Group. Two movies are now in development: one to be directed by Kabir Khan, director of 2015 smash hit “Bajrangi Bhaijaan,” the other with a wedding theme, but without a director currently attached. Both scripts have already cleared the Chinese censorship process and Eros is in the process of attaching major stars.

Eros is not counting solely on expanded theatrical revenues, which are the mainstay of the movie business in both India and China, counting for more than 80% of film revenues in both countries.

Eros, which operates from London rather than Mumbai, is fast developing its Eros Now streaming video platform, which boasted 37 million registered users in March. Lulla says its target is 100 million paying subscribers within two to three years.

To achieve that total, Eros will have to lock in more exclusive movies, sourced as a combination of co-productions, acquisitions and output from Trinity. In the current year it will have 65-70 titles, with 100 per year the medium term target.

“My business model is to be both a film studio and an OTT leader, a combination which scarcely exists anywhere in the world,” Lulla said.

In contrast to the under-screened theatrical market, India’s cable, pay-TV and Internet markets are all now in strong growth phases. That is as a result of changing regulations, which are cutting analog cable piracy, and an expanding middle class willing and able to pay for content. Massive new broadband capacity is being rolled out from two different directions – Reliance Industries has invested a claimed $22 billion in nationwide capacity, while 5G phone technology will offer downloads in seconds and allow tens of millions of people to become first-time digital users.

India’s 700 million mobile consumers have become fast adapters of video apps, with News Corp.’s Hotstar one of the best examples, garnering 25 million downloads since January 2015 for its ad-supported streaming service. “Where Hotstar is all largely about sports and TV series, Eros Now is driven by movies and music. And we are adding originals made for digital.”

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