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India’s Theatrical-on-Demand Platforms Set For Asian Expansion

Indian companies, 1018mb and Vkaao are poised to bring theatrical-on-demand cinema services to Singapore and other Asian territories in the coming months.

1018mb has set up an office in Hong Kong to explore interest in the region. Vkaao is in discussions with similar platforms in Asia-Pacific territories, and in Europe.

Both platforms are conceived as web applications, through which customers can choose from the hundreds of new films and Iibrary titles from Bollywood, Hollywood and Indian regional cinema, and decide a venue, date and time. Once a pre-set minimum number of tickets is sold, enough to cover the cost of the screening and a small profit, a theatrical screening of the chosen title becomes a reality.

Vkaao, which started operating in early 2017, was primarily set up as an on-demand theatrical outlet for repertory titles. But it quickly became a platform for independent cinema. The company is a partnership between booking giant BookMyShow and leading multiplex chain PVR.

“Making a film is relatively easy, but getting it released in theatres is a different ball-game,” Vkaao co-founder Karan Ahuja told Variety. “It’s a risky business for both the exhibitor and the filmmaker. Exhibitors rely on buzz for the movie, which is typically manifested as A-listers or Hollywood. What Vkaao does is, if we can bring enough number of people, is make it become a viable proposition.”

Ahuja says that Indian independent filmmakers nowadays are not spending money on marketing their films. Instead they spending to promote specific theatrical-on-demand screenings, so that minimum audience thresholds are met.

Vkaoo’s first big success was with the controversial political documentary “An Insignificant Man,” which was finally released in India after a long battle with the censors. “People organically began creating shows on our platform,” says Ahuja.

The company also tasted success recently with India’s entry to the Oscars, “Village Rockstars.” The film is directed by Rima Das, whose latest effort “Bulbul Can Sing” is screening at the Singapore International Film Festival.

Ahuja says that 50% of revenues go to the cinema. The filmmaker gets 40% and Vkaao the remaining 10%. Ticket prices are the same as what customers would pay for regular multiplex shows on both platforms.

Encouraged by the self-help initiatives of filmmakers such as Vinod Chopra and Anurag Kashyap, 1018mb was founded by Saurabh Devendra Singh, Saumya Tandon, Shishir Ranjan, Abhay Salve and Santosh Kumar. It started operations in early 2016, specifically as a platform for independent cinema. Its biggest successes have been the cult repertory title “Andaz Apna Apna” (1994), starring Aamir Khan and Salman Khan, and Guru Dutt’s 1957 classic “Pyaasa.”

While Vkaao has access to BookMyShow and PVR’s databases, 1018mb prides itself on its constantly evolving algorithm.

Singh argues that the social experience that a cinema provides and the personal experience of a smaller screen will continue to coexist. “There are people who are now globally making movies using an iPhone camera, which has become powerful enough for telling a story,” says 1018mb’s Singh. “We believe a larger screen is something that movies deserve, because of the complete experience.”

“The idea is also to give the customer more choice,” says Singh. And with India secured, their gaze is now outward, and to cinema fans in other territories.

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