Idea of private screenings came from people on social media: Saurabh Varma, INOX

Saurabh Varma INOX

With theatres opening up in several parts of the country, CMO Saurabh Varma explains how INOX has stepped up innovations with special screenings to keep business afloat, in sync with consumer demands.

Watching a movie at a theatre is a well-romanticised experience. From first dates to fan club experiences, single screens, as well as multiplexes, are an integral part of the cultural fabric of India. It’s also one of the easiest experiences that people can enjoy alone while having company. However, the pandemic has changed a lot for the industry. Theatres were shut for weeks this year, forcing managements to come up with ways to retain commerce and keep going. Saurabh Varma, Chief Marketing Officer, INOX Leisure Limited tells us about the brand‘s journey through it all.

How has the pandemic impacted the way you approach marketing?

Consumers are going to depend on brands that they can trust on in the post-pandemic era. Patrons are going to think twice before leaping to any destination. It is our responsibility to provide them with a safe and happy environment. These are the two mantras we are working on for now.

Could you tell us about some of the initiatives you ran in the last few months?

We ran a Safety First campaign and broadcasted all our efforts to ensure that the cinemas were safe and secure. That helped with providing a mental relief to our patrons. For example, we have more than 60 to 70 touchpoints in a cinema and we are deep cleaning all these places on a periodical basis. That is a campaign we ran. After safety, comes innovation, which includes promoting a lot of alternate content.

We just screened a BTS film (the Korean band) and the biggest challenge for us was screening a film that primarily targets teenagers who would require permission from parents.

This is where we had to communicate about safety and allocate man force to ensure the measures were executed. We also do a lot of National Geographic private screenings where people can pick up content and watch it in a safe space. 

How did the idea of private screenings come about? How has the journey been so far?

The concept of private screenings came from consumers. They said you have taken the measures but how do we feel safe among the people coming to the cinema. So we said, why don’t you take the whole auditorium for yourself? We also dropped down the prices to a great extent.

These private screenings are further broken down into the local initiatives we ran according to the needs of people in different places. For example in Bangalore, we ran a campaign romancing the movies. So two people saw the movie in the auditorium and during the interval, the boy proposed to the girl and so we brought in a cake and the celebration happened.

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In Bengal, during Durga Puja, we tried to arrange for Pujo celebrations inside the cinema with screenings of newer films. In the north side of the country, in places like Gurgaon, there are a lot of people who are working from home. So we approached HRs and offered to conduct sessions in cinemas, where employees who had not met each other for a long time came together to attend a motivational session and watch a movie like Chak De. In Southern India, we are doing fan screenings with fan groups. We have also partnered with YRF for screening old films, which were selected based on the responses we got from social media polls. We have also screened movies for corona warriors. 

How will the growth of OTT impact movie theatres once the lockdown has been lifted?

OTT has brought in a hike in content consumption. Series like Narcos have opened up the market and the language barriers are less now. Consumption has increased. Just because home delivery is happening so well, would people stop going to the restaurants? These are separate windows and mediums. Cinema going is not just watching a film, it’s an experience. We are a move fanatic nation where we want to watch movies. Cricket and movies are two things that unite us all together. I think cinema is here to stay and OTT is also going to grow.

What do you anticipate the industry to look like post-pandemic?

There are two kinds of audiences. One comprises of regular cinema-goers, it could be a week or a month. Then there are people who seldom go to movies. The premium will differ for both sets but people who were seldom going to movies were anyway not coming to the cinemas. People who are regular will definitely come back for they have been home for six months.

Every producer wants that charm and glory of releasing a movie on a big screen and the world coming to know about it. Later on, it can go on other mediums such as TV and OTT. There is a lot of backlog of content to be released and the moment it’s out, people will start coming in.

Tell us about your social media strategy.

We have three different audiences on social media. One is the Twitter generation, which is more about trade and business. On Facebook, there are movie fanatics who love to comment and love humour and respond to trailers. Then there is a beautiful audience on Instagram that loves trivia and images. They also like to share their own pictures in cinemas in their Stories, which they like when we share those on our Stories.

There is a diversity in audiences but most of them are between 15 to 35 across platforms.

On social media, we get personal. We take polls and interact with audiences. This data is then used to understand the needs of consumers and organise screenings accordingly. People are voicing their opinions and giving us ideas. That’s how private screenings came into being. All the information about films is being communicated.

During COVID-19, we have seen a 6 times growth in following and engagement across social media presence of INOX. We have come more closer to the audiences.


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