Interview: Vkaao aims to inculcate community screening culture says Vaibhav Lal

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With BookMyShow and PVR Pictures in tow, Vkaao is an attempt to popularise the concept of theatre-in-demand in India, bringing foreign movies to theatres here.

Conceptualised as a ‘Theatre on Demand’ platform that uses crowd-sourced or threshold model to fill up theatres, Vkaao aims to inculcate the idea of community screenings with friends and family. According to Vaibhav Lal, Co-founder & CEO, Vkaao, over time, it has diversified to become an alternate theatrical distribution platform for small and independent filmmakers. Efforts have been made to curate shows for some of the best award-winning independent and foreign-language movies in India, which would usually be only available at film festival screenings. Here’s more from the chat.

Could you tell us something about the monetary model of Vkaao?

With our partnership with BookMyShow, we have been able to benefit from their targeted marketing expertise as also gain a riverside to our curation of shows and festivals such as Valentine’s festival, Horror Film Fiesta, Timeless Cinema (old Hindi classics), etc. We work on a revenue-sharing model with movie producers for the various screenings that we enable.

Are there any logistical constraints to introducing the theatre-on-demand concept in India? If yes, could you elaborate on it?

The constraints around theatre-on-demand are more to do with enabling an evolving buying experience for customers. Indian customers are typically used to an instant gratification process when they buy movie tickets on platforms like BookMyShow with cinemas and movie screenings readily accessible. However, theatre-on-demand is a slow gratifying experience, as a certain number of minimum tickets (thresholds) have to be booked within the deadline for a movie screening to successfully take place. As far as logistical constraints go, some of the older cult movies which we would like to bring to India are not available in the current DCP format used in multiplexes. We are trying to circumvent this constraint by introducing playback through Blu Ray players in select cinemas.

Given the rate of proliferation of OTT platforms, how profitable is the idea to introduce a type of theatre experience in India, especially one that requires a large group of people to choose to watch something on-demand at the same time?

A movie is meant to be watched on the big cinema screen. Nothing can replace the experience of watching a movie on a giant cinema screen along with the sound and acoustics that come with it. While OTT platforms have been able to offer a wide platform for a variety of content, they are more suited for individual viewing. One can never get the same cinematic experience watching the same content on a phone or TV screen.

The model works for us at Vkaao as a business, because we are able to reach the massive user base of several million users on BookMyShow along with its vast data analytics that helps with targeted marketing of shows. This helps get more shows confirmed even if the user who created the show is not able to meet the threshold.

Could you tell us something about the kind of response Vkaao has generated so far? Is there a category of movies that work best for you, in terms of profitability?

Independent films across genres do very well for Vkaao as also award-winning global films. We released India’s nomination for the Oscars in 2019 ‘Village Rockstars’, which was an independent Assamese film. The film did very well across India, running to houseful shows on weekdays in Mumbai, Hyderabad, etc. We also released 2018’s Best foreign language film at the Oscar ‘A Fantastic Woman’. The independent distribution model is the most profitable business for Vkaao for now. We have had customers picking their favourite movies from our library to host special private screenings for their loved ones for anniversaries, birthdays and other occasions. We give a complimentary slide show on the big screen for users to make it even more special for them.

What is the expected RoI for Vkaao Gems, in terms of the acquiring cost of copyrights/premiering rights of the international movies?  

The movies that are being released as a part of Vkaao Gems have been brought to India by multiple companies including Impact Films, In2Infotainment & Kahwa Entertainment. Due to extremely high costs involved in a traditional release, these films would not have been able to get a theatrical release earlier and would have probably had to list themselves on OTT platforms. Through Vkaao, which has come onboard as a distribution partner, these films get the theatrical release they deserve, giving Indian audiences a chance to explore cinematic masterpieces on a large screen format, that was originally intended for by the filmmaker.

Using BookMyShow’s vast user intelligence and data analytics, we have been able to reach the right set of audiences through a targeted marketing approach. We are also in talks with international production houses to bring their movies to India, such as Shochiku and Toho from Japan as also a few others from France and South Korea.

How do you plan to promote Vkaao Gems? Would it be anything different from Vkaao? Tell us something about the marketing mix involved. 

Marketing for Vkaao Gems is purely technology-oriented. We have kept a safe distance from offline and outdoor marketing which is otherwise a rather expensive format. In tandem with BookMyShow and PVR, the marketing strategy for Vkaao follows the digital medium only. With extensive support from BookMyShow and PVR’s marketing teams and strategies, we have been able to specifically reach the right target group thus increasing the rate of conversions.

For Vkaao Gems, renowned actor Sanjay Suri, has also been helping us promote such initiatives to reach out to an extensive audience that exists across digital platforms. With unique and industry-first initiatives, Vkaao and Vkaao Gems are bound to find their unique place in this industry with the backing and support of industry leaders such as BookMyShow and PVR Pictures to stay abreast with the current consumption of content in theatres.

What do you think the future holds for Vkaao and Vkaao Gems?

Our Independent Distribution business is doing well and will continue to grow. Along with it, we are witnessing good growth in our exclusive releases which we are able to showcase to larger audiences pools on the back of data intelligence and marketing capabilities of our parent brands BookMyShow & PVR Pictures.

We are looking to grow our latest offering Vkaao Gems and have it as a permanent part of our annual calendar. We already have a strong line up of movies until September 2019 and are in talks with production houses for more such films through 2020.

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