Indian multiplex chain Inox Leisure has revealed ambitious expansion plans as its merger with PVR Cinemas is finalized.

PVR currently operates 900 screens across 181 properties in 78 cities and Inox 722 screens across 170 multiplexes in 74 cities. Post merger, which was approved earlier this month by India’s National Company Law Tribunal, the combined entity will be known as PVR-INOX and will be India’s leading multiplex group by some distance and will be available in 109 cities.

For a population of 1.4 billion, India has just 9,423 cinema screens, according to the annual EY report on the Indian industry. In contrast, China, with a similar population, has more than 82,000 screens, per Statista.

Inox is aiming to redress this rapidly. It will open 40 more screens by the end of March and its CEO Alok Tandon says that there are plenty more coming up. “Beyond the 2023 financial year, we have a strong pipeline of about 900 to 950 screens which are already signed,” Tandon told Variety. “We are ensuring that we open cinemas at a fast pace, we take it pan India, whether it’s a tier one or tier four city, we are agnostic to that. We want cinemas to be closer to the home of of a guest.”

True to its agnostic values, Inox has opened a multiplex in Srinagar, the capital of the troubled Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir that has been plagued by violence for decades. Prior to that the valley of Kashmir was one of the most popular film shooting and holiday destinations in India. The Inox property is the first multiplex in the history of the state.

“How we look at it is that cinemas for more than a century have been a part of our cultural fabric. And we all know that what a strong emotional significance they hold for all of us Indians. And besides being platforms of entertainment, I think that cinemas have also played the role of bringing multicultural experiences,” Tandon said.

“Kashmir and the Indian film industry have had a long enduring relationship and we are here to revive that connect and bring entertainment to the valley. We believe that multiplexes and cinemas will win the hearts of the movie lovers in the valley. And we are very optimistic about its success,” Tandon said. “And sure enough, we are getting some good footfalls – people are coming to the cinema hall, though it’s a bit slow compared to other parts of the country. But I don’t think that there’s a cause of worry as for 32 years people have not stepped out and have not gone into a cinema hall.”

Sept. 23, 2022 was celebrated as National Cinema Day in India and ticket prices were slashed to INR75 (92 cents). Participating multiplexes included Inox and PVR and most of the cinemas had 90% occupancy on the day. Tandon does not believe that keeping the ticket prices low is a permanent solution to keep audiences flocking to the cinemas.

“I disagree with this, that lowering ticket prices will get in people. Yes, National Cinema Day was a one off marketing initiative we did – it’s like a Black Friday sale. So if you tell all retail outlets to reduce their prices by 50% or 70% will they survive? The direct answer is no,” Tandon said. “Yes, it’s like everybody wants to be a part of that Black Friday sale, and hence people do it. And similarly for cinema. We said that it was more of a thank you gesture to the people who waited for us to open for two years.”

Tandon says it is not financially prudent to keep the ticket prices at INR75. “Our pricing strategy is very clear. We never out price ourself, we ensure that we charge our tickets as per the paying propensity of the people in the vicinity, the cost structure of the property and on the newness of the film,” Tandon said. “It is the quality of content which pulls in a crowd, not the pricing of a ticket.”

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