UFO Moviez India Ltd. is one of India’s largest digital cinema distribution network, and in-cinema advertising platform. UFO operates India’s largest satellite-based, digital cinema distribution network. It associates itself with names like PVR cinemas, INOX, Cinepolis, Movietime amongst other brands. It was set up in the year 2005. Rajesh Mishra, CEO, UFO Moviez India Ltd, has been spear-heading the daily operations and management of the company, since its inception. When asked about when he joined the company, he joked, “I’m one of the founding employees, if I may say!” He has led the company to ace the Indian cinema distribution market, with the help of his dedication and forward-thinking attitude. Every initiative UFO has taken towards making a positive change in the cinema industry, has been lined by thoughtfulness and the determination to bring about a change.
UFO’s digitisation and delivery model has been fundamental in instigating the swift digitisation of Indian cinemas, in turn facilitating same-day releases of movies across the length and breadth of the country. This has tremendously helped movie producers and exhibitors, by reducing distribution costs for them, widening their network, catalysing efficient and timely delivery of content, and most importantly – almost eradicating piracy through encryption and other security measures. All of this, without any compromise on the quality.
Over the years, UFO has released over 14,500 films in 22 languages, on its UFO M4-Platform and Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) network. It has conducted over 30 million shows across 5289 screens, pan India. UFO’s in-cinema advertising platform has given long-term advertising rights and licenses to 3738 screens, with an aggregate seating capacity of approximately 1.63 million viewers and a reach of 1291 cities and towns across India.
THE BIRTH OF SATELLITE CONNECTIVITY
“Before the advent of digitisation of cinema in India, all cinemas were equipped with analog projectors. These required polyester prints called jumbo reels, to be looped into the projector and then played out. This process was the most expensive part of the entire distribution process,” explained Mishra.
Distributors back then had many challenging factors, which inhibited and complicated the process. Their wish-list included releasing a movie across the stipulated number of screens, along with covering maximum number of screens on the first day itself. Back then, a single print would cost around INR 60,000. The exorbitant costs posed to be a limiting factor for most distributors.
“This problem led to the arrival of a consensus on a sweet-spot. A low-budget film was decided to be released in 20-50 cinemas, and a high-budget one in around 500 cinemas. At that time, had there been any distributor adventurous enough to release a film in a large number of screens after spending all that money, he’d have to be sure that the movie performs well,” explained Mishra.
Even if a movie performed well, the distributors lost out on the revenues due to piracy. If a movie didn’t manage to garner audience-attention, there would again be a loss on revenues due to negative word-of-mouth. This was a vicious circle. This is how digitisation was born.
“We developed a technology which allowed distributors to make a digital copy of the movie. This copy resembles any other computer file. We started distributing this file to all cinemas of the country, using satellite technology. The first film we ever delivered was through a satellite,” said Mishra. This helped reduce costs considerably, since there were no physical reels involved. The only cost incurred was that of encoding and processing the digital file. The cinema of course, had to invest in the new server and projectors; but this was just a one-time investment. “The cost of a print slashed to around one sixth of the prior cost. This also led distributors to expand their footprint!” exclaimed Mishra.
Mishra also stated that there was apprehension in the minds of the customers, as to whether this new technology is here to stay and if UFO was trust-worthy. “We were thinking fresh; we wanted to build an eco-system for the distribution industry. The complete responsibility of integration, back-end and front-end was undertaken by us. And we were ready to invest in it ourselves, without burdening anyone,” narrated Mishra. “We had to evolve our business model to suit their needs. Their apprehension was understandable. We started giving out our equipment on a rental basis,” he remembered. This was not the last of his worries, though. Since many movies were still being made for analog projectors, the equipment was not being used throughout the month. UFO then accommodated the need for customisation by introducing a very nominal use-based pricing. “The onus of providing the movie and the investment shifted to us. But we wanted them to imbibe this technology, so we did everything to make it comfortable for them. We had to tackle multiple things at multiple places,” noted Mishra.