Indians are going to the movies to escape slowing economy, cinema owner says

MUMBAI (BLOOMBERG) - Cinemas are seeing brisk business even as India's economy slows to a six-year low and unemployment swells, according to PVR Ltd, the nation's largest operator of multi-screen theatres.

Ever since the box-office hit Kabir Singh released in June, even films with small budgets or less-recognisable actors are drawing the crowds, Mr Kamal Gianchandani, chief executive officer at PVR Pictures, said in an interview this month.

Results for July-September will "definitely surprise a lot of people", he said, declining to elaborate.

"I think the slowdown is helping the cinema business," Mr Gianchandani said. "There is negativity around and people want to escape it."

If his prediction is correct, PVR would be defying a slump that has dented demand for almost everything from 7-cent cookies to cars. He joins the likes of Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan, who had compared movies to lipstick, saying that both are immune to economic turmoil.

Seventeen of 26 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg have buy ratings on PVR stock, with eight holds and one sell.

Similar numbers can be seen for smaller Indian rival Inox Leisure. PVR will probably outperform Inox on spending per head, analysts led by Karan Taurani at Elara Securities Pvt said last Friday (Oct 4).

Sensing competition from the likes of Netflix and Reliance Industries' Jio service - which allow people to watch movies from the comfort of their home - PVR has partnered with Canadian motion technology player D-Box Technologies to design seats that sway and jerk in sync with the action on screen, offering a more immersive experience.

"Our strategy is to ensure we stay relevant in this age, where every other day a new streaming service is being launched," Mr Gianchandani said. "Fortunately, customers are receptive."

 
 
 
 

PVR's business, which was hit by the cricket world cup in the April-June quarter, has revived since then, he said.

Footfall, which rose about 20 per cent in the quarter, will "remain strong", though the economic slowdown may hurt advertising, according to a report by Edelweiss Securities in August.

PVR is trading at an estimated price-to-earnings of 43.3 times, compared with about 21 for China's Wanda Film Holding.

"It is not just the content. There is something else at play that is aiding the film business," Mr Gianchandani said. "I won't say we are happy with the slowdown, but we have no complaints because the business is doing well."