Ever since it started operations in 1997 with India's first multiplex, in Delhi, PVR Ltd has led the transformation of the film exhibition business in the country. Today, the company is the largest multiplex chain in India with about 750 screens. And as technology evolves, PVR is at the forefront again. In a conversation with TechCircle, the company’s chief information officer Rajat Tyagi said that PVR has been working with data analytics and machine learning to devise new operations and customer strategies. Edited excerpts:
What are the new technologies that PVR is using and in which areas?
We are trying to make the most of technology to help us expand our business in India. We saw close to 7.6 crore admissions (moviegoers) last financial year; this year we expect to go beyond 9 crore admissions. We have started to use data analytics, machine learning and other solutions that are shaped to help us gain insights that we later use to improve our products and services.
There are three main key focus areas of how we see ourselves using technology: 1) To improve consumer delight or experiences; 2) improve internal efficiency and 3) experiment with ‘bluesky’ innovations. As part of the third piece, we experiment with a lot of solutions to see if we can adopt it for later use.
What measures are you taking to improve operational efficiency?
There are multiple ways we are looking at for improving operational efficiency, and these are mainly driven by tool-based solutions. These solutions not only help us in engagement or management of our assets but also help shape some of our future strategies.
For example, we use a tool called Theatre Management Service (TMS). This tool guides us to make the best decision after getting insights in the form of business intelligence. TMS reads historical data on films such as the genre, who were the actors, what was the price range and traction for the last three years. It also notes the occupancy levels of a particular property.
Once it reads through all that data, it predicts the right price for a show time for our screen inventory for an upcoming movie. A team then looks at the data and decides the ticket price. Thereafter, TMS also tries to understand the response to the decision made earlier for a particular show. This is how it keeps getting smarter. It also controls movie shows in general, as in start playing the movie at the right time.
We also have an automation tool for our advertisement sales team. This tool automatically provides rate cards depending on factors such as location, show time and occupancy. It also helps the advertisement team know what kind of inventory is available at a given point in time. Once we receive the content via the ad tool, it logs it automatically and slots it for display by itself.
We are using data analytics to determine where we should open our new properties or screens. This decision-making tool takes into consideration a lot of data points such as location, demographics, traffic, prices and rent for the mall property. We are also using this tool to help us open more screens in smaller towns.
Other examples of solutions include a document management tool and a Salesforce-guided workflow automation tool.
We are also doing some interesting work around Internet of Things (IoT). Most of our properties are connected via these devices and they are checking temperatures in different zones of the theatre or the rate of cooling. If the system detects an anomaly, then it sends out an alert in certain cases for the cooling or temperature to be rectified.
We are running analytics to manage our Point of Sale (PoS) machines to see that they are all working so that queues at the food and beverage counters are small.
What technologies are you adapting to improve your customer experiences?
In terms of customer experience, our app leads our efforts. We have started a loyalty programme through our app that is helping personalise your movie experience. Not only can you book tickets but also decide on the food and beverage that you want to have during the movie – a 50-category menu to choose from.
Under this, we are offering F&B treats to our customers. We are rolling this out to more repeat customers as we want to get them back. The higher the frequency of the user, the more aggressive is our offering. We also offer direct cancellation through the app.
Another interesting proposition via our app is booking a ride to and from the theatre. We have integrated a book-an-Ola feature into the app. If the user has given the right permissions to the app, then it reminds the customer about the show timings and sends alerts about traffic conditions by sending out a notification such as –“Do you want to book your ride now?”
Another thing that we have done is put QR Codes on seats which you can scan and see the menu thereafter, order food and pay directly from your seat. This is to ensure that the delivery guy doesn’t come in and go too many times during the movie and let's you enjoy the show to the maximum.
Our total number of app downloads till March 2018 stood at over 45 lakh. We had more than 12 lakh PVR loyal customers. About 55% of our customers now transact online.
Could you shed some more light on hardware innovations?
We were the first ones to come with formats such as IMAX, 4DX and Atomos Dolby. We have been upgrading our movie screens to Samsung Onyx for better viewing experience, alongside using laser projectors.
We have partnered with a company to help a customer watch a movie in his or her preferred language although the show might be running on a different language. You can get in through the PVR app and are then guided to choose the language which starts playing on your phone. If you plug in your earphones (obviously noise-cancelling ones), you can watch the movie in your preferred language. This helps us reach a wider audience for a particular movie.
We have also tried to make movie-viewing experience much better for the hearing impaired. We, through the smartphone, provide the script which the person can follow. We also have wheelchair seats that can be booked in most of our properties.
What is Vkaao and how are you using it?
Vkaao is a joint venture between PVR and BookMyShow which features a movie/cinema on demand as a service. We have created a new format for older movies that can be played on big screens and created a library. This allows a customer to book an old movie for a show, for example like Sholay or a new movie (in vernacular) that might not be playing in theatres.
In order to watch a movie, a customer can publicy put up the show on any screen in any PVR theatre depending on availability. Then we check if that movie has enough demand or is crossing a minimum threshold viable for a show. If it does, the customer can go and watch the show. This has been really working well for us in terms of vernacular films.
People can also do private screenings. Not only does it bring in a personal touch for customers but also brings in a new revenue generation point for the film distributor and the film exhibitor.
How big is your technology team? Do you develop these solutions yourselves? How much investment has gone into R&D and technology?
We have a core technology team of 50 members. Another 150-odd employees are spread out through different properties who lead IT support efforts and help manage ticket-booking systems, kiosks, projectors and equipment.
We don’t develop these solution ourselves. We work with IT services companies which either develop the solution for us or take something readily available and customise it for us.
In terms of R&D, I cannot pinpoint a particular figure but I can tell you that a lot of things we do are seen as part of capital expenditure rather than research.