“Till six months ago we were having the best year of our lives. Today, we are sitting (at a place) where revenue came down to zero in April, so this is part of life,” BookMyShow Co-founder and Director Parikshit Dar told YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma, during a recent chat.
Unfazed by the adverse impact on business and confident of a recovery, he highlighted the fact that the company had already lived through a “couple of downturns”, and added that ups and downs are both a part of life and business.
“The entertainment industry is, kind of, in deep trouble, for maybe another two to three months, at least the theatrical business. Live (events) I think will take slightly longer to come back because it’s slightly more complex to organise an event. But having said that, things will bounce back,” he said.
Even as the country starts to open up slowly, movie theatres have been asked by the Narendra Modi government to remain shut, to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Live offline events are also not likely to resume anytime soon.
But, BookMyShow is “very confident” that the experience of going out to “consume entertainment” is not something one can replicate at home, and it is only a matter of time before things go back to normal for the industry.
“You invest time in going out, even if it’s going to a movie. The whole experience, it’s not just (the same) at home, if you’re sitting (and) if you don’t like a movie, you switch off the button and that’s kind of it. You go to a theatre, it’s the whole ambience, the experience. So we don’t think that’s going away anywhere.
“I think there will be social distancing, also a lot of people are scared right now, they don’t know what to expect and till that fear goes away, we will see a ‘stop and start’ for the whole entertainment ecosystem.”
Despite the company’s confidence in making a full recovery, it is simply not waiting for the storm to pass. During the pandemic, as business remained zero, it came up with an online streaming offering called BookMyShow Online.
The platform offers both free and paid shows that include categories such as comedy, plays, music concerts, workshops and masterclasses. Over the last couple of months, BookMyShow has already hosted over 750 shows online and most of them have been behind a paywall, according to Parikshit.
“This idea is something we have been toying around with for the last one year — that event is a very specific thing, which happens at a certain location, with a certain number of people, who can view it at a given point in time. But we always felt that there is a larger audience you can interest than one available at that specific location,” he said.
Citing the example of the legendary Irish band U2’s concert in Mumbai, last December, where BookMyShow was the official ticketing partner, Parikshit said, for the 50,000 people that attended the event, there may have been double that number who would have liked to watch the concert.
“We couldn’t address it at that time but we were always discussing this internally that we should do this — we should have a way of augmenting the event-going experience. And fortunately or unfortunately, during the pandemic there was no business, so we said, if we are building for the future, this is a good place to start. That is really the genesis of it.”
In April, when everything was shut down, as the country remained under strict lockdown, BookMyShow (BMS) started doing “a lot of free events, streaming events” using platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
“We were just observing and learning. In that first month, we engaged almost four million people with streaming events online, and largely a lot of it was free. But it gave us a lot of learning into what people are liking, what they are enjoying, what kind of formats are working, and basis that we kind of switched and said now that we know, we have built out a technology. And started then putting events behind a paywall. And pretty much from early June we have been having paid events.”
For BMS Online, the streaming feature runs across BookMyShow’s app and web platforms “matching global capacity standards of device concurrency management” — to host a “smooth experience” for over 50,000 concurrent viewers per minute, at any given point. It is currently testing to take the count to one lakh concurrent viewers.
BookMyShow has partnered with US-based global video solution platform Brightcove for BMS Online. According to the company, the tech allows it to host multiple live events, while providing a “lightning-fast video player” for streaming content.
Currently, the platform is only in a pay-per-view format, but it is working on a subscription model that will be rolled out over the next few months.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit most businesses hard, with several of them having to resort to layoffs and salary cuts to stay afloat. However, despite the prevailing adverse economic conditions, BookMyShow continues to hire for product and technology, Parikshit said. “I think this is the time for us to build.”
Business in the events and entertainment industry will not come back until September-October, at the earliest, he said.
BookMyShow is not looking at its online streaming offering as a standalone business in itself, at least, for the next few years.
“This is a good add-on to the entire outgoing live event experience. The way we look at it, is that you could be watching a play at Prithvi Theatre for example, and there may be 100 people sitting somewhere else in India, who also want to watch it at the same time. So you have an offline ticket and you have an online ticket. And for us, it’s just part of the whole experience. We are not looking at it like it’s either A or B, it’s a combination, so it should be both,” the co-founder said.
Speaking on the cost aspect of putting together online events, he said, it is “obviously much lower” compared to offline events, with the added advantage of having an “unlimited audience”.
“For us, events in India were largely in eight to 10 cities. Today, I can go all over India, and not just all over India, but, all over the world, with that same content. And also I think it’s a good way for people in smaller towns to experience what the event-going experience is about.”