Ashish Hemrajani, founder and CEO of BookMyShow. Photo by Mexy XavierFirst came the climax. “Early last March, movie ticket sales were at an all-time high,” recalls Ashish Hemrajani. BookMyShow, India’s largest movie and event ticketing company, was set to end the fiscal year on a high note. “Everybody was riding high. The entertainment business was doing phenomenally well,” says the founder and CEO of BookMyShow. The company posted Rs594.19 crore in revenue from operations in FY19, and was primed to stage a much better show in FY20. Hemrajani, the hero of the show, was excited about the future.
A few days later, entered the villain, and the anti-climax. Towards the end of March, the country went into a lockdown to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Everything got shut down, screenings stopped, events paused, and businesses came to a screeching halt. Nobody saw it coming. “There are things you can’t control,” rues Hemrajani. The show business braced itself for a merciless battering. Hemrajani, for his part, was getting mentally prepared for a long take. “It won’t end soon. Maybe a year, if not longer,” he prophetically told one of his friends last April.
While PVR is doing its bit to keep a lid on fixed costs, shoring up liquidity and generating revenue from new sources like, among others, private screenings, BookMyShow has been exploring new levers of business in a bid to reinvent itself. Take, for instance, BookMyShow Stream. The Transactional Video on Demand (TVOD), or ‘pay per movie viewed’, was rolled out this February, with 600 movie titles. Within four months, the service has seen a brisk uptick: Over 2 lakh streams, 33 percent new transacting users and 1,200 titles. “Over 40 percent of the content is exclusive to BookMyShow,” asserts Hemrajani.
Hemrajani, for his part, is confident of the new strategy. He starts with the biggest reason. “We understand movies better than anybody else,” he asserts. BookMyShow, he claims, has 200 million customer visits per month, and 80 million monthly active users. What this means is that data analytics will reveal how many of the users did not watch a certain film or a piece of content. “So we built our stream as a second opportunity for them to catch the product,” he says. BookMyShow Stream offers users the option to rent a movie for a finite duration or buy it for unlimited access with prices ranging from Rs 40 to Rs 700, depending on the rent or buy option, as also the recency and scale of the movie on the platform.
But will the streaming gambit pay off? After all, BookMyShow did try to dabble in radio streaming in the past, but it bombed. Hemrajani is convinced about hitting bull’s eye. “Our success is founded on a pile of failures,” he says, acknowledging that diversifying into radio streaming was not a right move. So what went wrong? The nature of the business was the culprit. While BookMyShow was deeply immersed in movies, the entrepreneur didn’t have any clue about the nuances of radio, content acquisition cost, and driving customer adoption. “But we learnt from it,” he says. The biggest learning was sticking to the core: Movies. “Movies and theatres are very much going to stay,” he says. The era of hyper growth, he believes, will be back from next year.
“BookMyShow’s main revenue stream will see a sharp uptick whenever things start rolling,” he predicts. Over the next few months, the new business verticals will revolve around the core ticketing and event business. “For the company, it’s just a question of surviving the storm,” he says.
Meanwhile, Hemrajani is not thinking too much about the results. “When the disruption is external, one just needs to focus on inputs,” he says. Underlining that the pandemic is not the last challenge the company would face, Hemrajani outlines his dual-approach to deal with such crises. First is the realisation that everybody has been hit by the storm. “You’re not alone, you keep reminding yourself,” he says. Second is to be ready for the future. So would BookMyShow be better prepared whenever the next normal comes? “100 percent,” says Hemrajani. “I have no sleepless nights, knowing that I did my best,” he says.
Will BookMyShow meet a befitting climax? Well, the show is on.