From Popcorn to Samosas

How Warner Brothers can successfully re-enter the Indian film industry

On February 1st, 2010, a seemingly unknown man made his way through a crowd of spectators to ring the opening bell at NASDAQ to promote his new film. Even when featured on CNN after the event, few outside of his home country would recognize him as a man equally influential as any of the titans of Hollywood. His name is Shahrukh Khan and, as Bollywood’s favorite son, he is quietly among the most powerful people in film.

The unmatched fan following enjoyed by Khan and his co-actors in Bollywood has changed the Indian movie industry from a beloved cultural institution into a global brand and booming business. While the rest of the global movie industry is expected to grow by a meager 3.1% by 2016, the Indian market is surging: with 11.5% projected annual growth, 3 billion yearly admissions, and revenues reaching $3.6B by 2017. All this comes as the global film industry’s core markets are becoming less attractive due to tighter regulation and cost pressures.

But even if the Indian film business presents a tantalizing opportunity, sustained success for a number of Hollywood’s studios remains elusive. There is no better example than Warner Bros (WB), one of the most storied and influential studios in Hollywood. The company first ventured into Indian film in 2009 when they partnered with an unsuccessful Indian production company and suffered a loss of approximately $6M. Although small, WB has been reluctant to venture into any further Indian productions, instead choosing to simply distribute their Hollywood productions in India. However, with India’s rising middle class and widening distribution of films, the possibilities seem endless for Hollywood’s deep-pocketed giant.

Currently the biggest box-office markets in the world after the US are China, Japan, France, the UK, and India. While Hollywood has taken advantage of China’s rapidly growing movie industry, the expansion has been highly regulated by the Chinese government. The government-backed French movie industry, on the other hand, faces exorbitant expenses due to rising costs including fees guaranteed to stars, producers, and directors. The end result is often unprofitable movies.

WB’s active presence in the Japanese movie industry and its close association with the British industry – where it continues to grow through acquisitions of facilities such as the Leavesden Studios – leaves India as the next frontier for the company’s growth.

Breaking down Bollywood

The Indian movie industry is segmented into different sectors based on the language the movie is produced in. Bollywood is the largest and most popular segment comprising of movies made in Hindi. Recent years have seen the Indian movie industry experience high growth, demonstrated by movies setting new box-office records year after year. The “100CR Club”, the current benchmark of box-office performance of movies in India, refers to movies that generate revenue more than 100CR ($20M). In 2011, while only five movies entered this coveted club, 2012 saw the addition of nine more, bringing the cumulative total to 18. At an average ticket price of INR100 ($2), less than 1% of India’s population have watched a “100 CR Club” movie, indicating the significant potential for growth in the Indian movie industry. Experts already predict that the future industry benchmark will be a “200CR Club.”

With a CAGR of 11%, the South Indian movie industry primarily caters to the 135 million Tamil and Telugu speakers of India. This industry has been a fast-growing subset which will grow to revenues of $662M by 2016. There have been numerous collaborations between Bollywood and the South, where content is shared between filmmakers to remake successful regional movies into Hindi and vice versa. In fact, five out of the 18 movies that have entered the “100CR Club” have been remakes of regional movies.

Show Me the Rupees!

A major factor driving the lucrative movie industry is the growing middle-class population of India whom, on average, earn roughly $13,000 annually. Between 2006 and 2011, consumer market spending nearly doubled from $549B to $1.06Tr. Moreover, a recent report from McKinsey Quarterly stated that India’s middle class population is expected to grow from 5% of the total population to 40% by 2025, creating the world’s fifth largest consumer market. The film industry has been able to capitalize on the increasing willingness of the middle class to spend their disposable income on movies, translating this new trend into bankable profits.

Revenues for Indian movies break down into four major subsets: domestic theatrical, international theatrical, home-video, and cable and satellite rights. While the home-video market has been diminishing, domestic and international theatrical revenues have surged due to widening distribution and double-digit industry growth. From 2010 to 2011, the number of domestic and international screens for medium and big-budget movies more than doubled per release. This expansion exemplifies the increasing demand for Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu movies. Digitization is also contributing to wider distribution. Compared to analog prints, digital prints are much cheaper and allow production companies to add or decrease screens to movie theatres in real-time. Moreover, digitization promotes wider releases of low-budget movies, which traditionally have had more narrow releases. Digital prints allow producers to show their movies in theatres throughout India, an opportunity that did not exist before.2

Another factor driving growth is the increasing number of multiplexes in the country. These modernized, multi-screen theatres represent only 15% of total screens in India, but account for over a third of all domestic box-office revenues due to their higher ticket prices. The higher prices can be attributed to the increasing disposable income of India’s middle class population. The number of overall multiplexes is expected to grow to 2000 by 2016. Furthermore, acquisition fees to broadcast movies on television channels grew at a rate of 20% from 2011 to 2012. Such high acquisition fees have led to producers recovering 40-80% of their investment costs even before theatrical release.

WB’s Indian Options

There are four ways WB can approach the prospering Indian opportunity: partnering with an Indian production house, establishing a green field investment, pursuing an acquisition, or licensing.

Hollywood giant 20th Century Fox has already set their base in India by partnering with Star India, an Indian media and entertainment company. The jointly created production house – Fox Star Studios – has concentrated mostly on expanding their distribution network. With the increasing influence of Western culture in India, Fox Star has been able to successfully distribute popular Hollywood flicks. They have also churned out two of the most profitable Hindi movies of 2012, and are starting to expand into the Tamil movie industry by co-producing with established production houses.

Viacom has entered India by forming a joint venture with Network 18, an Indian mass-media company. The joint venture company, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, was the first production company to partner with YouTube to upload a full-length HD quality version of its movie. This allowed viewers to watch the film online on the same day of its theatrical release. This allowed the film to charge a fixed price and reach targeted audiences from specific geographies.

UTV Motion Pictures is one of the most successful production companies in India. Despite its mammoth success in the Indian movie industry, the company is in fact the film unit of UTV Software Communications, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company. Even without utilizing its parent’s lucrative brand name, UTV continues to draw audiences into Indian theatres by producing a mix of entertaining and critically-acclaimed movies. UTV has also established itself in the South Indian movie industry.

As demonstrated by the success of its competitors, it is evident that with the right strategy, Warner Bros. can establish themselves as a major player in the Indian movie industry.

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

WB should partner with a successful Indian movie production company like Dharma Productions to co-produce movies. After suffering a loss in their first big Indian production, forming a partnership allows WB to share the risk inherent in film production. As there are some distinct differences in the preference of Indian and American audiences, the partnership will also allow WB to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise of a well-established production company. Since 1980, Dharma Productions has been forging relationships within the movie industry and has produced some of the biggest all-time classics in Bollywood. While WB will benefit from this experience and acumen, the Hollywood studio can contribute their refined production process to the partnership, including their experience in marketing, budgeting, distribution, cinematography, and merchandising. WB must take advantage of the current trend of production companies by becoming more involved in the entire film production, including the filmmaking process, instead of merely adding value at the tail-end of the project. This strategy allows both production houses to build on each other’s expertise and resources to create a sustainable partnership in Bollywood before eventually moving onto the growing South Indian movie industry.

One of the key success factors of the movie industry has been recognizing trends in the genre of movies that resonate with audiences and the connection the audience can form with a specific actor. While certain
actors have been successful in one genre, they have failed in others. Utilizing the expertise of companies like Ormax Media, an independent company conducting research and analyzing trends in the movie industry, can be a key resource for WB. Using a “big data” approach, WB can use analytics in combination with Ormax’s experience with the local market to make more informed production decisions.


The market share of Hollywood films released in India has increased by 50% over the past year, accounting for 8.8% of overall box-office revenues in India. This presents ample opportunities for WB to develop the market in India for their Hollywood productions. Globalization has increasingly drawn urban Indian consumers to Western culture. By entering in a partnership with Dharma Productions,
WB can foster relations with big Bollywood actors and introduce the company to a large pool of Indian talent. WB can accelerate their casting of Bollywood actors into Hollywood productions; the ardent fan base of these actors can be used as a platform to generate hype and expand the market for WB’s Hollywood ventures in India.

The above recommendations allow Warner Bros. to effectively re-launch themselves into a global economic giant with one of the largest consumer markets in the world. To compete with its major competitors, it has become imperative for the company to continue to expand globally. The Indian movie industry allows WB an opportunity for growth, portfolio diversification, and an avenue to advertise its brand to more than a billion people.