Interview with Ranjit Thakur, CEO of Scrabble Entertainment

For several years now, the Indian media & entertainment industry has been talking about the emergence of digital cinema in India. But Ranjit Thakur, CEO of Scrabble Entertainment, says his company is the sole digital cinema provider in India. He tells FE’s Pritha Mitra Dasgupta that all other companies have been using electronic cinema and passing it off as digital.

What is the core business of Scrabble Entertainment?
Scrabble was formed about a year ago. We are the only 2K DCI-compliant digital cinema deployment entity in India. The current format used in cinema is D5 or DI frame, which we convert, encrypt and encode to the 2K platform, which is the higher version or the digital format. We have plans to venture into advertising on digital cinema but not this year.

What kind of research did you do before launching this technology in India?
I have spent much in the US, and we observed that all of India was using electronic cinema done by UFO, Real Image and others that was deemed as digital cinema. The real digital cinema is controlled by a company called Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI), which sets specifications for the digital cinema worldwide. All the Hollywood studios have come on board on that standard and, therefore, only systems that are DCI-compliant get Hollywood content. Therefore, whatever was there before we entered was the electronic cinema platform. No Hollywood movies made out of the six big studios were being played on UFO or Real Image platform. We provide hardware to the cinema for digital playback at a subsidised cost, and also convert, encrypt & encode the content from a D5 or DI frame and deliver it to the cinema.

Tell us some of the core advantages of the 2K DCI system?
DCI sets rules for two things: security and quality. Security is taken care of in the way our servers are made and the way the content comes. Every key is server-specific. Every server (per screen) has two parts to the passwords, out of which one part is embedded in the server itself. So, if I give you the content and the password it is still no good, as one will also need to know the password that is embedded in the system. For example, if Dark Knight is to be played in Inox Nariman Point on screen two, it will not play on screen one or three. These are some of the things DCI agreed to when it formed the body because Hollywood studios are investing huge sums and security is a key concern for them.

Besides, it saves 100% cost of the print. Simultaneous, nationwide release of a film is also possible. It can maximise advertisement revenue and open doors for displaying alternate content. Because of global standards of ‘projection’ quality, simultaneous release of Hollywood films in India is possible. And finally, it creates a platform for 3D releases.

Will you be concentrating on multiplexes or will you eventually get into cineplexes as well?
Multiplexes have been mushrooming for the last 4-5 years. The number of Hindi films released every year is not enough to fill show times. Sadly, of the 700 films released in Hollywood every year, only 50 are released in India. And trust me, the rest are not so bad. The reason they do not come to India is because the print cost is extremely high. So, once they have the digital platform in India, it will be possible for them to have date releases in India, and we will see more Hollywood films here. Today, multiplexes contribute 80% of the all-India box-office collection and, therefore, the potential is huge. So I have not concentrated on the rest of the market.

How much does it cost to convert a screen into DCI-compliant digital cinema?
We have our contracts both with exhibitors and content providers, like distributors and producers. For exhibitors, the contracts states that we pay 25% of the equipment cost and in lieu of that they allow us a 10-year window to provide them content for all their screens. From producers we charge Rs 20,000 (USD430), which is the cost of virtual print fee per multiplex and that’s our revenue model. So we are like the courier of a movie. When we get a film, we make the hardware, inject a password, make DCI-compliant tests and then deliver it.

What is your biggest challenge?
The challenge is at the exhibitors’ end. They do not know what to do with the analog systems, once they convert a theatre into digital. Therefore, while they convert some of their screens into digital, they also need to keep increasing the number of multiplexes where they can use the analog systems or else these simply become scrap.

Source: The Financial Express