Around 4,500 theatres that screen Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam movies are shut since 2 March, due to a strike call given by the South Indian Film Chambers of Commerce demanding slashing fees of digital projection service providers (DPSP) who beam films through satellite into projection rooms. However, English and Hindi movies are running in these southern states.

Theatre owners in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala are understood to have suffered a revenue loss of around Rs 100 crore on Friday and Saturday and the loss would be bigger on Sunday. Though there are no big releases this weekend, the strike might affect the film industry as many big heroes’ films are lined up for next weekend.  

The leaders of South Indian film chambers have been protesting against higher charges collected by two major DPSPs—UFO and Qube—for the last eight years. These digital service projectors directly send films through satellite to the theaters for more accuracy and speed, replacing the earlier practice of physically transporting reels to cinema halls.

The digital projection system that was introduced all over the world also helps curb piracy as it identifies a pirated copy as each screen is allotted a different code on the chip. The two DPSPs have gradually waived service charges for Hollywood and Bollywood films in the last few years, but regional films are still paying fees that range between Rs 15,500 to Rs 22,000 per week, depending on the centers.

Vijayender Reddy of Telangana Film Chambers of Commerce told this newspaper on Saturday that the South Chamber had demanded that the fees be slashed by at least 25% now, but representatives of UFO and Qube offered only 12.5% decrease which was not accepted by the chambers. “Many small and single screen theaters are not in a position to pay up the charges,” said Reddy.

There was also disagreement on the extent of advertisements inserted by the DPSPs before and during interval of movies, that span 5 to 7 minutes. The service providers are not giving a fair share in the ad revenue to theatre owners, who cannot even raise their own ads locally as enough time taken was already taken by the former. Another round of talks is expected between two sides on Sunday.

Many theaters and online movie booking apps like BookMyshow.com are refunding money for regional movies tickets booked for Friday and Saturday.

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