Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Services Marketing: Lessons from Sathyam Theater

If there is one thing that can be added to the necessities list for Tamilians, are movies. It is a common knowledge that India churns out the largest number of flicks in the world. Hindi, Telugu and Tamil are the top three contributors.

Many film stars are worshipped like demi-gods (in some cases, temples have been built for stars, especially female actors). Almost all the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu state have had an association with Kollywood.

Wikipedia quotes that there are about 2,800 cinema-halls located in Tamil Nadu. Sathyam tops the list with about 2380 seats.

I have been in Chennai for about 17 years now and have watched movies in some leading theaters in the city. Until about a couple of years back, all theatres were pretty much similar. Theatres were large, may or may not be multiplexes. Devi complex was by far the most famous; Albert was known for its cleanliness (once upon a time), and Sathyam, also, existed. I haven’t watched many movies in Ega or Sangam or other complexes.

I am not sure who is responsible, but Sathyam complex today has become the best theatre in town. In my opinion, it is a visionary and has set the benchmark. The makeover of Sathyam is a perfect Services Marketing case study.

As I said, there was a time when almost all the theatres were similar. There would be huge lines for queues; standing in the queue itself was nothing short of torture. Black-ticketing was rampant. Probably for the first coat of paint, all theatres were in a state of neglect. Toilets’ stench would fight with Director’s efforts for a share of your senses. During interval there would be a huge rush (which is not uncommon for anything in India) for snacks. In the name of snacks, there would be uninviting popcorn priced exorbitantly but served in miniscule portions. The seating would give you pain in the wrong place, insects/rats would be your companion. The sound systems were slightly better than the blaring outputs in Amman temples during Marghazhi month.

Then slowly things changed for many theatres, changed a lot for Sathyam. And in my opinion, Sathyam’s makeover presents a great case study. The focus on 6Ps of Services Marketing presents the directions.

As many would know the four Ps of marketing are – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. Some include Packaging. Services’ Marketing has three additional Ps. And these are – People, Physical Evidence and Process.

Let us start from the basics.

1. Product: The basic product that theatres sell is entertainment or movie. Cinema Theatres don’t have much control on the kind of movie produced but definitely have a say in the kind of movies played. Most cinema theatres had rigid schedules which made them reap extraordinary profits when a movie was hit or take a big hit if movie fails at the box office. Sathyam broke this tradition and played more movies and limited the screenings. It created more choices for customers. This way, they also reduced their risk of showing a flop movie for longer duration. Sathyam is also a visionary in adoption of technology. Whether it was in the areas of sound or projection, Sathyam adopts the latest.
2. Price: I must say that Sathyam is not inexpensive but it is not unaffordable, too. I would not like to discuss much about pricing. It might dilute the topic.

3. Place: Sathyam always had an advantage in being centrally located. But it was never a differentiator. Devi, Anand (now defunct), Ega, Sangam…are/were also quite centrally located. What Sathyam has been able to do with the space is notable. It has made approach to the theatre better by ensuring a large car park. Not only that but it also well regulated by professionals. Will discuss people little later. Sathyam is maintained like a five-star deluxe hotel. Please check out the toilets! Car parking, two wheeler parking, entrance, ticket counters, ambience inside, Sathyam resembles an excellent mall. Parking was a problem. On weekends, there is a huge rush to screens and since it is an up market theatre, the crowd usually swings in by four wheelers. Entering into theatre at one point of time was nothing less than struggle. But that is where the proactive intervention from the management comes in. Sathyam has introduced free parking at an annex slightly away from theatre. One can park his/her car and get dropped in an AC mini-bus. I must say, this is customer orientation par excellence.

4. Promotion: The biggest promoter of Sathyam has been the product itself. It has created the best environment for moviegoers. I must here mention that it was the first to bring Internet ticketing. It killed the black-ticket. In marketing, the best form of promotion is Word-of-Mouth and that is what exactly Sathyam has achieved.
5. People: If the facility is maintained no less than a star hotel, the employees conduct themselves like professionals in the airline industry. Smartly dressed, the employees are proactive and ready to assist customers. And at every touch point, parking lots, ticket counters, snack bar, ushers…

6. Physical evidence: Every touch point presents a physical evidence of the customer orientation. It is the best example for an organization which is focused on customers. Internet booking apart, a separate WINDOW ticket to collect tickets booked by Internet. Free car parking is another example. Magic-Hat, the crèche, is another example.
7. Process: The operations is organized and oriented to ensure that I have a good experience. You have to experience it to believe it.

Sathyam is slowly displaying signs of an organization which has consolidated itself as the best theatre in the city and diversifying into adjacent areas. It has recently opened a Blur, a gaming parlor, and ID, an idli-dosa outlet. Mike Besse has been presented for a long time now.

Usually malls accommodate multiplexes. In Sathyam’s case, a theater is adapting into a mall. Whatever be the course, as long as customer orientation is at the core, there is no stopping Sathyam.


1. Sathyam has not paid me to write this piece
2. It has never doled out free tickets to me
3. I have never been treated by them with lovely desserts, pop corns or Coke

But I may be open to all the above going forward. Kidding!

Ecstasy picture sourced from


Taruna said...

Hey Hey, marketing apart, will definitely watch a movie in 'Your' Sathyam, once I come to Channai.

Anonymous said...

The only theatre in the entire world with such kind of amenities at affordable can get the same in Gold Class at Malls in Bangalore but at a premium price (Rupees 500 for recliner chair - Rupees 800 for Business Class per ticket).
More over you wont find good movies running in Gold Class at Forum Mall Bangalore..
Mumbai theatres forget them.. Mumbai and Delhi you need to be a bureaucrat of some size to go to any theatre with family especially at nights.
I sincerely feel that Satyam can increase the price but kudoos to the management for making Satyam Cinemas the best a man can for his family or his girlfriend without thinking of the budget.

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