Marketing Trends in Kannada Film Industry

Prabhudev M* 
Dr. MS Sapna**


This paper aims to study the emerging marketing trends and the technological innovations that have upgraded marketing considerations in the Kannada film industry. Research Methodology adopted in the paper is doctrinal and secondary sources of information are relied upon to analyse the market and the marketing process in the industry.

Kannada film industry produces around 150 films a year. But for these films there is no big market beyond Karnataka and the success ratio too is low and a large percentage of films fail to recover the cost. Analysis of the market size and share of the Kannada film industry attributes lack of adequate promotion for the crisis plaguing the industry.

Overall, the paper provides a conceptual and theoretical foundation intended to guide research efforts focused on advanced marketing practices to expand the market and survive the stiff competition.


From the brightly-painted pictures on walls to digital-motion posters and smartphone applications, marketing in film industry has come a long way. As anyone who peruses a newspaper, watches televisions, listens to radio or frequents shopping malls knows, film marketing has pervaded our everyday existence.

Marketing has become critical because the filmmakers and production houses aim to create ‘big hits’. Words like silver jubilee or golden jubilee are no longer used by filmmakers and producers to describe a movie’s success-business during the first three days or the first week is enough to earn a ‘hit’ tag. As the cost of advertising has escalated, and as the market has become increasingly crowded and competitive, marketing decisions have become extremely important. Industry sources and media reports put the budget allocated today towards marketing and promotion for Bollywood films at almost 40 per cent, and for regional films between 10 and 25 per cent.

Availability of high speed connectivity and internet penetration serve as the catalysts for the rapid adoption of marketing using digital media.As the barriers between making and consuming are coming down, the nature and ownership of film marketing are also expected to change.

Kannada film industry

Kannada film industry has also evolved as one of the major streams of the Indian cinema. From its humble beginning in 1930’s to a fully-fledged industry producing more than 100 films a year today, it has treaded a long and arduous path creating indelible impression on the minds of the people of Karnataka.

The first talkie film in Kannada, “Sati Sulochana” was released in 1934 and from then on started a journey mostly dominated by theatre personalities. A number of activists from the bourgeoning Kannada theatre movement like Gubbi Veerana, Subbaiah Naidu and others were actively involved in these productions and they were the earliest to be part of Kannada cinema also.

In the early years, most Kannada films were folk-based and mythological. Socially relevant stories were never a part of the movie world, at least till the late fifties.

The advent of Rajkumar was a great turning point in the history of Kannada filmdom and along with him a plethora of actors took the Kannada films to the pinnacle of glory during the 1950s and 1960s. But the ’60s turned out to be the golden era of Kannada film industry, as offbeat movies became popular and Kannada movie makers slowly moved away from folklore and mythology to socially relevant issues, trying to capture the turmoil of the times. “School Master”, directed by the veteran B.R. Pantulu, was the first movie dealing with the social phenomena. A host of movies based on famous novels of the era became instant hits as Kannada movies got international recognition.

It was the time when the reorganization of states led to the birth of a Kannada state and as such the linguistic aspirations of the community gained centre stage in the Kannada film discourses. The highpoint of this period was the attempt to capture a Kannada ethos and cultural moorings. The industry depended on local landscapes and the stories were woven keeping in mind the pulse of the localities.

It was then that film as the ‘medium of a director’ gained prominence. Puttanna Kanagal, M.V. Krishna Swamy and N. Lakshminarayan were the most widely recognized auteurs.  The ’70s was also the period that witnessed the birth of an alternate cinema in Kannada. Film making, though commercial, became a passion for many, and an ideological tool for some. “Samskara”, “Vamshavruksha”, “Ghatashradha” and “Chomanadudi” and many such movies tried to kindle the spirit of humanity and oneness, by critiquing the existing evils of the society. Litterateurs and intellectuals like Girish Karnad, B.V. Karanth, U.R. Ananthamurthy, P. Lankesh, Chandrasekhara Kambar, Prof. Baragur Ramachandrappa, Prema Karanth and others forayed into the making of films based on contemporary literary pieces, which are now referred to as the period of “New Wave”. The next 20 years saw consolidation of Kannada film industry in terms of business and technology also. Number of productions increased and Karnataka emerged as a film production centre with its own infrastructure of studios, labs etc. The Government of Karnataka pitched in to bring the entire industry to Karnataka from Chennai through building infrastructure and also providing magnanimous incentives through subsidies, instituting awards under various categories etc.

The 21st century saw emergence of a new breed of film makers who are business and technology savvy and who could feel the pulse of the new generation of audiences in the changing cultural scenario of Karnataka.

Market share

The Indian film industry is the world’s largest in terms of number of films produced and the ticket sales or number of cinema-goers. Over 1000 films are produced every year in more than 20 languages. South Indian cinema-Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada-constitutes a large chunk of these.

The Hindi film industry, popularly known as Bollywood, is the largest contributor to the industry’s revenue, followed by the South Indian movie industry and other regional language cinema industries such as Bengali, Bhojpuri, Marathi and Gujarati.

According to a recent research report by Deloitte for the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the total revenue in South Indian film industry is estimated at INR.2340 crore in FY 2012. It is expected to grow at CAGR of 11% to reach approximately INR.3550 crore by FY 2016.

Film revenues of Tamil Nadu are close to INR.1030 crore. Andhra Pradesh generates revenues of 1020 crore. Kerala and Karnataka generate revenues to the tune of INR.150 crore and INR 140 crore, respectively. In 2012, of the total revenue in South India, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh had shares of 44% and 43% respectively. Kerala and Karnataka followed with shares of 7% and 6% respectively.

In the domestic scene, Tamil and Telugu films have markets beyond their home turf. As there are good number of Tamil-speaking people living in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and Telugu-speaking people in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, many Tamil and Telugu films are screened in neighboring states too.

Tamil films have a significant market in Kerala and Karnataka where they are released without dubbing. These states contribute up to 5% of Tamil Nadu’s theatrical revenues. Selected Tamil films, say 10 to 12 a year, are dubbed or remade in Telugu. Telugu films have a significant market in Tamil Nadu. Around 20-25% of them are released in the state. Earlier, these films used to be dubbed or remade into Tamil films but of late, with increase in the Telugu-speaking population in Tamil Nadu, they are being released without being dubbed. Another trend is that of Telugu films being dubbed into Tamil solely for the satellite TV market. Telugu films also have a significant market in Karnataka that accounts for around 3% of theatrical revenues in Andhra Pradesh. A few Telugu films are dubbed in Malayalam and released in Kerala.

The geographical reach of Kannada movies is limited outside Karnataka, with a few producers exploring certain selected parts of west and northern India, while hardly one or two movies actually get distributed in the international market. Kannada-speaking population is present outside the state as well as in countries such as Australia, the US and pockets of the Middle East. However, these markets are not exploited, like in the case of Tamil and Telugu movies.

Increasing disposable income, growing popularity of alternate delivery mediums, digitalization of film distribution and value added services like movie on demand through pay television are set to open up new revenue streams and business models for the film industry. Emergence of multiplexes has already improved revenue reportage and average ticket price.

Marketing and Kannada film industry

With recent success stories at the box office-especially in Hindi (Bollywood) and other South Indian film industries-proving that promoting a film is as important as making the film itself, producers have now started spending more on marketing than before. The strategies are getting as experimental and innovative as the films’ subjects. One reason for Hollywood or at times Bollywood movies not making losses despite a movie being bad is because of the professional promotions and endorsements.

In another major development, Bollywood has started harnessing the latest technology, hoping that the explosive increase in mobile phones and rapid take-up of the internet will draw in much-needed audiences.In the first move of its kind, Hrithik Roshan-starrer Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara (2011) was promoted only via mobile phone and online. The production house tied up with one of India’s leading mobile phone companies, Aircel, to push two three-minute trailers for free to its 55 million subscribers.Such innovative technologies enables more targeted marketing for films, which are facing increasing competition from other forms of entertainment and are no longer guaranteed healthy box-office returns, according to industry analysts.

Digital is fast becoming the medium where the youth, which forms a chunk of the audience for movies, is present. With the increase in use of dual screens (usually television and laptop/mobile), marketers now have more scope to attract, engage and impress this core target group. UTV Motion Pictures (UTV) created an app for the movie Barfi (2012) on Youtube where people could animate Ranbir Kapoor any which way. The app went viral, garnering over 2.5 lakh users in two weeks with Google India terming it as one of the best online innovations done on Youtube in the past year and a half.

The film industry in the South too is increasingly veering towards online media to distribute/market its films to a wider audience. The phenomenal success of Kolaveri Di, a song from the Tamil Movie “3” acted as a catalyst in spurring widespread adoption of the online media for marketing. The commentators and industry analysts bill it as the first viral marketing campaign in India. Within three weeks of its release on Youtube, the Kolaveri Di video garnered 19 million views and shared by 6.5 million Facebook users. It was drawing more than 10,000 tweets daily by the end of its first online week.

Producing tailor-made versions for various social media platforms is one of the many off-the-hook strategies that the industry is focusing on currently. With cyberspace offering a wide reach, online marketing/promotion is becoming indispensable.

Recognising the growing significance of movie-marketing, Kannada film industry has started taking cues from Bollywood and other industries in the south. However, marketing has not taken off in a big way as in Bollywood or Tollywood. Kshana Kshana, a suspense thriller released in 2007, is said to be the first Kannada film to have one of its kind, hi-tech poster. The poster sported the lead actor Vishnuvardhan firing a gun, sending fumes in the air and a small waterfall streaming out of the billboard. A 45-second clip of the film’s music could also be heard from the poster. This was quite an unusual scene for the movie-goers who were used to seeing larger than life cutouts, cinema theatres decorated with flowers.

More recently, mobile applications were developed to promote a few Kannada films. Kannada movies were rather slow in this regard. Bollywood films not only have apps but also games based on films. Kannada film industry though slow is coming up with unique apps. The Lucia (2013) film application became the most popular app within a matter of days. Instead of scanning a poster or the advertisement of the film, all one need to do is scan a Rs.100 or Rs.500 note to watch the songs of the film, instead of scanning a poster or the advertisement of the film. The model adopted by Pawan Kumar, the maker of Lucia to produce and market the film, was appreciated by Fulbright Film Scholar Karen Folger Jacobs and she cited Lucia experiment as a model for other filmmakers at a panel discussion held as part of the  Bangalore International Film Festival in December 2013-January 2014.

The app for the film Simpleag Ondu Love Story (SOLS) was also unique. It provided exclusive content of the film for those downloading the application. Apart from information about the film and snippets of songs, trailers could be watched by just scanning posters of the film. It also updated theatres that were screening the film. SOLS was a film that was heavily promoted on the social media.

The films that have developed apps to promote them are those which have large audience participation. Fans are also involved in driving the development of the apps. Shivu Adda, a web-based fan group of actor Shiva Rajkumar came up with an app for constant updates of the film Andar Bahar (2013). However, not everyone is getting on the bandwagon though Bangalore is considered the IT-hub and a lot of companies in the city are involved in creating apps.But, they are working for other languages as Kannada filmmakers are yet to fully adopt newer technology.

The industry has dedicated portals such as and, launched in 2000, is said to be the first online portal dedicated exclusively to Kannada cinema. The portal specializes in news, online promotion, film marketing, and web designing of Kannada films. It also launches various marketing events based on specific themes of a film and uses various social platforms to reach out to a wider audience.

Non-visibility of Kannada films at the national and international circuit dominated a panel discussion organized at the sixth edition of Bangalore International Film Festival (6BIFFes, held between 26thDecember2013 and2ndJanuary2014). Panelists, including film critic Uma Da Cunha, Fulbright Film Scholar Karen Folger Jacobs, eminent film scholar Aruna Vasudev and film festival adviser Santhanam, attributed lack of adequate promotion for the crisis plaguing the Kannada film industry.Filmmakers, including national award recipient directors Girish Kasarvalli, P. Sheshadri, T.S. Nagabharana, Ramadas Naidu and others, discussed the problems faced in marketing their films and strongly favoured the necessity for a film market as a promotional arm alongside BIFFes.


The Kannada film industry produces around 150 films a year. But the research reports indicate that for Kannada films there is no market beyond Karnataka and they have to compete on all fronts with other language movies in their own land.The study finds that the absence of a mechanism to market Kannada movies is hindering their reach to a larger audience. It also stresses the critical role marketing plays in expanding the market and exploiting the untapped opportunities.

Kannada-speaking population is present outside the state as well as in other countries such as Australia, the US and pockets of the Middle East. Keeping this in mind, Kannada films have to expand their horizons and tap the national and international markets like in the case of Tamil and Telugu movies. One of the most important indicators of the success of a movie marketing campaign is the gross box office sales from the first weekend of a movie’s release. Opening weekend sales are a direct reflection of how much buzz and excitement has been generated by the promotional campaign.

In conclusion, the study suggests that it is high time the industry moved further into the digital age and adopted more innovative and creative marketing practices-to stand out in the tough competition in the market.


Research Reports:

  1. Media & Entertainment in South India: Promising signs ahead, Deloitte and FICCI report 2012 (11-30)
  2. “Film industry in India: New horizons”, Ernst & Young report 2012


  1. Kerrigan, Finola. Film Marketing, UK: Elsevier Ltd., 2010
  2. Lukk, Tiiu. Movie Marketing: Opening the Picture and Giving Legs, Beverly Hills, CA: Silman-James Press, 1997
  3. Marich, Robert, Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies Used by Major Studios and Independents. USA: Focal Press, 2005

Newspaper articles:

  1. “The making of a blockbuster”, Subramanian Anusha, Business Today, 31 October 2011
  2. “Fading sparkle”, Divakar Narayan Rao, The Hindu, 19December 2008
  3. “K’wood producers to focus on big marketing budget”, M Suganth, TNN, The Times News Network, 4 July, 2012
  4. “Celebrating 75 years of Kannada Cinema at IFFI-Goa 2008”, Press Information Bureau press release
  5. “Bollywood movie takes new approach to marketing”, AFP, The New Zealand Herald, 19 May 2011
  6. “Bollywood spawns film marketing”, WalliaKaajal, TNN, The Times of India, 4 March 2002
  7. “Digital era dawns on Sandalwood”, S Shyam Prasad, Bangalore Mirror, 24 July, 2013
  8. “Kannada films get hi-tech marketing”, ShwetalKamalapurkar, CNN-IBN, IBNLIVE, 20 June, 2007
  9. “Lucia showed how to market films”, MuralidharaKhajane, The Hindu, 27December, 2013
  10. “Movie Industry: Much drama in tinsel town”, R Ravikumar, The Hindu Business Line, 8 December 2011
  11. “Sandalwood needs proper marketing, feel directors” G S Kumar, The Times of India, 1January 2014,
  12. “Scripting a better marketing strategy”, S Saroj Kumar, The Financial Express, 24 Nov 2009
  13. “Sandalwood stories”, IndulekhaAravind, Business Standard, 24 September 2011

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