‘English movie genre ad growth is fuelled by HD channels’

With the English movie genre getting more competitive, Turner India’s English entertainment channels, HBO and WB, are following a fan first strategy to build brand connect. The goals for 2018 is to build upon the deep fan-base, expand viewership base and increase the share of the revenue pie. The content game plan for 2018 is to deepen the relationship with viewers through exciting content.

TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto caught up with Turner International India senior director and network head for the English entertainment portfolio Rohit Bhandari who feels that on the ad revenue side of things there should be a pickup. He also admits that 2017 was a tough year as client budgets were limited. He also noted that the ad growth for the category is being driven by high definition (HD) channels.


On the ad revenue front, how much did the English movie genre earn last year and what growth is expected this year?

While SD channels showed slower growth, the English movie genre ad growth continued to be fuelled by the HD channels. Driver categories were auto and mobile handsets and e-commerce which saw a resurgence after a slower 2016. While January and February have not shown strong pickup, early indications of strong client spend from March is expected.

Do HBO and WB rely more on sponsored properties compared to spot buys?

Premieres and events drive revenue in the category. They are the top money spinners. To ensure client seasonality is addressed, the genre relies on movie festivals and customized initiatives for clients to build saliency and brand connect.

How did Turner deal with the challenges thrown up by demonetisation and GST in terms of protecting the ad revenue?

To deal with the market volatility, we had to build in more scheduling flexibility for our premieres to map client demand. With limited client budgets, creating enough impact for client launches and activity was our biggest challenge last year. That made us work harder on client customisations. At Turner, we have a specialised cell called Turner Media Solutions that works with clients on building connect beyond conventional spot sales. However, as a category, movies are limited in integration potential so most innovations are built outside content.

What goals has Turner set for itself in the English movies space in 2018?

Last year we had a viewer-centric, fan first strategy. Our aim was to achieve higher ratings, better audience engagement and bigger advertising revenues through interesting content and a highly engaged fan base. In 2018 our goal is growth. This includes our aim to build upon the deep fan-base we have, increase the total number of viewers and increase our share of the revenue pie.

What is the game plan to get there?

HBO has a hugely exciting line-up from Warner Bros and Paramount Studios that we know will help drive our reach expansion goals. These include premiers such as ‘Kong: Skull Island’, ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’, ‘Baywatch’, ‘Dunkirk’, ‘Justice League’ to name a few. Creatively curated together with ever-popular hit titles in our extensive library, we are confident of keeping and growing our fans viewing time with our brands.

And while the content has enabled us to appeal to a wide and large fan base, we intend to deepen our relationship with them. We intend to do this by giving them more meaningful experiences through innovative ways by which they can participate and engage with our brands.

What is the big challenge for English movie channels this year?

Geopolitical issues aside, the biggest challenge I see the industry facing is adapting to change. Our industry is evolving and consumers demand not just choice – which they already have a lot of – but also convenience, value and more than just great content. They are also looking for unique experiences. Which explains why we at Turner have a fan-first strategy and been so focused on fan experiences.

How is HBO fine-tuning its strategy to be a top three player?

Ted Turner once famously said, “Just because your ratings are bigger doesn’t mean you’re better”. We are driven by the same thought. While ranks are important and we constantly monitoring what’s happening with the genre. We’re focused on being better. We are taking a `Kaizen’ approach to everything that we do. We look to improve continuously with not just our content acquisitions but also with our distribution, marketing, and communication plans.

We place a very high premium on the fan experience and we look for opportunities to create an environment that our viewers have come to expect from our brands and delivering that experience. Get it right and we believe the fans, as well as the audience ratings, will come. And that way, the viewers will remain our fans for a much longer time.

How is HBO building on the brand promise of ‘Experience the Magic’?

Experience The Magic is an intended consumer experience that we want consumers to feel every time that they engage with HBO. Given the variety of choices available to the consumer today, we realize that it is important to convert our consumer from a viewer into a fan, and by putting the fan at the center of everything that we do, we hope to deliver an experience that feels like cinematic Magic!

In 2017, we empathised with our viewers and interacted with them using languages and mediums that they were most comfortable with viz. social media and instant messaging like WhatsApp. The idea of interacting with their favourite movie channel in real time generated a lot of excitement for our fans and created great value for us in terms of pure engagement and feedback.

This almost personal experience with the brand is what HBO would be continuing with going into 2018.

What are the major movies, festival properties, and programming blocks coming up in the first half of the year on HBO?

Apart from a line-up of A-List Premiere titles, we have a strong line up highly popular recent films including ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’, ‘Lego Batman, ‘Annabel Creation’, ‘I.T’, ‘Geostorm’, ‘American Assassin’ to name a few.

In addition, we will have an Academy Award programming line with some of the key franchise titles being presented for weekend movie marathons or stunt-based binges during the year to keep the viewer glued onto to HBO.

There have been quite a few launches in the premium English movie segment. Is Turner looking at this area as well?

As a group, we are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities that could not just be attractive to the viewing audience but also makes commercial sense in the short and long term.

Are content costs rising or is some rationalisation happening?

Content costs have been rather flat with standard increases being built into output agreements. And eventually, content acquisitions and valuation depend on the needs of the broadcaster and what one is willing to pay to acquire the content. Good content will always have takers at a reasonable price.

Has Turner done content deals recently for HBO and WB?

Turner has long-term output deals with Warner Brothers and Paramount Studios which we support with packages from studios like NBC Universal, Miramax and Lionsgate and independent aggregators like PVR Pictures and Everest.

Is WB planning to have some premieres as well or will it mainly use Warner Bros. library?

WB has always been designed to be a Hollywood Hits library service and continues to be so. We do premiere selective films on WB, though most of the programming is supported by the overall Turner content library.

What are the key viewership trends that were seen last year in the English movie genre?

BARC data has been reasonably steady through the year and most of the trends were seen in certain key markets emerging as being key contributors to the ratings for English movies. This has only laid the emphasis on knowing one’s key markets well and ensuring that the channels are well distributed across these markets.

As media brands, how do HBO and WB plan to stand out from an increasingly competitive genre?

The core Target Group that English Movies seeks is 16– 30-year-olds with some spillover happening at both ends of the age spectrum. The TG that the genre reaches out to is highly innovative as individuals/groups as they are the early adopters of any new trends be it from a traditional or non-traditional point of view.

At an age when the mobile phone is a constant companion, it is not just a competition within genres but also across mediums and with social media being a highly contagious habit with the youth, the need to reach out to them and engage their forever dwindling attention span is where the challenge lies and gives rise to innovation in terms of marketing.

Given the degrees of diversity and adaptability to new media across the country, the 360-degree approach still cannot be laid to rest completely in favour of let’s say, digital or any other medium. This has only given us more opportunity and options to reach out to and engage this highly distracted audience in a more personalised manner.

Do you think OTT players like Hooq, Netflix are eating into the viewership of English movie channels?

Over the last couple of years, our ratings have been rather stable and while there certainly has been higher acceptance to the various OTT players, there is no empirical data that proves any cannibalisation of viewership.