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Hindi movie channels revisit acquisition strategy in 2014

Finding themselves at the end of their tether due to the skyrocketing acquisition price of films, Hindi movie channel broadcasters in 2014 finally decided to call it quits on most occasions. In fact, all major broadcasters including Star India, ZEEL and Multi Screen Media (MSM) virtually stopped buying new film rights in the year that was.

However, it was not just the insane pricing of films that kept broadcasters away from acquiring new films, but also the lower ratings of some of the blockbusters on television that prompted them to do a rethink of their strategy.

Gone are the days when films particularly those involving big stars would deliver consistent ratings over multiple airings. And this trend has certainly made the Hindi movie channel executives sit back and revisit their acquisition strategy. The broadcasters now will pay big  for a film only if they are convinced that the content is good enough to hook viewers every time it’s aired on their channel and not just the premiere.

Neeraj Vyas

Neeraj Vyas

What also emboldened the Hindi movie channels was the fact that they had enough new movies in their kitty because of prior commitments. Star India had films from its existing deals with Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn; MSM had ongoing relationship with Yashraj, while ZEEL had its slate of new films from different production houses.

“A common realisation was that this price model is not sustainable and it’s not right. We don’t stand to recover much if we pay that kind of money. The entire economics of the industry has gone haywire with this pricing model,” said MSM EVP and Max and Max 2 business head Neeraj Vyas.

The newer films do not have the longevity that older films had. “Films have lost their longevity on television. That is a bigger concern. One wouldn’t mind paying a higher price, but the films have to give sustained ratings. The biggest films are crashing in one of two airings,” Vyas averred.

Echoing similar sentiments, ZEEL deputy business head of Hindi movie cluster Ruchir Tiwari said that the blockbusters do not deliver the same kind of ratings that they used to deliver three or four years ago.

Ruchir Tiwari

Ruchir Tiwari

“The new films don’t get the kind of ratings that they got earlier. Forget about second or third airing. Even in first airing, they are not rating well. The ratings of big films have shrunk 50 per cent compared to what they got three/four years back,” Tiwari stated.

Star Gold and Movies OK EVP and GM Hemal Jhaveri had told TelevisionPost.com in an earlier interaction that the network had virtually stopped acquiring Hindi movies due to unrealistic price escalation by producers.

“We have not acquired a movie for a very long time. We are going very slow on acquisition. For us, we have ‘Kick’, ‘Singham 2′, ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Bombay Velvet’. So we have enough on our plate for now and even for the next year,” Jhaveri had noted.

The crux of the matter, according to Vyas, is that the new-generation film-makers are following a set template. “Films are being made to appeal to the multiplex-going audience, probably focused on recovering investments in the first weekend and hopefully going into the second weekend,” he noted.

Hemal Jhaveri

Hemal Jhaveri

So what is the way out of this situation? While Vyas thinks that the film industry needs to go back to basics and start making wholesome family entertainers, Tiwari says that there is a need to develop fresh content.

Gain for smaller channels, pain for the biggies

One interesting trend witnessed during 2014 was the gain made by the second-rung channels in the category in comparison with top-rung channels like Star Gold, Zee Cinema and Sony Max.

This happened due to the level playing field created by cable TV digitisation—it enabled the smaller channels to widen their distribution footprint and hence visibility. While they might not enjoy the reach of the top-tier channels, the improved visibility did help the second-rung channels to increase their market share.

With increasing fragmentation, the bigger channels saw a drop in their market share. Most broadcasters have a second movie channel. Star has Movies OK, MSM has Max2, and ZEEL has &pictures in addition to three other digital-only segmented channels.

“The biggest concern that all of us have is that the genre hasn’t grown. That’s been the case for last two to three years. So all the new launches have kind of eaten into the share of mainline channels,” Vyas pointed out.

“The reach and time spent have remained constant. The time spent levels is hovering around the 55-minute mark and the reach level is virtually on a par with GECs,” he added.

Agreeing with Vyas, Tewari said, “Frontline channels have seen a decrease from what they were delivering two or three years back. While the reach is very much there, there is also a lot more clutter in the category.”

While Tiwari agrees that the challenge for the category as a whole is to grow, he also feels that the traction that smaller channels are getting is a positive development.

“How the frontline channels grow from here on is more of a category challenge. However, a positive that we see is that smaller channels are getting better connectivity because of digitisation. As a result, there is room for different and distinct channels,” he asserted.

Buoyed by the growth of the smaller players, ZEEL is looking to give its action movie channel Zee Action a leg-up. “We believe that Zee Action can drive more viewership. It has to evolve and get a big revamp,” Tiwari had said earlier.

New launches

The year 2014 saw the launch of two channels in the Hindi movie space. MSM launched Max 2, a channel targeted at a slightly older TG. The channel has clearly differentiated itself by airing only films from the ’70s and ’80s.

According to Vyas, the channel was launched with the objective of bridging a gap in the market.

“There has to be a latent need gap identified to launch a channel. Otherwise, it doesn’t work beyond a point. Every other channel was talking to a select audience [youth] and basically giving them the films of recent past. There is a large chunk of audience who would love to see the cinema of the ’70s and ’80s,” he said.

Regarding the channel’s performance, Vyas said that Max 2 is doing well despite distribution shortcomings. “We were not optimally distributed. We are not on Tata Sky. We entered Gujarat only a few months back. We weren’t on right frequencies. Despite all of this, we are already averaging 26–28 GRPs. We have managed to create a niche with Max 2,” he asserted.

Vyas believes that Max 2 will remain a 30–40-GRP channel considering the niche it operates in. “I don’t see it touching 50 and 60 GRPs because we would never have a newer film on it, but I think it will have a steady 30–40 GRPs in one year,” he noted.

ZEEL forayed into the Thailand market with the launch of a Thai-dubbed Bollywood movie channel Zee Nung. The broadcaster also launched &pictures HD on the first anniversary of its Hindi movie channel &pictures.

The ad sales scene

Rohit Gupta

Rohit Gupta

MSM president ad sales, network and telephony Rohit Gupta said that while the genre has stabilised in terms of overall GRPs, the overall trading levels has gone up and is the same as that of a GEC.

“Earlier, this genre used to trade at 30–35 lower than what the GECs used to trade, but today this genre trades at similar levels as the mainline GECs because it delivers a similar kind of reach as the GECs,” Gupta stated.

Gupta also said that the implementation of the ad cap did not have any impact on Sony Max’s inventory as it was airing only 14 minutes of advertising in an hour. “At Max, we didn’t have to undertake inventory cut as we were airing 14 minutes of ad,” Gupta disclosed.

The overall ad pie for the Hindi movie channel genre would be in the range of Rs 1,400–1,500 crore (Rs 14-15 billion) growing 10–15 per cent over the previous year.

Movie premiere

Some of the movie premieres on the Hindi movie channels in 2014 were:

Star Gold and Movies OK: ‘Kick’, ‘Singham Returns’, ‘Yaariyan’, ‘Bullet Raja’, ‘Bang Bang’, ‘Highway’, ‘Gang of Ghosts’, ‘Traffic’, ‘Sonali Cable’, ‘O Teri’, ‘Bhaag Johnny’, ‘Hawaa Hawaai’

Zee Cinema and &pictures: ‘Entertainment’, ‘Raja Natwarlal’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Zanjeer’, ‘Besharam’, ‘Manjunath’

Sony Max: ‘Krrish 3’, ‘Heronpanti’, ‘Queen’, ‘Gunday’, ‘Youngistan’, ‘Goliyon Ki Rasleela – Ram Leela’, ‘Shuddh Desi Romance’, ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’

Breaking away from the tried and tested formula of airing South Indian movies dubbed in Hindi, Sony Max experimented by airing a Marathi film titled ‘Aayna Ka Bayna’, which rated 0.93 TVR.

Vyas clarifies that the channel is choosy when it comes to airing a regional film. The key is that the ideas the film endorses need to be universal.

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