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How Monica Tata plans to grow HBO in 2014

MUMBAI: Not making strong progress in 2013, HBO has firmed up its plans for the year. The aim is to grow penetration of the ad-free channels and carry out smarter scheduling of titles on the basic HBO channel.

As part of the year’s strategy, premieres of currents will be shown first on HBO Defined and HBO Hits, the two premium channels. The basic HBO channel will air titles that rate like action/adventure and comedy movie genres.

monica tataSpeaking to Televisionpost.com, HBO South Asia MD Monica Tata said that the focus for the main channel is on pushing the quality of experience as opposed to the ad-supported one where the focus is on getting titles that rate well.

“Premieres of currents will be shown first on the two premium channels. The basic channel will use a lot of quality library content. The focus will rest on performing titles that the Indian consumer can relate to. The focus on the basic channel is on titles that rate. Action/adventure and comedy are the two genres that work very strongly from a ratings point of view. For the premium channels, the focus is on the quality of experience that is being provided rather than a particular title.”

Eros provides around 10 per cent of content for the premium channels. She said, “We don’t rely on Bollywood too much. We think that there is a proposition for it, but we will see for how long this can be sustained. Right now, there is a sprinkling of Bollywood content. However, even if you watch a film like ‘Rock On’ or ‘Wake Up Sid’ in a premium environment, it is a great viewing experience being brought to consumers. For Bollywood, it is not so much about bringing a blockbuster or if content is old or new. It is about offering choice.”

In terms of distribution, the two premium channels have just got on to Tata Sky. With that, HBO Defined and HBO Hits are now available on all major direct-to-home (DTH) platforms and digital cable platforms.

“If you look at the Indian television space, there are not too many premium offerings like ours that are out there. Being a first mover has pros and cons. The response has been strong, but these are still early days. The good news is that our churn has been low. It is relatively easy to get someone to subscribe for a month, but the key is to get people to continue as subscribers and to take annual subscriptions. It’s happening slowly but surely. People who have sampled the channel are very happy and want to continue subscribing to it,” Tata added.

The pricing for the two premium channels is now Rs 99 a month for high definition and Rs 79 per month for standard definition. Earlier, there was a promotional offer of Rs 69 and Rs 49 respectively.

Tata added that some movies now come with a Hindi audio option. “Around 30–40 per cent of our content on the premium channels offer this option. In the coming months, the intention is to have all our tiles offer the choice of a dubbed feed.”

Titles that will premiere on HBO this year include ‘G.I. Joe Retaliation’, ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Gravity’. On the premium channels, HBO originals like ‘True Detective’ and the fourth season of ‘Game of Thrones’ will air.

“Since we do not chase ratings on the premium channels, we can afford to take risks and try out new things. Our focus on the basic channel is to do smarter scheduling. Having said that, the volatile ratings environment has not made things easy. I don’t understand why some titles with high ratings potential do not rate! Also, managing viewer fatigue is an issue.

Monica Tata’s Strategy Box

  • Premieres to be shown first on HBO Defined and HBO Hits
  • Basic HBO channel to air titles that rate like action/adventure and comedy genres
  • Basic channel to use a lot of quality library content
  • The two premium channels to focus on offering quality of experience
  • All titles to be offered the choice of dubbed feed
  • Grow penetration of the two ad-free channels
  • Smarter scheduling of titles on basic HBO channel

“What we are seeing is that some titles air repeatedly and still get viewership while other titles we repeat less frequently but they do not get desired viewership. This is a challenge that we grapple with everyday as there is a limited library that one works with,” she continued.

More channel launches in this genre have resulted in huge viewer fragmentation. “There has been a five per cent viewership growth for the genre. I wouldn’t say that the genre has grown dramatically with competition coming in. Getting more viewership has a lot to do with the way that the ratings are being captured. This year will be interesting in terms of how the ratings scenario plays out. There is a high sense of expectation from BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) , but it is early to say how it will play out,” said the managing director.

On the ad revenue front, Tata noted that more channels want a share of the same ad revenue pie. “That is certainly a challenge. The good news is that ad spend on the genre has seen better growth than the ratings. The English movie genre is one of the few where the revenue index to ratings is much higher. But at some time, the revenue growth could plateau.”

In terms of marketing, the push for the ad-supported channel tends to be more title led. “You are trying to drive tune-ins. But for the two premium channels, the aim is to push the experience which is ad free and about choice along with the opportunity to watch award-winning HBO Original content. The consumers who have HD boxes can also watch in high definition. The basic channel does not air series.

“For the premium channels, we do platform marketing as the ROI [return on investment] is best achieved through this route. That as a broadcaster we are talking to platforms on marketing is probably the first of its kind. We work directly with the platform’s teams to push our offerings because if we make money then they make money,” Tata explained.