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I Want To Break Free…

By Monica Tata

monica-tataMore sports, more news, more lifestyle, more movies… If not for the popular cola, television in 2013 surely left the Indian audiences craving ‘Ye dil maange more’.

As India stepped up the digitisation ladder towards the end of last year, English content grew by leaps and bounds. Digital cable and DTH have rekindled the love for Hollywood for the desi audiences, making this space more visible. Rebranding, launches and innovative propositions have truly changed the facade of the English movie genre this year.

Right content for the right consumer was the new school of thought at Hogwarts in 2013. Star got into the action mode, Times tickled funny bones with romance, Pix kept the teens amazed while HBO wanted to break free. Innovation was the in-thing, whether attracting a new set of audience, exploring newer markets like 1mn+ towns, providing subtitles or offering special content.

Such genre-specific unique content was never offered before. And rightly so, English movies grew in the world of digital India compared to 2012. Share saw a 5 per cent increase while 14 per cent more audience are now available as reach increased by 7.5 million audience. That is a lot of growth, a lot of scope.

We can certainly pat ourselves on the back and party hard for a literally Happy and Prosperous 2014. Achtung! Pivotal challenges ahead.

If one could read the mind of the consumer, then that would be it, wouldn’t it? Not like that’s not been a challenge before, but the need is more pressing now, given the fragmentation that has happened within a space that is still so niche and developing. Over the last decade, from two channels to more than 12 now, the English movies space has literally played a Game of Thrones, experiencing more fragmentation than even Hindi general entertainment in India. And hence, the pressure and need for speed.

While audience-horoscope is the key task at hand and always will be, there still remain certain distribution, content, technology and marketing-related challenges which the industry should acknowledge and resolve.

Down the road of expanding niche content, the biggest speed breaker currently seems to be the distribution-related challenges that prevail within the cable and DTH fraternities. Even though the carriage fee problem is slipping down a bit on cable, DTH service providers still have an upperhand over broadcasters due to limited bandwidth. Bandwidth is a big bottleneck when it comes to making specialised channels like ours visible to Indian audience. Streamlining service/operations, packaging and billing are some of the challenges facing the cable world.

For content stakeholders, enhancing consumer viewing experience will be the biggest challenge. Hollywood produces ~150-odd movies a year, of which only ~30–35 do well on TV across players. Why? Content differentiation – not much. Audience stickiness – unsolved. Big premieres or a good library line-up, or both? Unless these questions are answered, consumer fatigue due to repeats is bound to happen.

Digital media is expanding. You are probably reading this article on your smartphone. Look around; more often than less, someone near you is Facebooking! Can we create more revenue streams offering downloadable content? Delivering HD feed could make one stand out in the scenario of limited content mix-and-match going forward. What an experience it would be for you to watch your favourite movie whenever you want. That, too, with theatre-quality picture and HD sound. However, it is not that simple. The quintessential technological challenges and rights restriction sagas come our way. How to offer vital services like online, mobile and VoD on existing and upcoming platforms?

Marketing would need to have a ‘Nayi soch’ as well. Attracting a consumer is of paramount importance. Strategies will need to focus on newer, more interactive ways of reaching a consumer, like online and on-platform marketing. IPL, ‘Satyamev Jayate’, ‘Avengers’ and ‘MI4’—all have created cult online marketing initiatives and consumer impact. In the world of ‘limited content’, the marketing tools need to be right—adopting the right method, targeting the right set of people and running in the right markets.

Thus, it’s not going to be a walk in the park in the coming year but while I take a walk anyway on the bumpy roads with music playing in my ears, a song belts out loud … I Want to Break — Free!

(Monica Tata is HBO India managing director)

Also Read:

2013: A mega year for Bollywood
A year of glorious uncertainties for kids channels
2013: A year of consolidation and localisation for sportscasters
ZEEL is media stock of the year
How Hindi GECs found order in 2013
How investors looked at the M&E sector in 2013
2013 at a glance
2013: Music channels hunt for the right formula
2013: The LMO Onslaught
FM radio learns to live in an inactive year
2013: Sports channels begin to challenge the traditional rules
2013 sets trend for lifestyle channels
English movie channels change gears in 2013