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Turner’s growth plan for English movie channel business in 2017

MUMBAI: Higher ratings, better audience engagement and bigger ad revenues—these are the goals that Turner India has set in 2017 for its English movie channel business consisting of HBO and WB.

Turner International India senior director and network head for the English entertainment portfolio Rohit Bhandari said, “The goal that Turner has set for itself in 2017 is higher ratings, better audience engagement and bigger advertising revenues, and the game plan to achieve these goals for the English entertainment channels is through better content and constant engagement with the viewers and fans of our brands.”

More players entering the genre is a challenge but Bhandari believes that the brand value of HBO and its content will help it to grow.

“Given a market of India’s size, it was always expected that there would be more players coming in and one always has to strategise and find ways and means to remain relevant. While there is fragmentation, eventually the brand value that you create and support the brand with content is what helps the brand grow,” he said.

Building up viewer anticipation for premieres

This year premieres will continue to play an important role for HBO and they will get a bigger thrust.

“2017 is a blockbuster-filled year for HBO with an exceptional line-up that started right from the month of January and runs right through the end of the year. On average, HBO will be premiering at least one title, if not two, every month. Headlining these premieres will be some of the big blockbusters from 2016, viz. ‘Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice’, ‘Suicide Squad’, ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,’ ‘XxX : Return of Xander Cage’, to name a few,” Bhandari said.

There will be a week of activity leading up to a premiere in order to build up viewer anticipation. Each of these blockbusters will be supported by a week-long festival that will look to build the anticipation for the viewers leading to the mega premiere itself.

“For example, since we premiered ‘Batman vs Superman’ on 2 April, as a lead-up we featured a festival of the classic Batman and Superman films under the branding of ‘March of the Superheroes’, which was promoted aggressively on HBO and also on social media through various HBO-managed handles,” he said.

HBO will continue to be a rating-driven channel focusing on content that will help bring in viewers with a view to monetising the same through ad sales.

WB, on the other hand, will continue to remain a library movie service and the focus will be on constantly introducing fresh titles on the channel. WB stopped airing shows around early 2014 and since then has been a purely movie service.

A brand refresh

Last year HBO underwent a brand refresh and Bhandari is happy with the result. He further pointed out that a unique brand personality and position was crucial in building an emotional connect with the viewer.

“The tag line ‘Like Never Before’ was just an introduction to the newly packaged brand HBO which we further qualified as ‘Experience the Magic’ with the launch of HBO HD. ‘Experience the Magic’ is an emotional experience that HBO hopes to deliver to its users every time they switch on their television set,” he said.

Cinema has always had a very special appeal to every viewer and HBO’s aim is to leverage this.

“For some it’s the big screen experience, for some it’s the Dolby surround sound effect, coupled with the images that play out on the screen, that transcends one from the real to a world of make-believe. For some it’s just the overall ambience of the movie theatre. HBO’s endeavour is to deliver all the above emotions, feelings, visual imagery and a feeling of transcendence for its viewers. HBO tries and delivers on this promise each and every day with all the content that it presents to its viewers,” Bhandari stated.

Deals

HBO and WB have content deals that are spread across a mix of studios and independents. HBO has access to the first studio output from Warner Brothers and Paramount Pictures.

There is cost inflation, but Bhandari is working on ways to make it efficient. “Inflation in content acquisition does exist and it is something that is built into our content agreements. Since we have dealings across various studios and independents, we use this opportunity to try and even out our costs and bring down the overall rate of inflation on a yearly basis,” he explained.

TV vs OTT

While premium OTT services do target English-speaking viewers, Bhandari is confident that given the size of India as a market, TV will continue to be the primary source of entertainment to almost a majority of the audience.

“While OTT will eventually have a role to play, it is still early days yet and it will be a matter of time before one can see a real impact on television viewership,” he mentioned.