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Hot Seat

‘We are looking at a second channel at an opportune time’: Saurabh Yagnik



2013 has been a busy year for Pix, the English movie channel from the stable of Multi Screen Media (MSM). Making good progress, the channel wanted to connect better with the youth and rebranded with a new tagline ‘Stay Amazed’.

Digitisation has helped Pix improve its distribution and go beyond the eight metro markets.

On the content front, the focus has been to get into longer-term deals with studios in order to strengthen and secure fresh titles and a robust library.

In an interview with Ashwin Pinto, Pix business headSaurabh Yagnik talks about how he plans to take the channel to leadership position.


At the time of joining team Sony in the latter part of last year, what goals you projected for this year?

When I joined Sony Pix, the mandate was very clear—to take the channel to the leadership position both in terms of viewership and perception. I believe we have made good progress so far. We have been a consistent No. 2 channel in the category. Our relative share has also grown from 14 to 17.2 per cent. In all of 2013, we have been the No. 1 channel 7–8 times in key markets. Two of the biggest premieres of the year in terms of viewership have been on our channel.

What insights gained from handling genre leader Star’s English cluster are you looking to incorporate at Pix?

Things are very different when you handle the leader brand compared the challenger brand. The overall objective was to create differentiation for Sony Pix by making it look and feel different, as well as turning it into a thought leader in the genre.

Would it be fair to say that Pix has become more aggressive than ever since you took over, in terms of content deals such as the MGM deal and bigger, better marketing?

The objective has always been to be a leading player in the genre and it is only coincidence that certain big deals got closed following my taking over the business responsibilities at Pix. Multi Screen Media believes in building strong and aggressive brands in each of the genres it operates in.

You have seen a 49 per cent growth in the genre following the implementation of digital addressable system (DAS). So, are the numbers outside the six major metros better now?

We were not available outside the eight metros before DAS. After DAS, with improved availability, Pix has seen a strong growth.

Have carriage and placement fees gone down with digitisation?

The genre in which we operate was earlier significantly constrained by high costs of distribution. With digitisation, however, we are seeing a positive impact both in terms of reach and in terms of reduction in carriage costs. The reduction in overall carriage fee has been 25–30 per cent and we expect these costs to rationalise further as we progress.

In terms of growth in reach and time spent, what do players in the English movie genre need to do?

The objective is to engage viewers and have them spend more time on the genre and particularly our channel. Currently, at a category level, they spend only 54 minutes per week, which is 12 per cent of Hindi GECs and 30 per cent of Hindi movies. Our objective is to drive up time spent on the category and the frequency with which people consume the genre and category.

What is Pix doing in this regard to grow time spent?

Our strategy is to get the right kind of content which people like to view, which basically comprises familiar and big titles. Secondly, we plan to create slots and slot promises such as Pixathon and double bill of popular franchises to build loyalty so that people come and spend more time on the channel.

How soon do you think the new positioning of ‘Stay Amazed’ will boost perception to make you No. 2 from a perception standpoint?

We have been engaging with consumers very closely and have seen a distinct shift in the way they perceive our channel. However, as you know, changing perception is a slow burn. We don’t expect results overnight. Brand perceptions will definitely cause a significant transformation over the next two to three years.

What marketing initiatives have been taken to create awareness about the new positioning?

We have just done a series of marketing activities announcing the re-launch and are currently working on building communication around the proposition of ‘Stay Amazed’. All viewer-oriented communication and all big marketing campaigns will henceforth be based on the ‘Stay Amazed’ proposition of the channel.

We keep evaluating business opportunities, including a second channel at an opportune time. The important thing is there should be enough differentiation between the channels that we run.

How much have content costs risen with the entry of more players? Is the business model under pressure considering that subscription revenue is yet to reach a desired level?

Content costs have gone up significantly in the last 2–3 years by as much as 30 to 40 per cent due to increased competitive activity in the genre. This, coupled with the depreciation of the rupee, has led to a significant increase in the cost.

Established channels like ours who have a stable subscription revenue stream have, however, been less impacted by such cost increase. We hope with time there will be some rationalisation of costs.

In terms of how output deals are done, has there been any change in the past couple of years? Has the time limit shortened for holding popular franchises and titles?

The focus for us has been to get into longer-term deals with studios in order to strengthen and secure high-quality fresh titles and a robust library.

Which are your first and second output deals? Is it much easier now to plan forward as a result?

We have first output deals with Sony Pictures and MGM and yes, because of a secure source of supply, it is much easy to plan forward.

With popular franchises changing hands from one player to another, how do you differentiate channels and forestall viewer fatigue?

We try to retain and build franchises as much as possible, e.g. the Bond franchise is now going to be with us for three years, unlike in the past when it used to changed hands every year. Moreover, differentiation is to be built on channel positioning and proposition. We want to break away from the clutter, which was why we specifically moved away from establishing our Hollywood credentials to being direct about why viewers should come to us. We have also tried to differentiate by creating slots like Notty Pixy, Pixathons, etc., which help us to stand out in the crowd.

What challenge does channel blindness pose?

Based on our consumer research, we estimate that correct association of movies and properties with a channel is only about 10 per cent correct, which is unfortunate. Hence, we believe that differentiating and breaking clutter is essential for the longer-term good of the brands that operate in this space.

If bulk of the viewership comes from library content, do premieres mainly serve to boost perception? Only a small portion of your premieres are language-neutral blockbusters.

Premieres are essential fodder for channel viewership because newness always helps to attract eyeballs. What is important is not just to have many new movies but have those that are popular and high quality.

Big blockbusters are an invitation for the viewer to come and sample the channel. Of about 150 odd movies that Hollywood produces every year, only about 30–35 titles actually rate well on TV. Of these, only 10–12 are big blockbusters.

What, according to you, is making young people tune in more than those who are 35+? Is it due to the aspirational element of this genre?

The important thing to understand is why people consume Hollywood movies. It is primarily for the visual spectacle, the graphics, the scale, etc. Our finding is that these elements have a stronger appeal to younger audiences. As people advance in years, certain other genres become part of their consideration. Being a young country, India definitely has a great demographic dividend for our genre. We also find that in the viewer’s mind it is considered ‘cool’ to watch English movies. They often become a topic of conversation between people both off and on social media. Such conversations are primarily led by younger folks.

Premieres are essential fodder for channel viewership because newness always helps to attract eyeballs. What is important is not just to have many new movies but have those that are popular and high quality.

Does Pix do things to boost non-primetime as well or is the focus mainly on primetime?

The objective is to boost overall market share. It is a separate matter that mostly promotions are done around prime time. However, we also have various other slots in afternoons and weekends, for example to promote off-prime viewership.

We promote non-prime slots as well and have a robust repeat strategy that provides viewers with sufficient opportunities for sampling the channel during off-prime hours.

Players such as Star have boosted their offerings through a second English movie channel. What impact will these new players make and is MSM also looking at another channel?

We keep evaluating business opportunities, including a second channel at an opportune time. The important thing is there should be enough differentiation between the channels that we run.

In a category already cluttered with 10 players, we would want sharp differentiation, both in terms of positioning and content, to form the basis for our business decisions. As I said earlier, with so many players in the market, people have little recall of what is happening on what channel and what each channel stands for.

Is the market ready for ad-free premium English movie channels?

I think it will take some time for India to mature into a premium service model. The good thing is that disposable incomes will continue to rise and the need for high quality content will be important for our viewers. India tends to be a price-sensitive market, especially considering that people are used to paying a very small price for each individual channel they subscribe to. As a result, dependence on advertising revenue is high and there is a high level of price elasticity for premium services. As the category matures and the viewer mindset changes, we will see an optimum pricing which will make a viable proposition for the entire value chain as well as for the consumer.

How has innovative marketing helped Pix to make properties bigger?

We did some great campaigns in 2013 which worked very well. Our recent campaign for ‘Skyfall’ saw a robust 360-degree marketing push. Among other things, we did a full-fledged app-based social media campaign.

The year kick-started with the first mega movie premiere of ‘Men in Black 3’ on Pix. This marked Pix as the first English movie channel to do an interactive mega premiere. For this, we created a three-phase ‘Anti-Alien Day’ campaign that encouraged users to save the earth from everyday aliens.

Then there was the mega premiere of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’. The online campaign for the blockbuster was all about celebrating the superheroes within and around us.

You used reverse psychology for the ‘Transporter’ series. Did this work and will you be using more reverse psychology in future?

It has worked very well. The series has done very well for us. We will continue to look at such opportunities in the coming days.

How frequently will Pix and AXN do simulcast premieres? What is the aim?

We keep exploring such opportunities and since Pix and AXN are sister channels, we will keep looking at such things in future as well. The proposition for simulcast will depend on content fit for both the channels and our ability to aggregate resources for better utilisation, as well as to ensure higher viewership share and better monetisation, without compromising on the unique positioning of each of these channels.

In terms of ad sales for Pix and the genre, how much is due to ratings and how much due to perception?

It is a mix of viewership and perception; they are both important. We primarily serve well-off audiences and hence these factors together constitute value to an advertiser.