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How Times Network plans to grow its entertainment channels biz in 2017

MUMBAI: 2016 was a fairly busy year for Times Network’s English movie and entertainment business. It looked to target the youth better with the new channel Movies Now 2 which sports an edgy attitude.

This year one of the main goals of Times Network is to take this channel to the next level by broadening its appeal. With Movies Now, the aim is to further strengthen viewership across dayparts including the weekend. Meanwhile, the aim with Romedy Now is to see that the brand is not just about a television channel. Marketing will get more aggressive.

vivek-srivastava-colors“We are coming off a strong year. Viewership has grown and all our brands have been consistent in their performance. In 2017, growing viewership and leadership is important. Cementing our domination on perception will be important. Movies Now 2 will be our top priority for the year,” said Vivek Srivastava, Times Television Network senior VP, head English Entertainment cluster, Zoom.

One thing that is important for Srivastava in this regard is the second output deal that was done with Disney last year that gives the company access to the Marvel and Lucasfilm library.

“We want Movies Now 2 to become a top-3 player in the genre. Getting there is about sticking to the basics. The content and distribution has to be right. Then your marketing innovations start to kick in. We have seen fairly good results in the first few months of the year. We expect in the few months to get more aggressive in our marketing, as well as consolidate our ranking. The need is to broad base the channel, reach out to newer viewership segments.

“On the marketing front, we want to be thought leaders in the space across our channels and do newer, exciting stuff,” he noted.

The mass medium of print is used more for Movies Now 2 compared to Romedy Now. Movies Now 2 has occasionally been cheeky in its marketing

Content acquisitions

AvengersThe Disney deal done last year means that the Superhero presence on Movies Now, Movies Now 2 is growing. The playing of films depends on where and how they fit with each channel’s personality. So, for instance, ‘The Avengers’ will be on Movies Now, but ‘Star Wars’ will be on Movies Now 2.

“We have a large number of franchises from ‘Bond’ to ‘Harry Potter’, ‘The Hobbit’, ‘Batman’. This will strengthen us as we move forward. There is a brand filter. Anything that is a big, masala blockbuster will go to Movies Now. Anything that is new age and edgy will go to Movies Now 2. The Bond films are being split. Some of those movies work on both platforms. Mainstream action films like ‘Mad Max’ will be on Movies Now.”

Thematic blocks will continue to be important. Blocks like ‘Swag Nights’ are very specific to the Movies Now 2 platform. For Movies Now 2, since it is a new channel, the aim is to firmly establish the 9-pm and 11-pm slots.

On Movies Now the aim is to strengthen viewership across dayparts. So, if the 3-pm slot or the weekend is slacking, then efforts are made to spruce things up.

Harry Potter“If we are to be leaders then we have to perform across dayparts. Since 9 pm and 11 pm do give you the maximum amount of viewership, you focus on them first. But if I ignore any time band, then I will not be a leader. All time bands have specific targets. Depending on the requirement of a slot, we do a promotion to tweak the FPC and get freshness. We run weekend marathons for example. We have done trilogies, moviethons,” he stated.

However, the number of premieres on each channel will not change. It will stay at six to eight.

Romedy Now

On Romedy Now the aim is to have marketing campaigns that make the brand bigger than just a TV channel. Srivastava pointed out to the Women’s Day and Valentine’s Day campaigns done by the channels.

Romedy Now logo“The brand needs to be more than what it is on television. It is very important that we maintain and extract a huge share of voice. Digital is important for us and the aim is to create a brand that is greater than just television. If you see our social media handles and campaigns that we have done in the past year, they have been in that zone.”

For Valentine’s Day, an on-ground activity was done about loving your pets. Celebrities got involved like John Abraham. The Women’s Day was about celebrating womanhood 365 days in a year and not just for one day.

“These are things that give a greater sheen and ethos to a brand than just what a television channel would do,” he observed.

The same philosophy applies to Movies Now, where the digital presence is like ‘The Hollywood Reporter’. It gives as much information as movies as possible.

As far as Romedy Now is concerned, his aim is to be very selective about buying new shows. The focus is more on getting in new seasons of shows that are working with Indian audiences. That is because getting a lot of interest for new shows can be a challenge. ‘Little Big Shots’ is a new show. A new season of ‘Jane the Virgin’ will air.

“We are very strong on library. ‘Ellen’ returns. ‘2 Broke Girls’ will return. We focus on content that has traditionally worked with Indian audiences,” Srivastava said.

He noted that the 50:50 split in primetime between movies and TV shows has worked for
the channel. So shows air from 6 pm to 9 pm followed by movies.

MN+MN+

As far as MN+ is concerned which targets a discerning audience, he said that the channel has a very distinct identity which is being backed by content. Hence, it airs Oscar-winners like ‘Cold Mountain’.

Non–metros

Increasingly as viewership goes beyond the metros, distribution of the channels spread to the smaller cities and towns.

“Now Lucknow, Indore, Jabalpur, Ahmedabad and Pune are as important. Our distribution teams are seeding our channels in the mini metros and the rural areas as well apart from MN+, which is more metro focused.”

The challenge for Srivastava is that he has to cover the distribution distance in half the time it has taken older players. “We have a competent distribution team who has done a fantastic job over the past few years. Carriage fee is a part and parcel of the game. Being a smaller network without a Hindi channel it puts pressure on channels to perform. When we launch a channel, it has to become a viewership success so that it can become a subscription success even in the smaller markets.”

Zoom

On Zoom, Srivastava noted that in the past six months changes have been made that saw the ranking rise from number 10 to number five. “We changed the tonality of the channel. We are trying to get traction, build habits in the morning blocks.

Zoom TV new logo“We have gone from 9 GRPs to 16 GRPs. We want to consolidate its position in terms of newer, contemporary viewership is concerned. Changes have given a positive thrust as far as the brand is concerned. The channel has a mix of music and non-music.

“The ecosystem of non-music goes beyond television and into digital. We have a Zoom site and an app, and are also present on YouTube. We are a top three brand in our space. Non-music is digital first or digital plus TV or only digital. Earlier, we made content for television and it also went to digital. Now I make content digital first. If a content piece only works for television we don’t do it. We realised that digital is a strong set up that both viewers and advertisers are seeking. TV at max is a promotional vehicle for what we do on digital.

“We will expand our focus. Right now, it is on Bollywood, but we will also go into themes like fashion, lifestyle and other Bollywood extensions.”

Zoom will also look at the regional film entertainment area like Tamil, Telugu. He further noted that US channel E! had increasingly moved to digital.

“Zoom has been on digital for 13 years before people saw the potential of digital. But we now look at digital first for non-music content. That has been the change.”

Zoom will get more aggressive on the advertising front, he said.

Srivastava further noted that while me-too Bollywood news sites are there, Zoom is known as the premier site.

“It has a lot of respect in the community. It has been around for a long time. Differentiation is not a challenge. Viewers understand that they have to go for the authentic source when there are 50,000 sites. People have one or two favourite brands and they visit those. Zoom fortunately has been in the top consideration set.”

Zoom, Srivastava noted, has a young team in large part because it is a digital-first brand.

Challenges

Srivastava noted that, after demonetisation, getting back in the grove in terms of revenue is a challenge. TRAI and GST are other challenges. “We are not sure about these two events. We hope that we can adapt better than what we did on demonetisation. Hopefully, they will not have the same impact.

“Demonetisation impacted for a few months. The aim for us is that these temporary events should not have a long-term impact on the revenues. For two to three months, there was a slight dip in inventory, but we are back on the saddle.”

Srivastava noted that P/L was impacted to an extent, but the aim is to focus on events that have a bigger impact in terms of the genres consumed and the ad sales.

“Broadcasters will be slightly more equipped to handle GST because the government has given enough time to businesses to adapt to it. We don’t expect a lot of fluctuation, but it is a change and we are being cautious about how it will be going forward.”

Also with new investments being made in Movies Now 2, the Times Network English entertainment channels business is slightly behind in terms of profitability, but the aim is to get there. “We are moving very fast towards profitability,” he stated.