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2015: Times Network’s ascent in the English entertainment space

MUMBAI: When Times Network ‎senior VP, head of English entertainment cluster Vivek Srivastava sat down with his team to plan for 2015, he set the goal of sustaining numbers and perception, and having a more formidable presence in the English entertainment space.

vivek-srivastava-colorsAs he noted, “One year back we had just began our ascent on Movies Now ranking. Our ranking moved up from number four to number one.

“We needed to be aggressive on content acquisition, ensure top-of-mind recall with marketing and identify need gap for new launches. And the results have been as planned. Movies Now has been consistently leading in the genre. We realised that there is potential to tap the HD audiences through a sophisticated offering in MN+. The channel has been very successful in drawing favour from consumers, platform owners and adverting trade.”

A new channel

One challenge in the genre is that with everyone chasing eyeballs there is an excessive focus on action-oriented content. This results in many people getting left out. In order to cater to these people, MN+ was launched. MN+ caters to a more aspirational SEC A and A+.

MN+Times Network rebranded Movies Now Plus as MN+. “If you look at the English space, there is hardly any consumer segmentation. Almost everybody has been focusing on mass action titles. Through our brand track studies, we realised that a large audience segment wants to watch popular intelligent movies. Movies that rely on strong storylines to make their mark. Thus, MN+ was launched as the ‘Gold Class’ of Hollywood offerings,” said Srivastava.

Times Network has a library of 1,500 movies for the three English channels—Movies Now, Romedy Now, and MN+. Some movies are acquired only for MN+. There is not much overlap between the films being shown on Movies Now and MN+.

The packaging of MN+ was done entirely in-house. Maroon and gold was used in the design. The aim was to make the look minimalistic and at the same time aristocratic. It took a month and a half to do the packaging.

Festivals are also a crucial part of MN+’s strategy. Thus, one sees initiatives like ‘Center Stage’, ‘Great Adaptations’, ‘Opening Night’ and ‘Hollywood Select’.

The channel is only available in high definition (HD). Srivastava noted that HD is a growing phenomenon and only set to grow further in the next few years. India, today, has around 90 million digital households (DTH + digital cable). The number of HD channels has increased from four channels in 2010 to nearly 45+ channels this year. There are around 6–7 million HD connections.

“Now couple this with the fact that around 12 million LCD/ LED TVs are sold in India every year. In fact, HD consumption is set to explode in the next few years.

“We at Times Network have always been bullish about HD. Movies Now was the first HD English movie channel in the country.”

Movies Now

Srivastava noted that for Movies Now the focus has rested on all areas of business. “We bolstered the content, strengthened the distribution and ensured visibility and differentiation through marketing. We have launched new blocks and properties. All our content blocks had the right titles to maintain leadership across dayparts.”

movies now HDAnother big thing was having more premieres. This was not the case earlier as the channel had launched on the premise that most rating numbers come from library titles. “We didn’t have a lot of premieres earlier on the channel, but this year we picked the best of titles and back them with effective marketing. Both ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘Fury’ have been great successes,” he said.

In addition, the company changed its measurement matrix on social media and focused on engagement. “So while we have the largest community on social media, our engagement is also 50 per cent higher than others in the category. Our content on social media is relevant to Indian consumers and is recognised as the primary source of information for Hollywood news.”

Content that works

While MN+ was launched to fill a need gap, Srivastava concedes that action is still the mainstay of mass English movie viewership. However, he also added that the trends are changing. “This year, there has been several examples of non-action movies that have garnered ratings—‘Conjuring’, ‘Gravity’, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’,” he said.

Srivastava noted that there is a platform affinity in the genre. “Obviously good content will rate on any platform and that’s the essence of any entertainment business. However, the key is consistency—if you can give the best content consistently, viewers will look you up. You have to be in the top consideration set of audiences and then content takes over.”

Romedy Now strikes a better content balance

This year, the hybrid channel that airs both movies and TV shows completed two years of existence. For him, there is clarity on the positioning of the brand, which is ‘Love, Laugh, Live’.

Romedy Now logoWhen Srivastava took over in October 2014 after his predecessor Ajay Trigunayat left, one of the things he did was have a better balance between movies and TV shows. Earlier, the focus was more on movies. But under Srivastava’s leadership, a band for television shows from 7–9 pm was created. Then ‘Ellen’ was added, and the TV show block now is 6–9 pm. Movies air at 9 pm and at 11 pm. The aim was not to be defensive in terms of putting English entertainment in primetime, but to create a habit to get viewers hooked.

Srivastava noted that viewing habits can be loyal to a daypart or a programme. For English entertainment, the daypart habit needs to be intact. Therefore, there was a strong focus on the 7–9 pm band for English entertainment, which was subsequently extended.

A major reason for focusing on television shows more is that romance and comedy movies can be repeated less frequently compared to films in the action, adventure and thriller genres.

“In a romcom, you need to feel for a character. However, after a film three times a viewer’s feelings tend to change. That is why the rest period for a romance or a comedy film is longer. We have to acquire more titles. We got the DNA of the channel right.”

He also feels that the era of bundling of English entertainment has gone. The era of segmenting is the one that is currently present.

The channel’s viewership is split evenly between men and women. “The channel mood is happy. We are the only brand with an emotional connect. We air shows, movies that give you a feel-good factor. Even if you take away movies, we still have leadership in the category. We have a romance basket and a comedy basket. We expand the peripheries. The content has to feel good.”

Shedding light on the content strategy, he further said that every piece of content that is showcased has to fit with the brand philosophy whether its movies or series. For Romedy Now, both movies and series have been rating decently. “Our series slot is number one among all English GECs. Our properties have given maximum numbers on Romedy Now. Sixteen of top 25 shows on English GECs are from Romedy Now.”

The channel will shortly be launching an HD feed.

Content acquisition deals

The company has longstanding deals with major studios, which will be carried forward in the next year. At the same time, the challenge is that movie acquisition prices have gone up in the past few years and this puts pressure on profitability. “However, we have maintained our topline and stuck to the business plans.”

More aggressive marketing

Last year, the broadcaster made a conscious effort to push big-ticket premieres on the Times English entertainment cluster. Movies Now, he explained, had one of the biggest marketing campaigns in the English movie category in 2015 with ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’.

the Wolf of Wall Street“The campaign leveraged existing strategies that have made us the leading destination for Hollywood in India. The Wolf of Wall Street campaign was edgy and provocative, and made audiences sit up and take notice. The campaign was recognised at the 2015 Promax & BDA Asia Awards, winning Gold for Best Movie Campaign,” Srivastava said.

In 2015, the broadcaster put a strong emphasis on engagement across platforms. “We have used social media to build two-way communication with our audiences. For The Wolf of Wall Street campaign, we created customised content and unique contests exclusively for social media. The contest winners were declared real-time, which led to huge traction on Twitter—we trended worldwide! The Wolf of Wall Street’s success was followed by our Fury campaign, where we trended in India all through the day.”

He points out that both these campaigns were up against big news events on Twitter—The Nepal earthquake and the Bihar elections. The Fury campaign featured in the several firsts for the category on social media—one of which was using vine videos an innovation that Twitter India recognised and retweeted, created an on-ground online integration in Mumbai and Delhi #FuryArmy, which trended in Mumbai.

“We did digital and on-ground activation where 10 teams across Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore participated in the yummiest and happiest social media race. The teams had to perform fun tasks that were driven through social media, and upon completing the task, the participants would get to eat delicious food at exclusively selected restaurants of the city before reaching an end point to be declared as winners! In less than three weeks, #RomedyTrail generated more than 46 million impressions.”

BARC

BARC-cover-new-logoSrivastava points out that BARC’s rural ratings are out and the numbers at this point are indicative. “We are observing the space in greater detail before we can start making any strategic calls.”

Perception

Srivastava pointed out that Movies Now has successfully broken through the duopoly of Star Movies and HBO in the English movie category. He attributes the number one position to a stronger content line-up and focused distinctive marketing.

“We are among the top channels in the consideration set of both viewers and advertisers. We have also added big-ticket premieres to our content line-up, which has helped bolster Movies Now’s perception of being the leading English movie channel and driving premium sponsorship,” he said.

Looking on the year that was he points out that the launch of MN+ has been a key contributor to the growth of the English entertainment cluster. “The HD-only channel is completely distinct from all the other players in the category—it has a unique content line-up and a clear-cut brand identity. It has a set of loyal viewers and advertisers that consistently use associations with the brand’s imagery as a platform for their promotion.”

More headwinds for growth

While the number of players in the English space has grown, Srivastava noted that English is becoming more and more mass. A few years back, English was only a top six metro phenomenon. Today all English channels are being measured in 1mn+ markets.

The second phase of growth for him will come in from the smaller towns for English. “I wouldn’t be surprised if more channels get launched in 2016.”

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