‘Segmented brands are the future for the English genre’
2016 was a busy year for Times Network’s English cluster. It saw an opportunity in targeting the youth, and it did so with a new channel called Movies Now 2.
In an interview with TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto, Times Network English entertainment cluster SVP, business head Vivek Srivastava talks about the segmentation of the brands in the English genre, the need for a channel like Movies Now 2, the impact of the success of Hollywood movies on TV viewership, and the push for HD growth in the market.
Q. We saw broadcasters in the English movies space try to serve underserved audiences with new launches and in your case that was targeting youth better with Movies Now 2. What impact did this have on broadening viewership?
A. Movies Now 2 has been a fantastic launch for us. In about three months of its launch, it crossed HBO. This has been a good find for us. It consistently holds 1800-2000 TVTs.
The success establishes our belief that segmented brands are the future for the English genre. While the mass brands will continue their dominance, the success of a brand or new launches more specifically will only come when you have a distinct and differentiated offering. We saw that with MN+ and Romedy Now, and now with Movies Now 2 our belief has been vindicated.
Q. What was the gap that you saw in the market?
A. The gap was that most players were playing movies that catered to the mass, masala audience. There were a whole bunch of movies that had a cult following but they were not being showcased properly like sci-fi movies. These movies were being sheepishly played in dayparts and we hoped they would get the numbers. While the audience has moved on, there are a whole host of these movies that have a significant franchise following. Therefore, we created a platform.
We were hoping to target the youth in a more effective manner and give audiences a better content flow than what was earlier being seen.
‘Segmented brands are the future for the English genre. While the mass brands will continue their dominance, the success of a brand or new launches more specifically will only come when you have a distinct and differentiated offering. We saw that with MN+ and Romedy Now, and now with Movies Now 2 our belief has been vindicated’
Q. Is there now a clear difference now in the minds of viewers between Movies Now and Movies Now 2 from recent research done?
A. From day one, there was no confusion. In our marketing and content lingo, we treat them as alter egos of each other. From packaging to promos, they are absolutely distinctive. They are diametrically opposite in terms of how they dish out content.
Q. OTT emerged last year. How do you see it impacting the category?
A. I don’t see it impacting English movies as across the globe OTT has worked on the back of series and not on movies. Secondly, in all the markets where OTT is showcased those markets have a significant price advantage when it comes to reducing cable bills. The US has a $100-150 cable bill as opposed to India, which has a $7-8 cable bill. OTT will not impact in the short or medium term at all.
There are concerns on SVOD content, from price of property to data charges to device availability. It will take three to four years for them to get sizeable amount of content, and even if the shift happens it will be the top of the audience set. It will be ultra high networth individuals who will take OTT services as a supplement. The guys who take the services are anyway not regular TV audiences.
Q. Another trend this year was the HD push. Has an inflection point been reached?
A. I would assume so. I strongly believe that HD is the way to go. Once you migrate to HD, moving back to SD is very difficult especially for movies. HD is a segment that is growing across. Apart from English channels, if you look at Hindi or the regional genre, they have added thrust on HD viewing. HD is only set to grow further. We ran a campaign from April for four to five months. We got a tremendous response as far as platform owners were concerned. We would have done our bit on the increment of HD packs on DTH, cable platforms.
Q. We also saw a bigger premium push this year. How effective will this be in terms of creating brand segmentation by going beyond action-packed blockbusters?
A. MN+ has been a delightful brand. All the segmented brands have gotten traction from platform owners and consumers. MN+ has been a business success. It made business sense for us to get into this space. At a network level we are very close to breakeven.
Q. What steps were taken to boost the reach and appeal of MN+?
A. We did a lot of interesting things on MN+. Digital is important and so you will find that our communication strategy on digital is very different. Then we tied up with many movies and stars. So Amitabh Bachchan did a promotion for ‘Pink’. We had a 70-day nonstop festival where we did not repeat a movie in the primetime called ‘Pathbreakers’. Mr Bachchan promoted it and it was very well appreciated.
‘As long as the business health is maintained, consolidation in this space will not happen. It is not required. There is no lack of space’
Q. In English movies what has been the significant happening for you in 2016?
A. The biggest trend has been segmentation. The fact that different genres beyond action and creature flicks have worked has been the big gain for this year. That I think is a good thing. While the numbers of differentiated content might not be as big as an action or a creature flick, they are not as low as what they used to be earlier.
Q. Do you think that hybrid offerings in terms of channels that mix English shows and movies like Romedy Now will grow going forward?
A. The hybrid content model has ensured that we have given great content to viewers. I assume that when we segment brands you would have to keep the content library huge and you would have to go the hybrid route. I assume that not only in our genre but in other genres.
Since we added libraries, the impact was felt. Moving forward, our challenge is to give newer, better, more happening content to viewers. That is our promise to viewers. We have had movies and shows premiere. The objective is that the effervescence of the channel will grow.
Q. In English entertainment what trends were seen?
A. It remains where it is. Newer shows still don’t work. The old, legacy seasons are what drive numbers. This has been a trend through and through.
Q. Why are new shows not working?
A. That is because I believe that broadcasters including us are not promoting these shows as much as they are supposed to. Cultural differences aside, a new show will not work just because of its slot. You have to promote and market it and I think that everybody including ourselves is not able to do that. It is a chicken and egg situation. There is P/L and a budget, and you have to work within the means that you have.
The focus will have to rest on new shows. The newer shows are performing better than in previous years but not to the delight of broadcasters or their advertisers. If you want the new shows to work, then you will have to promote them more and that is what the entire thing is. Marketing innovations will depend on the campaign and the show.
Q. Is lack of differentiation an issue among the mass English movie channels?
A. No! The differentiation is very clear between the top two players and everybody else. Viewers know what the top channel is, or we would not have consistently been getting good ratings. The same movie when it comes to us vis-à-vis a competitor does better on us.
Q. Could you talk about the positive impact of the Hollywood box office in India on the English movie genre last year?
A. It is unfair to say that there is a positive rub-off based on last year’s box office. We look at it from a different point of view. The dominance of Hollywood has been increasing year on year. If you look at the last three years, Hollywood theatrical revenues in the country have virtually tripled themselves. That itself is a big thing. This means that people are getting more used to Hollywood content.
Last year, four to five Hollywood movies did business of more than Rs 100 crore. This means that these movies are actually competing with the Bollywood space and doing better sometimes. The way I look at this information is that there is a brighter future for English movie channels moving forward. The broad point is that, because Hollywood is growing on the big screen, television viewership will also grow.
Q. How do you address the 1mn+towns through unique marketing where viewership for the categories is growing due to digitisation?
A. We have to move beyond the metros. The most important part is that distribution has to get active. We are very active in ensuring that our boxes are being seeded in those markets. From a marketing standpoint, since the genre is going mass and getting deeper penetrated, you have to use mass mediums to reach those markets.
Depending on the campaign, there will be a mix of mass media and local on-ground activation. The former is for the smaller towns while the latter is for the Metros. That is where the focus of the campaign is. Flexibility is important, and we need to know what the objective for each campaign is.
Q. What can we expect this year from the category?
A. I am hopeful that the viewership numbers will grow. The buoyancy that we are seeing on Hollywood theatrical releases should be reflected on television as well. I am also hopeful that segmentation will drive eyeballs into special brands.
Q. What are the major focus areas going to be for your channels this year?
A. Content is the biggest area. We have been aggressive on content over the past couple of years. We have ensured that we have the largest repository of the best movies on Indian television. The second area is marketing. We have had the largest share of voice in the category as far as marketing is concerned, and we want to maintain that. Maintaining viewership leadership and perception leadership is the goal.
Q. Do you see consolidation happening in this space?
A. I think that at this point the players are doing fairly well. It just depends on what the business objectives of each of the channels are. As long as the business health is maintained, consolidation will not happen. It is not required. There is no lack of space.