AXN-Star World Premier HD: the coming battle

MUMBAI: The other day, we reported about Star Network's soon-to-be-launched channel, Star World Premier HD, which promises all the latest shows, close to their first US telecast.

However, there's at least one other English entertainment channel which claims to be already doing what Star is now planning to do.

We're talking about AXN, which maintains it has been thoroughly researching what Indian audiences want to watch for the past one year. It was last year when the channel lured a former Sony Entertainment Television professional Sunil Punjabi from Cinemax as business head to help build a stronger brand in the Indian context. Prior to that, AXN was run out of its regional Singapore office.

And Punjabi has since been working on a blue print, studying Indian viewing habits with the intention of fine-tuning AXN's Indian programming accordingly.

Says a media observer: "With the spread of the broadband internet and availability of current US and international shows online freely and the fact that an increasing number of Indians are travelling internationally, Indian viewers have been spoilt for choice and want to be one with international TV programming and lifestyle trends."

AXN's research also apparently reflected this. And thus was born its new premise.

Elaborates Punjabi: "People want to watch shows which are airing currently closer to their airing in the US and in the last one year, we have been doing this consistently - adding shows closer to their telecast in the US."

Sunil Punjabi beleives that new shows will help the channel build loyal as well as 'snacky' fan base

AXN, which has been around for over 15 years, is therefore adding a host of new shows to strengthen its three programming pillars: soaps, reality shows and films.

So what about Star's upcoming channel? "To be frank, we experimented with the same proposition long back that Star is now offering," quips Punjabi, pointing out that it would be alluring to a much smaller bunch of viewers.

As compared to Star World Premier HD which is priced at Rs 60 on Tata Sky, AXN is carrying a slimmer price tag of Rs 25. Additionally, the former, says Punjabi, is only available right now on a la carte basis whereas AXN is available in packages too. Besides, he believes AXN also has the first mover's advantage.

Among the new offerings, AXN has already launched the End of the World (EOW) series comprising six four-hour-long installments which is airing Monday to Thursday. Whereas, Voice 5 - a singing talent hunt - will be launched within three days of its US premiere on 28 September and Supernatural (Season 9) within two days of its US debut 11 October onwards.

Meanwhile, Top Gear and The Hero will be telecast on 18 October and Sherlock and So you think you can dance? will premiere during Diwali. Orphan Black, a thriller about human cloning will also premiere around the same time.

On the subject of Supernatural - one of AXN's biggest franchises viewed by teens, especially girls and NCSI - which caters to a gender-neutral and more mature audience, Punjabi says: "We have a mix of content; hence, we don't focus on any particular gender. There is something for everyone."

The channel has its loyal set of fans but also wants to create entertainment for its 'snacky' viewers. "With the new series including Hannibal and Supernatural that have seasons, we are building on the loyal fan base, while the new reality shows are for these viewers who snack more on such fare," informs Punjabi.

Currently, AXN airs currently running US shows on Fridays, while movies and reality shows are aired on weekends. With the English movie genre being bigger, the channel wants to concentrate on that as well.

But has the AXN team been making a noise about these new shows? Apparently, it's a 360 degree focus with print, television, outdoor and digital as key elements. Last year, AXN's Facebook page had a few thousand likes; this year, it has swelled to nearly 1.3 million.

"The digital front is important to us and we are aggressively strengthening the platform. Because it is one of the primary drivers of conversation related to the channel and shows. Also, we want to show newer content online," says Punjabi.

While AXN may claim it has been working at refreshing its programming long before Star announced plans of launching its niche new channel, it is now up to the audience to decide which of the two is really walking the talk.

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