HBO lines up year-ending blockbuster blast

MUMBAI: HBO is pulling out all the stops to push itself as the channel with the biggest blockbusters.

At the centrepiece of a programming blitz the channel is planning is 2001 Oscar best picture Gladiator starring Russell Crowe. It airs on 5 November at 9 pm.

Speaking at a media briefing in south Mumbai today, director marketing HBO South Asia Shruti Bajpai announced that to finish the year with a bang, the channel will showcase 'HBO Blockbuster Countdown' from 1-31 December. At 9:30 pm and 11:30 pm every day, the channel will air two of the biggest films in terms of ratings aired by it during the course of the year. Bajpai pointed out that Gladiator would air thrice next month and then reappear in this slot. The programme package will be put together after ratings research is done.

Elaborating on the strategy, Bajpai said: "It has now been two years since HBO has been in India and judging by current progress we should break even within the next couple of years. We were the first to introduce the concept of movie stunts like 'Oscar Marathon'. Then other film channels followed us by also airing an Oscar winner everyday. In fact other channels sometimes air our content after we do. Our channel share was 50 per cent when the Marathon was on. It was around 45 per cent for the Summer Action Marathon."

Bajpai further stated that: "Though our core age group is in the 15-44 group SEC A, B demographic, we are not restrictive. We have Sunday treat which the whole family can watch. On 14 November to celebrate Children's Day we will have a special for them. Films Like Matilda and The Education of Little Tree will air. For the fans of Westerns we will be introducing the programming block Wild Wild West next month with films like the Matt Damon starrer All The Pretty Horses. Action fans can check out 'HBO War Movies' which will showcase among other fare the award winning Saving Private Ryan. To usher in the spirit of Christmas the channel will air Jack Frost ."

Commenting on the special event programming the channel sometimes did, Bajpai said that while special events like concerts are not a channel driver they generate an increased amount of interest in HBO. They are the icing on the cake. Since viewers perceive HBO as airing the latest blockbusters it will keep its original content like films down to around 15-20 per cent of programming. For this reason the channel also shows classic movies The Ten Commandments on a sprinkler basis so that the content does not get diluted.

Over the controversy of the channel showing 15 Minutes a few weeks after its debut on the big screen in India, Bajpai said that the channel was following the procedure of the film being shown on the telly after it is aired in US theatres, worldwide and then being released on video. If the Indian distributor delays its release in the country for whatever reason it is not the channel's fault. Autumn in New York had the same problem she pointed out also saying that on one occasion the channel aired a film before its theatrical release in the country.

On the possibility of showing HBO Emmy winning original serials like Six Feet Under, Bajpai said that the channel would check if it was relevant to the Indian audience and make sure it would not offend sensibilities. She pointed out that the channel deliberately did not air The Sopranos as it contains a lot of profane language. The show airs on Zee English in India. There are also no immediate plans to bring in Sex and The City into the country right now. The channel will wait for the right time she said. The channel will continue its blockbuster trend next year with films like Erin Brockovich and The Tailor of Panama..

FROM 80 TO 130 ADVERTISERS: On the advertising front Bajpai said, "We promote our films by buying ad slots on MTV and Discovery. For Gladiator and the rest of the season we will use the print media, cinema halls to generate awareness among film buffs and outdoor advertising. We have also tied up with Radio Mirchi and Red in Mumbai as well as Star's Radio City in Bangalore.

"From 80 advertisers we now have 130 advertisers. They straddle different spheres from financial companies to FMCGs. In fact most of our ad inventory for the 9:30 pm slot on Saturday and Sunday has been sold out for the rest of the year. We have revamped the website giving links to the South Asian countries. With we have an email service to remind people when they can see a particular film they are interested in," she added.

Another important announcement that Bajpai made concerned a contest to promote Gladiator. She said: "We will be promoting Gladiator through a one of a kind contest 'Home to Rome'. This gives 16 people a chance to win an all expenses paid trip to the ancient city to see where and how Gladiator was shot. For this we have tied up with and the contest runs from 20 October to 10 November. Viewers can also watch the Gladiator premiere to answer the three simple questions."

Bajpai however ruled out further contests for other films in the immediate future as this would spoil the uniqueness of the concept. The contest is not the usual run of the mill kind she pointed out, saying that it had been carefully tailored keeping the Gladiator theme in mind.

To give media personnel a taste of the flavour the upcoming programming season an unusual exotic mocktail Roman Kiss was served. There was also a sword, chain and nails on hand to recreate the atmosphere of medieval times.

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