AXN to strengthen localisation focus this year

MUMBAI: The English general entertainment space is getting crowded this year and AXN's strategy is quite simple. Build upon the strategy that has worked so far which is delivering top notch quality shows consistently and build up the relevance with the viewer.

To achieve this aim the broadcaster is looking at more formats for on ground specials that will be broadcast later ala Extreme Dhamaka. Speaking to SET's assistant VP Marketing Rohit Bhandari who looks after the channels operations in India said that one format could be Ripley's. He also hinted that the Hot 'n' Wild contest which was done last year could be built into an annual brand. So each a year a new couple would be crowned. Last years winners Salil Acharya and Deepica Sarma could go on to hosting a show of their own later this year in the August - September period. These and other programme decisions like introducing innovative formats will be taken in Singapore later this month.

This year will see shows like 24, Alias, Fear Factor and CSI return for new seasons. Bhandari however felt that 24 could have done better. "The problem is that DVDs containing all episodes of 24 are available. So a person might decide to watch the entire show over two weekends rather than trying to catch each episode every week. Of course if he misses an episode he loses the thread. Our strategy, as is the case with our competitors, is to constantly launch shows that reach a certain standard. If something does not work you get on with the next thing."

Bhandari maintained an optimistic outlook about Boomtown despite the fact that it did not do well in the US. "It is excellent television and stands superbly on its own." As far as the look of the channel is concerned graphics were changed last year by the Los Angeles office in order to sharpen the brand identity.

Dubbed feed to be a three month experiment: AXN also introduced a dubbed feed last month in Hindi from 8-9 pm. Right now Ripley's airs and also six films have been chosen. Bhandari said that so far the response had been encouraging and cable ops in different parts of the Metros had started offering the feed to subscribers be it Chembur in Mumbai or Delhi. "We spend one hour a day on dubbing 8-9 pm. We are testing the market to see if this format works for us. The testing will run till April and then depending on the response we will take a decision on whether or not we should progress."

As far as the shows that the channel would look to dub Bhandari ruled out the possibility of Alias and 24 getting dubbed despite the enormous action quotient. "One thing we realised early on is that if a show has a 60-70 per cent element of the background voice then when you introduce it in any language it looks far more ambient."

"The problem with Alias is that there are many voices involved and so the technical expertise required goes up. In addition if there is a bad lip synch the audience will feel disconnected towards the product. Another major challenge here is getting the nuance of the dialogue right," he added.

"One show that would be looked at is Guinness World Records. It has the 'wow' factor and everybody is familiar with the brand like the books. This is the best way to introduce people to the AXN brand in its purest form. Other shows that are prime candidates for dubbing include Now See this, Maximum Exposure," said Bhandari. Talking about World Rally Championship (WRC) which had just been introduced he said that this did not reflect any change in brand positioning.

"We have always had a slot in the hardcore adventure space. We used to have eco challenge. However viewers are more likely to identify with cars as the concept of motor sports rallying is picking up in India. The MRF Team's success has heightened the level of awareness among Indians about the sport. The cars look those that viewers drive to work and thus the brand connect is built. Also very few Indians display the kind of physical activity that is seen in eco challenge. We tend to be physically inert and so the connect with average cars being put through endurance tests is much more."

AXN experienced marginal growth for 2003: Bhandari admitted that distractions like the World Cup and other cricket activity last year meant that AXN grew marginally and not exponentially. The channel share was consistent in the 9-11 pm slot which is fine as everybody is targeting that slot. It grew from 11- midnight by around 10-15 per cent. The weekend share also grew by the same extent because of the movies. The Hot 'n' Wild slot which generated buzz has also seen growth.

He went on to add that the fact that news channels were increasingly acting entertainment-ish was having a positive rub off effect on AXN and the other general entertainment channels. "The awareness about the kind of content is growing. Recently quite a few of the news channels covered the Golden Globe Awards and so more people come to know that shows like 24 won awards. People start talking about the same and curiosity is aroused."

Asked whether the shift to the lifestyle segment had worked Bhandari said that the results would show up over a long period of time meaning a year and a half. "You are trying to shift an attitude. While he will soak in some of the lifestyle stuff like Hot n wild he will not do so at one go. For him to relate AXN to a certain lifestyle will take time."

Scope for mobile phone content limited in India: As far as offering content to mobile phone providers was concerned Bhandari said that while the GPRS facility is available very few Indians subscribe to it. "The growth potential is enormous in South East Asia. Basically Indians are satisfied with receiving score updates and news flashes. Their attitude is that they do not need to watch content that they get on television on a small handset. So we will have to evaluate business opportunities in this segment before taking a decision on tying up with mobile phone operators."

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