Distribution key to B4U revival

MUMBAI: B4U Network is quickly putting in place a revival strategy. Just a week after taking charge as the operational head in India, BL Gautam has identified distribution of the B4U movie channel as his prime focus.

The "benchmark" target is to seed 1,000 decoder boxes in the market to reach more viewers before making any serious attempt at acquiring big movies to beef up content. B4U Movies already has 1,200 boxes, but this reach is just not large enough to collect pay revenues and place the channel for advertisers. And it is not that all the 1,200 boxes are in "activised condition" by cable operators.

Being low on content, B4U is ready to provide its pay service free to cable operators for even six months as a pull to draw in more penetration. But the pay mode will have to continue as Gautam admits it is not feasible for a movie channel to sustain from advertising revenues alone. And B4U is prepared to pay carriage fees to cable operators.

The drive will be to push the boxes in the smaller towns while parallelly ensuring more presence in the lucrative markets of Mumbai and Delhi. In the B and C centres, Gautam believes B4U Movies as a standalone pay channel will have scope of finding passage on cable networks with operators not able to afford the three mainline bouquets - Star, Sony-Discovery and Zee-Turner. His logic: the package to operators can be complete if they take one main bouquet and B4U Movies at a price of Rs 6 a month.

A tough task, no doubt. In a conditional access system (CAS) environment, B4U perhaps may be better off if it grabs big movies in its armoury.

But B4U has put off movie acquisition for at least three months while it attends to the distribution needs. For without sorting out its distribution, the big movies will go unwatched and generate no revenues that can justify the acquisition cost.

How then can B4U gain its way on cable systems? It will have to invest heavily on carriage fee. Gautam admits his first task is to at least get into an agreement with the two large multi system operators (MSOs) in Mumbai. Similarly, B4U Movies should be available on other major networks in other cities. With so many channels crowding the marketplace, Gautam realises B4U Movies can't muscle its way out of the rut by pumping in strong content.

Regaining lost ground can be an expensive and long drawn process, as B4U Network is realising. It has to spend on carriage fee and, at the same time, not charge cable operators.

B4U is also prepared to forego its revenues in another area. While it has decided to screen three-minute trailers of new movies which it feels will be the differentiators from other movie channels, it does not plan to charge the producers for such content. Only after the channel gains in popularity will film producers have to cough out money.

"By putting the trailers of new movies on our channel, we are offering audiences the experience of pre-viewing a film. Now we will be offering it free of cost while getting software for our channel from film producers. Once the channel gets popular, we can work out a financial model," says Gautam.

The best way out for B4U may be to join a distribution bouquet. "We are open to joining a bouquet," says Gautam. But the problem is that Star, Sony-Discovery and Zee-Turner have Hindi movie channels in their bouquet.

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