HBO in awareness building drive for CAS; looks for further customisation

MUMBAI: 2006 has not been an easy year for the English movie genre. Firstly there was the order from the Mumbai High Court, which saw HBO and Star Movies off air in a key market. While Star Movies is still off air, HBO recently came back on.

The second challenge is that viewership share of English film channels has been falling. Then the distribution landscape is changing. DTH is growing. Conditional Access (CAS) comes in next year.

HBO South Asia country manager Shruti Bajpai says that the key in this period of change is to build brand loyalty.

"Our first challenge is to make sure that we are in the priority list of channels in homes which will get the set top box. New platforms mean that there is more room for new English entertainment channels. At the same time you have to be on your toes. To educate the viewers on HBO with the advent of CAS, we will be running a campaign, which will kick off in the final week of this month. This will be on air on our channel and possibly across Zee Turner and also in print, radio and outdoors.

"While the final touches are being given, our campaign talks about the brand and what the channel has to offer for those who take a set top box. Our push will be along the lines of our tagline for next year - bigger and better. Our concern at the moment is not the pricing of Rs 5. It is to see that we get into enough homes. That is why we have a big property King Kong at the start of the year.

"We are platform neutral and we will wait and see how the new platforms fare. Perhaps two or three years down the line we might have an offering without ads for a platform if the growth of that platform and the customers demand justifies it."

In terms of the fall in channel share, she notes that the challenge is that not only does one have to compete with new entrants but also the fact that the viewer is spoilt for choices. "There are games, multiplexes. While there will be volatility with CAS coming in, in the long run it is the strong brands that will survive. I think that HBO has done a good job in building up its brand over the years. If you look at it, the English entertainment genre share has fallen as a whole.

"While viewers of our channels do watch other genres, what you see on English films is that there is more stickiness. On a genre like infotainment there is dip in and dip out viewing. On the other hand if a viewer likes a film he/she will stay tuned. We also expect new viewers to come in from the mini Metros and small towns that are growing. As the economy booms and more people become affluent more of them will start watching English films." This, the channel hopes will compensate for the fact that some of its core audience is also watching other genres.

The other issue is how HBO is working with the Censor Board. To this Bajpai says that the results so far have been good. Films she says have been cleared on a priority basis and as of now there has been no trouble with the scheduling. HBO has so far not encountered the situation where it could not air a film. Some films have been cut and then aired. It also helps that its major films like the upcoming King Kong have aired in cinemas and thus have a certificate.

Further Customisation: The focus in 2007 for the channel will rest on customisation. The aim is to build up the non-primetime slots. One way of doing this is to have slots that appeal to certain demographics. So there is Time Out at 11:30 in the morning for the housewife. In addition to this the channel has added It's A Guy Thing for men. This airs at 2 pm on Saturdays. Then there is Whazz up? for youth. This airs on the weekdays before the 9pm film.

HBO has SMS contests for this block and also a mini site on Bajpai asserts that HBO will also be more focussed on co-ordinating specials with Indian festivals like Holi. While it has been done in the past, more effort will go into this from next year to make it more cohesive.

HBO's next big film is King Kong with Naomi Watts. It airs next month. A microsite will go up where fans can find downloads and basic games. There will also be an on-air contest and the grand prize could involve a trip to a foreign destination. Bajpai adds that HBO will air four to five of its series next year. This year just two had been aired.

While declining to divulge further details Bajpai says that one show will look at men's lives in a big city.

This could well be a counter point to Sex And the City, which had looked at the lives of single women.

As has already been reported by, HBO will air Tsunami: The Aftermath on 26 December without any commercial breaks. In terms of its original movies, the situation at the moment is a little uncertain, as titles have to be cleared. HBO also gets involved with the theatrical releases of films from its studio partners. It will push the animation film Happy Feet as well as the Denzel Washington film Deja Vu. There will be features like The Big Preview as well as public screenings.

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