HBO plugs DVD-like 'Blockbuster' experience

MUMBAI: Big! New! Most! That is the mantra that English movie channel HBO is chanting this year. On the agenda is more properties, giving viewers a DVD like Hollywood experience as well as doing more India related themes.

Speaking this morning to, HBO South Asia country manager Shruti Bajpai says, "Whatever we do must do justice to our slogan of Big! New! Most! The first thing we are doing is making the Saturday Nights property more interesting in scale. So you will see films like Something's Gotta Give with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson on 14 January 2006, Mira Nair's Vanity Fair with Reese Witherspoon playing a socialite who longs for a better life on 28 January 2006. Later on we will air Clint Eastwood's Oscar winner Mystic River."

Bajpai says, "However what is new this year is the fact that there is no Big One. Instead we have a new property HBO Blockbuster Of The Month. It is giving viewers a complete and focussed experience like a DVD. The first film in this slot is Spiderman 2 on 27 January."

"We will not however only show the film. On a DVD you have special features like interviews with the cast and crew. We have developed the Full Access property. This will allow you to go behind the scenes. Viewers will get the full experience in terms of what it was like making the film and the effort that went into it. That I think is more engaging which is our whole objective this year. "

"Next month there is Austin Powers Goldmember. In March we will air the thriller Collateral with Tom Cruise playing a hitman. We have one blockbuster every month. Then we have also created Sunday Superhits, which replaces Superstar Sundays. Here the focus is on the nature of the movie rather than on the star," said Bajpai.

INTRODUCING BANDS: In the past HBO has been successful in introduced bands targeting a specific audience. It was the first English movie channel to have introduced a morning band for the housewife. This year it is organising the HBO Youth Zone in the evening at 7 pm. This is airing everyday unlike Generation Me, which was once a week early in the evening. There will also be interviews with celebrities along with the film.

On the original side, Bajpai adds that HBO will air the series Rome later this year. This is a collaboration between HBO and BBC and is about two soldiers in the Roman empire. Sex And The City will come to a close. As was the case last year there will be an HBO Original Movie in the first Tuesday of each month.

THEMATIC OFFERINGS: HBO is also looking to make its thematic offerings more relevant. While this has been fairly decent in the past this year there will be more India centric themes besides just a Valentine's Day. On 26 January there will be a Freedom Fighters theme where The Last Samurai and Tears of The Sun will air. HBO is also looking at doing something around Holi.

Another property that has worked well for HBO and will continue has been The Big Preview. In this initiative a major film that will be released in cinemas is showcased. The first film that HBO will preview this year is Munich. This is Steven Spielberg's drama about Israel's response to Palestinian terrorists killing Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Bajpai adds that the preview will try to put into perspective the events of Black September and what the project means to Spielberg.

HBO will also preview The Da Vinci Code later this year in May. Mission Impossible, 111 and Superman Returns are among the other films that will be previewed on the channel. HBO is also looking at perhaps creating a kids block later this year. That is because a lot of kids films like Elf will air.

While all this is good there have been times when HBO airs a major film without pushing it. An example of this is Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which aired on New Year's Day in the morning. Bajpai says, "It is a question of focus. There are so many films and properties on the channel that it is difficult to push everything. For an intelligent movie buff though that film was great."

Then there is the issue of the 'A' rating. Bajpai says that the channel has always been sensitive to the viewer. She offers the example of Sex And The City, which was tailored for India. "We also air it later in the night. Most films that we air are suitable for the family. We can cut scenes to suit the Indian audience. That is not an issue. We do not like to show things just for the sake of it."

"I will say that HBO and Star Movies have over the years done a great service for the English viewer by bringing in new films. In addition viewers see not just the blockbusters which are the core but also other films. The multiplexes have helped in this regard. You have Spiderman and Harry Potter but you also have Indian English films running in cinema halls. With the viewer getting used to alternative fare it allows us to showcase more original content and be sure that there will be some viewership."

NO NEW CHANNEL: Bajpai also says that there are no plans to launch another channel in the near future despite DTH coming in.

In terms of marketing initiatives HBO plans to have a big multimedia presence for Spiderman 2. It is also finalising a tie up with Barista. Here the aim is to create an HBO Spidermania in the outlet. One can play the game on Playstation. There will be the chance to win the game. A couple of years ago HBO had taken Spiderman around. That in fact launched its Big One property with the film. This time Bajpai says that the channel wanted to be more creative.

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