Television

HBO, Star Movies start to feel blackout pinch

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MUMBAI: It has been two weeks since English film channels HBO and Star Movies have been off air in Mumbai. While the Hindi film channels have returned with the undertaking not to air 'A' rated films, the problem with the above mentioned two channels is that they do not have enough films rated U and U/A to put on air for 24 hours.

In Mumbai, Hathway and InCable, which control 55 per cent of the cable homes in Mumbai, have not resumed telecast of these two channels. Even some other areas of Mumbai that have other service providers are not getting them. The first problem is that a significant percentage of the viewership for English movie channels (around 15 per cent) each week, comes from Mumbai.

The second difficulty is that the channels have to get their films cleared by the Censor Board. A Star official says that the channel is in the process of submitting the films. He was non committal when asked as to when the channel was expected to be back on air.

HBO too, has a significant backlog to be cleared. While attempts to contact HBO proved unsuccessful, a Zee Turner official says that it is looking to help HBO in the process. The repercussions of the blackout are already starting to show however.

On the ad revenue front, information available with Indiantelevision.com indicates that agencies will ask for some kind of compensation if the problem is not resolved soon. The amount of course will depend on the delay in getting the channels back on the air.

On the distribution front though, the Zee Turner official says that the cable fraternity has been cooperative and understanding of the situation. Of course subscribers in Mumbai will continue to pay for HBO. So there is no loss there in the absence of addressability.

The longer this drags on the better it is for the likes of Zee Studio and Pix. While the ratings are not yet out they would have benefitted to some extent as some viewers who would normally watch HBO and Star Movies tune in to them.

What is interesting though is that Zee spokesperson Ashish Kaul says that the blackout is too restrictive to be a reason for the channel to do anything drastic like push forward its planned marketing campaign. "Had it been a nationwide blackout, the situation would have been different. While more people in Mumbai will tune in to us we need to push ourselves more for them to stay with the channel once HBO and Star Movies come back on. We will be launching new properties and a campaign in around three weeks time. If the blackout is still on (which looks likely) then we will certainly see more visibility.

"However we recognise that the blackout is temporary and to get viewership in the long term we need to create better visibility for ourselves. It is important that our brand position of being a channel for the movie connoisseur be clear."

Another beneficiary from the blackout would be DVD libraries. A spokesperson from a library says that more English movie DVDs are being rented on the weekends. The blackout does not affect rentals the weekdays as people in any case do not have the time, he says. On weekends though the number of English film DVDs being rented is up by around 15 per cent over the past couple of weeks.

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