Ratings: AXN maintains lead in English entertainment; Star World, Zee Café neck and neck

MUMBAI: The English entertainment scene is witnessing a fair bit of action. The History Channel (THC) underwent a repositioning from infotainment to entertainment. AXN unfortunately got banned by the I&B Ministry last month on the dubious charge of showing inappropriate content.

Tam data c&s 4+ all India from 15 July 2006 - 13 January 2007 shows that AXN has enjoyed a share of over 50 per cent over the past six months compared to Zee Café and Star World.

Zee Café has, meanwhile, been steadily improving its share. From 15 July - 15 August its share among was 13 per cent. This has risen to 22 per cent for the period 1 January - 13 January 2007, with Star World slightly ahead at 24 per cent.

However for the period 15-30 December 2006 Zee Café was ahead with a share of 22 per cent compared to Star World's 17 per cent.

For the metros, AXN's share is 44 per cent, while Star World and Zee Café each have a share of 22 per cent. THC has a share of 11 per cent for the period 31 December 2006 - 13 January 2007. This marks a fall from 20 per cent for the period 15-30 December 2006 where it was on even terms with Star World and Zee Cafe. In fact for the most part, until 2007 THC has been on level terms with Star World and Zee Cafe in terms of channel share in the Metros.

AXN's Special Focus On Prime Time

Talking about the performance over the past six months, AXN India business head Sunder Aaron says that a special focus was given to primetime. So the channel came out with the concept of Elite Weekdays and Elite Weekends. This is where its premium shows like CSI, 24 air. In the weekdays it is post 11 pm while on Saturday and Sunday it airs at noon. Aaron adds that what gives the channel further appeal are shows like Guinness, Ripley's which go beyond the metro centric.

On the local front he is satisfied at how The Amazing Race Asia fared in India. This was a pan Asian initiative and showed that regional fare with an Indian touch will work with viewers. The channel, Aaron says, has a few ideas on the table. One of this involves the second season of A Man's World. It also appointed Sumona Roy as marketing manager. This is in line with the channel's commitment to boost its operations in India.

The problem still is the ban. Aaron declined to comment on when the channel would be back on air but said that care would be taken to ensure that content would not be offensive to anybody. The I&B Minister had issued the ban on the grounds of AXN showing 'obscene programmes'. The ban will last till 15 March 2007.

A Period Of Restructuring For Zee Café

Zee Café business head Neil Chakravarti says that the programming lineup has gone through a significant restructuring over the past year. "Our endeavour was to become the only 'true English GEC' in the country. The aim is to offer the widest variety of entertainment across drama, comedy, thrillers, reality, soaps, fashion, lifestyle, music, movies and local English content.

"As of February, the plans are largely in place. We have recently introduced America's number one soap, The Young and the Restless which runs across weekdays at 8 pm. Our most exciting new product is Café Xtreme, which has action/ adventure/ thrills oriented programming, and will run every single day from 11 pm - midnight. In addition, we have introduced a movie band, Saturday Night Lights to showcase the best of Hollywood."

Zee Café last year launched among other shows the ninth season of the hospital drama ER, Bikini Destinations and the second season of Full House. No doubt the second show gave a bit of oomph to the channel. It also added some action to the mix with Without A Trace. Of course since both Zee Café and Star World focus on oven fresh shows from the US there is the occasional overlap. For instance both air Orange County, which recently came to an end in the US.

Chakravarti adds that Zee Café recently started an initiative of running strip shows across the same time band during primetime on weekdays. The Tonight Show and E! News are telecast delayed live every day from the US, via satellite uplink. Young and Restless and Café Xtreme also run in stripped format, every weekday (and even weekends, in case of Xtreme)

Star World Stays With Its Strategy

Elaborating on Star World's strategy, Star India GM content Harsh Rohatgi reiterates the efforts being made to bring the most popular and best shows from across the globe on the channel. The last six months saw the launch of various new shows and seasons on the channel.

One of these was Rockstar Supernova. This was a global talent hunt show to find a new singer for a band formed by Motley Crew, Metallica and Guns & Roses. Then there was the comedy Two and Half Men with Charlie Sheen. Its core properties include Desperate Housewives, which came back for a second season as did the hospital soap Grey's Anatomy.

To give a boost in terms of variety there are award shows like the Golden Globes. It has also aired music specials like the Andrea Bocceli concert.

In terms of where it lies in the English general entertainment space, Rohatgi points out that that as a genre English entertainment has a very niche audience base. The preference is more on the qualitative aspect of programming.

"Star World's programming speaks for itself and has successfully built a loyal audience base over the years that it continues to retain while adding on new audiences. As far as AXN goes we are poles apart in the programming structure. We classify ourselves as a family English entertainment channel with a mix of comedies/action series/dramas/ special events etc.

"AXN is clearly a male skewed English entertainment channel. Hence comparing both the channels would not be fair."

English Entertainment Viewership Stagnating?

Then there is the issue of viewership for English entertainment stagnating. Rohatgi counters by saying that there has been a marked increase in the spread of what an English entertainment viewer can watch.

"Earlier English entertainment used to be demarcated quite clearly. But now infotainment/ Lifestyle channels/ English news channels are also wooing the same viewer. Hence we don't think the genre is stagnating. On the contrary its expanding and the challenge is to keep up and expand the offerings with it."

Rohatgi says that for Star World constant research is being done to understand what are the needs, likes and dislikes of the viewers. "Koffee with Karan season two has been improved based on the feedback from viewers. We are also working on various local formats."

Star World Confident Of Success in Cas Environment

Rohatgi is also confident about how the channel will fare in a Cas environment. "Our programming is the best, which is constantly revamped and updated as per the latest and best properties in the global scenario. Hence a viewer is assured of finding only the best fare on the channel. In a digital environment, channels in niche genres will be bought on both perception and the quality of programming."

Brands Cherry Picking Shows

On the advertising front he says that there definitely has been a shift in the way the genre is being sold. Now the preference is to go along with properties that fit the brands rather than doing a broad based deal. Hence a lot of brands now look at handpicking shows they would want to associate with. Hence the sales teams have been pitching property specific deals to the clients.

Chakravarti says that based on the feedback received Zee Café's perception among the viewer universe as well as the media fraternity is quite positive at the moment.

Cas, DTH Will Be The Final Levellers?

A contention partially backed by OMS media director Madan Mohapatra, who says that while Zee Café's perception has improved over the past year, it is still a little behind Star World. "However as Cas and DTH get entrenched, the perception gap will come down further. The push that Zee Café has given to its content over the past year has not gone unnoticed. The advantage that Star World has is that it made a sustained push earlier." In Mohapatra's opinion Star World benefits from high profile shows like Koffee with Karan.

Says Mohapatra, "Besides the RODP route, clients often put money behind new shows on these channels like Orange County (the third season kicks off on Zee Cafe next month) if they feel that there is good traction and these shows will add new viewers to the channel due to marketing activities being done. However as a show gets older the enthusiasm of the client also goes down."

He notes that Zee Café compared to the other two players is more open to experimentation in terms of content and how it deals with clients. "They work with clients on customised and contextual programme breaks (ICI Pens did branded brake bumpers). This means that an ad appears depending on the mood of the show. I would draw a parallel to what happens with cricket where a pop up comes on depending on what has happened."

AXN, he says, is a little bit behind Star World perception wise because of its mostly male skew. It has gotten polarised as a result. The good thing for AXN is that it has followed a very clear path and has not deviated. While the effect of the ban has yet to be seen, it is likely that the lifestyle shows might take a hit. What is interesting is that Zee Cafe in the past year started airing some lifestyle shows like the earlier mentioned Bikini Destinations.

Speaking about THC's positioning, Mohapatra evers that that it is taking the right approach by broad basing its content.

In conclusion one can say that the new platforms of DTH and Cas will help the channels segment those who watch them regularly from those who merely surf through them. Viewing habits will be more clear. It is up to the players to constantly finetune strategies to make sure that viewers will pay to watch them.

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