'Our goal is to increase our audience share to 25 per cent' : Pix business head Sunder Aaron

When Pix launched four years back, it had to be content with library movies. Now the English movie channel has evolved into a stage where it can air current titles to draw in younger audiences and nurture ambitions of competing successfully with Star Movies and HBO.

A focus area for Pix will be to aggressively get into the action genre.


An important mix on the channel is also non-film content including football.


In an interview with‘s Ashwin Pinto, Pix business head Sunder Aaron talks about the channel‘s progress over four years.





What factors prompted Pix to change its positioning to a blockbuster channel?

Our positioning as a premium Hollywood movie channel has not changed. We are still about telling good stories. It is just that our programming strategy has evolved. Our game plan in 2006 was to transform Pix into a current film channel. We are following the path that we had laid out for ourselves when we launched the channel.


What was the plan in 2006?

When we launched the channel, we mainly had library movies from Sony and MGM. We also had all time favourites like Jerry Maguire. We still have those but they do not dominate our primetime as much as they used to. We knew that four years down the line we would add current movies and be as current as HBO and Star Movies.


So new films have to be part of the recipe for a successful English movie channel?

We have learnt that brand new current films are the prized assets in this genre. At the end of the day, that drives spikes in viewership. As long as there are enough spikes, the overall welfare of the channel and its profile will rise. You will see the movie channels that have current films - HBO and Star Movies - excel.


You can have other kinds of films but it is these big, current films that will drive the channel. Within these current films, it is the action genre that is the most valuable and the most attractive. This is what our focus will rest on.



Any other lessons that you learnt from the last four years of Pix‘s operations?

Yes, subtitling. To widen the reach, this is an important tool. We avoided it for a while but our viewers asked us for it. This led to an increase in reach. Shadows of Time, for instance, did well in the six metros. It is a Bengali film with subtitles. Subtitles make it easier for viewers to understand the film.


Is it fair to say that older movies do not have much traction due to the niche nature of this genre?

You have raised two points. The English film genre is not niche anymore. If you look at it from a cable operator‘s point of view, they must have English movie channels. It is as essential as a sports channel.


One reason why older films do not as work as well is that the audience likes films that are current and sexy. The newer films appeal to the younger generation. Library films have less action and special effects. The style of cutting and editing is different from the way it is now.



‘We will have more current films. Our audience will also be more youthful and we will have a wider reach across the country‘


 There are already two channels that showcase blockbusters and aim at becoming bigger and better. How will Pix differentiate itself?

We operate from India. Star Movies is operated out of Hong Kong, while HBO is based out of Singapore. The fact that we operate out of Mumbai allows us to be more hands on.


We actually do local programming like Chicks on Flicks. We also have sports properties like the FA Cup. Thanks to the World Cup, the soccer fans have grown.



What goals have been set for the year?

Our ultimate goal is to increase our share to 25 per cent and be on the same level as Star Movies and HBO. Right now our share is around 20 per cent. We want more youth tuning in. The current films are aimed at broad basing our reach.


 Pix went for a design and look makeover. What was the aim of this?

We want to draw in younger audiences. It is not that older audiences are not useful but the fact is that the youth are the demographic that advertisers target.


The channel looks slicker and is more attractive visually. Earlier the look we had was too static and flat, colour-wise. Now there is more dynamism.


Is Pix going to create time slots that appeal to different TGs?

We already have slots like Super Movie of the Month and programming tailored for the afternoon. Our share and time spent has grown though the category as a whole has fallen.


Does the English film genre face fresh challenges this year?

Scarcity of product is a natural issue. The increase in prices and fragmentation are other issues. We are clever about how we deal with suppliers and where we find our movies. We track viewer feedback regularly. If somebody sends us an email, we read it and even respond sometimes.


Attention spans are changing. People are flipping channels a lot more. Luckily at Pix the time spent has been increasing. This shows that our films and promotions are better.


How much library content is on the channel and what are the big properties coming up?

Our ratio is the same as our competition. We are airing The Hurt Locker which is a big one. So for two years in a row, we will be airing the Oscar winner for best picture. The other movies include Hot Tub Time Machine, District 9 (science fiction) and New York I love You.


The aim is to have at least one blockbuster each month. Then we have films that are not big blockbusters but are also premiers. If it is really good, it goes into the handpicked movie slot.



Have you changed how the weekend is programmed?

No! We still promote the 9 pm movie. We had the properties Cheap Thrills and Damn Good Drama, but we got rid of those.


How tough will it be to get current films given the fact that major studios already have output deals?

It is a challenge. We have to be resourceful in terms of finding films that make the channel look good and elevate our level of programming. 


Do Sony‘s films come to Pix first now?

No! Their films go to HBO first. That output deal is still on.

Is local content like shows going to be more important going forward?

It is a distinguishing factor. We have Chicks on Flicks. And we are looking at a couple of other concepts. Gateway (the show done with Ashok Amritraj) will return eventually. It is a complex series that takes planning and it will come back with a new judge. The celebrities on the show have to commit to four to six weeks of shooting.

We are looking at Hollywood-based film shows. They are useful as interstitial programming.



Are you looking at expanding your base into smaller towns?

It is costly to do marketing there. The focus has to be on the primary target market - which is metros. Beyond that, we do tie ups to reduce costs in secondary and tertiary towns.

This Is It was an interesting experiment. Since it is a musical and it transcends language barriers and has Michael Jackson, we did promotions in regional languages.


What marketing activities will Pix do this year?

We will do a brand campaign when we air The Hurt Locker. This will reinforce the new content on our channel. The Hurt Locker is the kind of film that will pull in a wider, more mass audience.


Are out of home activities important?

Yes! It is important for a channel that is local to behave in a local manner. The Pix Movie club was launched a couple of months back and the response has been strong in places like Mumbai. PVR is our partner and they are also happy with the outcome. You need events to connect with viewers directly on a regular basis.

We had Hollywood Pix Your Brain last year. This was a trivia quiz. It will return. With This Is It, we did activities in malls like flash mobs. We also did a four-city legendary Michael Jackson tribute. Music groups paid tribute to the late pop star.


What role does digital play?

It is important given that this is where the youth spend a lot of time. On our site, you can get mobile reminders. We do online promotions. Certain films lend themselves to online promotions like This Is It and Slumdog Millionaire. The budgets are not big and so online is a better way to go about as it is a targeted promotional activity.


Is Pix planning to launch more channels?

Eventually, we will. We will start with digital platforms, but you will not see another Pix channel for a year. There are channels that launched but fell by the wayside. We do not want that to happen.


Where do you see Pix a year from now?

We will have more new, current films. Our audience will also be more youthful and we will have a wider reach across the country. The aim is to also have better viewership in secondary and tertiary towns.

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