Television

'Our revenue target is to grow upwards of 30%' : Star India senior VP, GM English Channels Saurabh Yagnik

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star India is aggressively building a wide portfolio of English entertainment channels. Its aim: to capture specific needs of different viewers.

Backed by a rise in audience share, Star is eyeing a revenue growth of 30 per cent from its English channels.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto, Star India senior VP, GM English Channels Saurabh Yagnik talks about the strategy the network has adopted in growing the consumption for English entertainment channels.

Excerpts:

After Star India started overseeing the operations of the English channels, what has been the difference?

The English channels got managed in October 2009. That was when we had a transition from Hong Kong to India. We set up a full team to look into content, marketing and positioning of the channels. With our better understanding of the local market conditions and what people watch, we have added value to the viewer. This is reflected in how our category shares have grown.

Could you elaborate on the growth of these channels, particularly with reference to this year?

We have seen results coming from the momentum of the things we did last year. We also launched more channels to strengthen the portfolio; HD feeds for Star Movies and Star World were recently launched. We upped the ante for marketing on Fox Crime and FX. We are going about aggressively building a portfolio that caters to specific viewer needs in various ways. We use this to build consumption and grow the share of Star as a network.

Even in revenues?

The pace of growth has been fantastic. Our target is to grow upwards of 30 per cent. This is the kind of momentum we are looking at.

What are the challenges before English channels at this point of time?

Growing consumption for English content is the biggest challenge; it is also an opportunity. We tackle this by driving the relativity and relevance of content. You are seeing more on-ground led activities for promotions. Last year we aired the Oscars and did a 360 degree campaign. This time we did the James Bond festival and had a 360 degree approach. This helped the viewers relate more. A similar thing was done with 'Avatar' to drive awareness of Star Movies and we used Star Plus as well for the film.

We have done local shows on Star World like 'Koffee With Karan' to drive viewership. We are also doing localised promotions around shows. For Masterchef Australia, we brought a jury member down here. Among other things a live chat happened which was well received by the audience. We put legs to our promotional strategy to ensure that people find content that is relevant and relatable. Then you intersperse it with aggregator shows like Koffee With Karan. This is how you break barriers for English consumption.

'Primarily, Star World is a destination for Hollywood shows. That is the DNA. All local content will have to be as exclusive and exquisite as Hollywood aspirations. We will be selective and bring in what fits into our criteria of exclusivity '

Do content costs present a challenge to the business model?

We have been noticing that in some cases there is irrational pricing for content. This might not sustain itself. What gives us comfort is that we have long term strategic relationships with a lot of studios that gives us depth and width of content. While there are short term challenges in terms of costs going up, we managed to mitigate some of those risks through our long term contracts.

With more players coming in, how is Star Movies fine-tuning its strategy to hold on to its position?

Star Movies positions itself not just as a destination for movies but as a destination for Hollywood. The programming strategy is about making content relatable and relevant which means having differentiated and sharply focused festivals throughout the year. We have access to the best titles from various studios. The aim is to amplify properties like a 'Superheroes Festival' by adopting a multi-pronged approach.

Also, there are a huge amount of online viewers. We will use this to market and talk about our properties.

Is viewer loyalty growing for this genre or is it still very much title driven?

Viewership is largely determined by the titles that are placed but the differentiation that Star Movies brings in is through its premieres and sharply crafted festivals. This helps ensure a very sharp and insightful promise and we are able to reach a considerable set of viewers by going beyond just titles.

Is HD the future for this genre? Do all English movie channels need to move towards it?

The future will be beyond HD as well and there will be more innovations. The viewership will move towards HD because of the viewership quality. However, we are not stopping at that as Star Movies is always inventing and innovating and will bring in the latest technology for its viewers.

By when do you expect to breakeven on the HD feeds?

They are a premium offering. You need an HD STB and an HDTV. We are driven by advertising and subscription. The idea is to breakeven in the second year.

Tam data shows that Star World has increased its share despite new entrants. What have been the reasons for this?

A lot has happened on Star World. We started with the stripped format on the weekdays with a sharp promise and focus. This helped grow appointment viewing. We did exclusive, glamorous local shows like Koffee With Karan. This aggregated audiences. Our digital engagement and what we did in the social media space has helped us build a loyal set of viewers. They are excited about watching us.

Which are the genres that are working the best for you? Sitcoms and crime dramas work very well as does local programming. 'Masterchef Australia' is also performing well. The range of shows that do well is broad based.

What role does localisation play for Star World?

Primarily, Star World is a destination for Hollywood shows. That is the DNA. All local content will have to be as exclusive and exquisite as Hollywood aspirations. We will be selective and bring in what fits into our criteria of exclusivity. While localisation is important, it is not our backbone.

Is non primetime becoming important?

Yes! We see viewership here as well. The scheduling is based on viewership patterns so that we get unduplicated audiences across time bands for various shows. We slot shows based on viewer profile. We run omnibuses of our weekly offerings on the weekend. So people can do a catch up. This allows more viewers to watch us outside primetime as well.

Could you talk about the increase in marketing innovations?

There has been a significant step up in this area. For instance when 'Community' was launched, people got a customised message explaining the show by star. When we launch shows we talk to people asking them their views and why they want to watch it. We put this as a part of our promotions. We could have stars of a show coming down to India. This is an interesting possibility. On Star World, you have the biggest shows launching.

We are doing a high decibel campaign around 'Terra Nova' which is a sci-fi show. The Torrentz property on weekends is to bring shows as close to the US airing date to India. This is how we build Star World as the destination for the best American shows fresh from the US.

Are you expanding distribution beyond DTH for FX and Fox Crime?

Digital is the right place. This is where a large part of consumption of English GECs is going to happen. The kind of audience that we target is affluent and will move towards DTH as the viewing experience there is better. That is where people consume more. We believe that digital is the right way to go. We don't have analogue plans for them.
Is the English GEC big enough to have channels according to TG and audience profile?

We have had a different strategy based on our own insights. Star World has a healthy portfolio. Fox Crime is not based on a demographic cut or of the TG; it is based on the fascination that people have for a particular genre. With FX, we looked at catering to the evolved sensibilities of the more discerning viewer. Our strategy is based on viewer behaviour and mindset.
As more entrants come in, how much of a challenge is fragmentation?

There is enough penetration but lesser category share. We are the second largest English speaking population in the world. But the share of English GECs is nothing to talk about in relation to that. With more affluence, education and people becoming more global in their mindset, the consumption of English content will only grow. Also disposable incomes are growing and the propensity to consume branded products is the highest in this category.

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