'We focus on films that have high repeat value' : Movies Now channel head Ajay Trigunayat

he English movie channel genre is sized at Rs 3.25 billion and is expected to grow at 20-25 per cent due to the entry of new players.

The competition among the channels has grown the number of advertisers to 340 in 2010, up 21.4 per cent from the year-ago period, which had attracted 280 advertisers.

Companies advertising more on this genre are the new telecom companies, automobiles, electronics and white goods. FMCG, though, continues to be the largest ad spender.

Barely three months old, Movies Now from the Times TV Network stable is looking at doubling its advertising rates as it claims leadership among a specific upscale young audience group in the metros.

In an interview with‘s Ashwin Pinto, Movies Now channel head Ajay Trigunayat talks about the growth of the genre and how important it is to build a library that stresses on repeat value potential.


We are seeing new channels coming into the English space, be it movies, entertainment or lifestyle. What factors are fuelling this boom?

India is riding on a robust cable and satellite growth. The television household universe has grown from 128 million homes to 145 homes over two years. Within this cable and satellite has grown from 84 million to 110 million.

There is also healthy digital growth happening. The number of digital homes will touch 30 million by the end of the financial year. Cricket will fuel this growth.

Channels are looking forward to being able to charge the right price to the consumers, so that they can make the right amount of subscription income.

What will new entrants do to the English space?

I believe they will grow the genre. Earlier, you had HBO and Star Movies dominate the English movie genre; nobody challenged their viewership. Our aim is to challenge the status quo of these two players.

Simultaneously, Star World and AXN dominated the English general entertainment space. Reliance launched a channel, but so far it has not caught the fancy of the viewers. It is important to build the right distribution and the right content.

What do viewers expect from the English movie genre?

Their expectations have changed dramatically over the past decade. Earlier, it was important that at 9 pm Terminator 2 would show and you would watch it. Now with a plethora of channels coming in, viewers no longer make appointment viewing. They surf across channels.

People do not watch a whole movie anymore. They might watch a segment of a movie that they like again and again. There is a dramatic shift to random viewing. This determines how you place content and schedule it. Content selection makes a lot of difference.

Why did The Times Group launch an HD channel now?

We decided to look at a key differentiator for Movies Now as our content has played on other channels. We decided to provide the best audio and visual experience.

As you go along, most channels will be in high definition. The Times Group has a commitment to deliver the best readership or viewership to the upscale audience.

What challenges do you face?

Doing an HD channel poses its own challenges. We are a completely tapeless library. We use the best of servers and post production facilities. We use half the space for HD that you would need in standard definition. There are cost benefits that we are trying to exploit.

But moving from SD to HD is a learning curve for the organisation. If Star Movies and HBO want to do it, they can just transfer their experience in other markets to India. We had to start from scratch. So it took a little longer for us to launch compared to a broadcaster, who is already running HD feeds globally.

‘Competition gets Rs 3500-5000 per 10-second spot. We want to reach Rs 3000 per spot by increasing the effective rates by 100 per cent over the next three months‘


What investment has been made and what targets have been set for the year?

I cannot talk about figures. However as a Group, we believe in being No. 1. Movies Now is ahead of the competition, if you look at C&S 15-34 SEC A,B metros, we have a 34 per cent share in this segment.

We are not into running new movies. We focus on films that people want to watch over and over again. People watch films like True Lies over and over again. They are not interested in films like The Hurt Locker, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, though that may be the popular perception. If you can manage and create a library which has high repeat potential, then you will be successful.

We have also gone for top of the line high definition. This is not pseudo high definition 720p. This is 1080i. We deliver 5.1 surround sound. When we launched, our GRPs jumped to 77 which was an 80 per cent category growth. The category has settled at 68 GRPs. Only in Hyderabad are we behind due to issues of distribution, which we will crack in due course.

In the last 12 weeks, eight out of the top 10 movies are ours. On the weekends, we are ahead apart from two weeks. Our distribution is at par with competition. We caught up with Star Movies in the last three weeks.

What time frame has been set to be profitable?

Most projects set a time frame of three to five years. For us, though, given the start that we have got, we expect to break-even faster.

But when you have more players content costs go up. Isn’t this a challenge?

It is. High content costs put pressure on the bottom line. Over the past six years, costs have gone up by around 3.5 times for this genre.

Earlier, it was a buyer’s market. That started changing when Zee’s deal with MGM ended; they had to buy titles from other distribution companies.

Revenue can be difficult to push for as there are options for clients. But we have a 34 per cent channel share in our target segment. We want to increase our effective rates by 100 per cent. The key challenge for the next quarter is maximum monetisation, based on our channel’s performance.

But since you do not have premieres, aren’t content costs much lower than competition?

Not really! We play the best of the best content. When you pick up a Titanic or a True Lies, you pay for it. But if you just want those titles, you have to pay a significant premium as you are not picking up other stuff from the studio. We deal with studios including Sony, MGM and Warner.

Long term deals ranging from five to 10 years have been signed. At the same time, the independents have nothing significant. Earlier people were not selling content only for India. They would sell it only at an Asia Pacific level. The first thing we did in 2007 was to convince studios to carve out India as a separate territory. We have proven to them that India has potential.

The studios are happy with Movies Now. Each month we introduce 30-40 new titles. It is not that we rehash the FPC.

Could you talk about the library that Movies Now has?

We have close to 500 films in our library now. We are concentrating on movies like Titanic and Apocalypto that people want to watch over and over. Our strategy is different. Speed was the highest rated movie in the last six months.

Also in a year, there are only a handful of blockbusters that come in. The viewer wants a good movie, regardless of when it was made.

So you are not doing what Pix did, which is start with library content and move on to more premieres?

Pix started with what I call classic, niche movies. We play popular blockbuster movies that appeal to an average English movie viewing person. Pix took nearly two years to realise that they needed to play films like Charlies Angels to get viewership into place.

We are a very premium, High Definition brand. The perception among viewers is that our audio video clarity and choice of movies is better compared to competition. These two things came across in some dipstick research done.

But since most homes do not have an HDTV set, aren’t you at a disadvantage?

If you play an HD file on a laptop, it looks much better compared to a standard definition file. The quality of playout at transmission is five times better even on an average LCD or plasma that is not HD. The picture and audio is better. Six cable operators offer HD like GTPL in Gujarat. The uptake of HD will grow. Even on a regular non HD TV set, HD playout and transmission delivers better picture quality than standard layout and transmission.

In terms of distribution, did you focus on digital homes?

We have chosen to get our act right on cable first. This meant a significant investment in carriage fees. Only later did we look at DTH. After all, 88 per cent of viewership still comes from analogue cable. Four per cent comes from digital cable and eight per cent comes from DTH.

We are available on all DTH platforms, except for Tata Sky. We are at an 18 per cent reach of the TG, which is the same as Star Movies. 19 million viewers watch us in a week.

How is the programming structured?

Content is just one piece. We follow a holistic strategy across. People who have seen True Lies many times may want to see it again, compared to The Hurt locker, which many people may not want to see even once. True Lies got a TVR of 0.47. The Hurt Locker on its first airing got a TVR of 0.04. Due to our audio and video quality, people would rather watch a film here than any another channel.


What about programming blocks?

In terms of programming blocks, we have kept things simple. People like to watch movies on the weekend. There is a distinct dispersion towards weekend viewership versus weekday viewership. Moviethon airs from 11 am-11pm where we play the best of movies back to back. We call it ‘From Sunlight To Midnight’.

On Saturdays, we have a comedy block in the afternoon, where two movies air back to back.

There is Love boat at 9 pm on Monday and Grand Nights on Saturdays at 9 pm. We are also actively considering creating an afternoon slot for women.

Each month we do festivals. We did a complete Rocky festival from January- March. This month, we are doing a festival around Shaolin and Kung Fu movies, which have been digitally mastered in HD and 1080i.

How do you see HDTV technology spreading?

There are already five million HD or HD ready TV sets in the country, that are not captured by research. They have come in from outside. If you walk into a shop today, all you see is a display of HD TV sets.

When people buy a new TV, they go in for HD as the price point has come down dramatically. You can own an HDTV set for Rs. 12,000 - sometimes even for Rs 9000! The adoption of HD is there.

If you look at the advertising of a Samsung or a Sony over the last three years, you will not find an ad for standard definition. In a TV shop, you see LEDs.

If appointment viewing has gone, how do you build brand loyalty?

There is brand loyalty to a channel, but no loyalty towards a time slot. People are not saying that they will watch a film at 9 pm. We are top of the mind recall.

What are you doing for the summer?

From 1-28 April, we will have a sci-fi festival on Friday and Saturday at 11 pm. From 18-26 April, there is another festival called Hollywood heroes at the moment. The best films of the likes of Anjelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock and Will Smith will be showcased from Monday to Thursday at 11 pm.

There are many players creating a unique look and feel. How did you approach this challenging task?

We were very clear on the brand identity. Our brand needed to be premium. So the packaging had to be at par with Star movies and HBO. We selected London-based DixonBaxi, which has worked for USA Network and MTV; they have done packaging for the Universal Channels worldwide. We also chose the best voiceovers in the world for our ads. Each element that informs the viewer of who we are, was done carefully. We don’t concentrate on a USP. We focus on providing a holistic 360 degree experience to the viewer.

What kind of promotional activities does Movies Now do?

We are fortunate because of our parental linkage; we get a lot of coverage in The Times of India. This is the best vehicle to promote any English channel.

We also do outdoor. We advertised on Ten Cricket. We did an alliance with Gold’s Gym for Rocky. We have just done another alliance with the BJN Group. Two months back, people did not want to do marketing alliances with us. Now, increasingly they are willing. We tied with many retail outlets such as Croma: you only see Movies Now playing there. This is complimentary to the sale of HDTV sets.

We have done an alliance with Big Cinemas for the DVD release of Harry Potter. There is a contest and two winners get to go to the sets of the film in the UK and Hollywood. Later in the year, we could do tie ups for theatrical releases. The film has to appeal to a mass audience, for us to benefit. There is a film called Sucker Punch being released, but we are not sure if it will appeal to the masses.

Digital forms an important part of marketing for the English movie genre. What activities do you do?

We are fairly active on Facebook and have a site. But if you look at Internet penetration, it is still low. So traditional mediums outscore digital. I am not discounting the importance of digital, but it has a long way to go. On websites, we do activities to provide the right experience for the viewer and the trade.

Isn’t digital more cost effective for you?

We have found it more expensive. It has not given us the kind of reach and conversions to viewership, the way traditional media has. Digital media is still hype; it has not built up to the extent that it should have. It is traditional media that is giving you 90 per cent of results.

On the ad front, are you encouraged?

Clients want an upscale urban audience. Our TG is C&S 15-34 SEC A,B metros as it is the aggregate TG of all our clients. We have 40 advertisers. Our source of revenue is advertising, as we pay hefty carriage fees.

English movie channels have touched Rs 3.25 billion. The English entertainment channels including the GECs contribute Rs 1 billion. So there is Rs 4.25 billion at stake.

We expect a 20-25 per cent growth for English movies this year. If competition had not come in, we would have seen 10-12 per cent growth this year.

Lack of competition led to stagnation in terms of ad revenue for the English movie genre. Now with us coming in, Star Movies, HBO, Pix are all doing more things. There is healthy competition, which will lead to healthy ad revenues.

How do your rates compare?

They are not comparable. Competition gets Rs 3500-5000 per 10 second spot. We want to reach Rs 3000 per spot by increasing the effective rates by 100 per cent over the next three months.

280 advertisers were on English Movie channels in 2009. In 2010, the number grew to 340.

New telecom companies, automobiles, electronics and white goods advertise more. FMCG continues to be the largest ad spender on this genre, followed by telecom and mobile. Then come consumer electronics.

Is the cricket season impacting viewership of English movies?

Yes! Depending on the performance of the India matches, it drops. In one week, there was a dip of 27 per cent. In another week, when the match was not on a Sunday, the dip was 15 per cent. It also depends on how well India is doing.


Does counter programming work?

We are not doing this. What we have done is build our content before and after cricket in a certain manner, and during the game in a certain manner. A match gets over by 10:30 pm. So our best films air at 11 pm.

We place non-male viewership films during a cricket match. So people who want alternative content to cricket, can watch us. There are limitations within which we operate. Let us see what happens.

Are you also looking at film-based shows?

No! We are just playing movies back to back. In our analysis, whenever there is a film-based show on an English movie channel, the viewership drops - sometimes by as much as 70 per cent! We do not want any drop in viewership for the sake of differentiation. But we are considering doing a show in such a manner, that it would add viewership.

How much inventory has been sold?

We are running at 70 per cent inventory utilisation. The push has to come from an increased rate. For the past Saturday, we were sold out, but it was a peculiar case. The Indian cricket team normally plays on Sunday and so people want to use us more on Fridays and Saturdays. We dropped 120 spots.

Inventory utilisation is at around 95 per cent across English movie channels. But the rates are not right. So you might have to grow the amount of inventory available.

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