Television

'Now there are four key players in the market' : HBO South Asia country manager Shruti Bajpai

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Adopting an aggressive posture, HBO is giving a push to its content as competition turns fierce in the English movie channel space.

After its deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) ended, HBO stitched deals with 16 studios. The focus will continue to be popular blockbusters, cutting edge titles and original content.

The entry of Movies Now has shaken up the market and from a two-horse race it now has four key players. HBO, however, is looking at a double-digit growth this year and has brought in new category of advertisers to the genre.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com‘s Ashwin Pinto HBO South Asia country manager Shruti Bajpai talks about the challenges that the genre faces.

Excerpts:

New entrant Movies Now seems to have upset the applecart, pushing HBO to the third position. How do you plan to bounce back?

Rating fluctuations are normal for any channel in this business. As the number of players grow, it is more important for the category to expand. As for HBO, there’s no reason to feel threatened because of the sheer differentiation in terms of our content. We are the only channel with the capability to bring the most popular blockbusters, cutting edge titles and original content. In terms of both quality and quantity, we are still unmatched.

Movies Now’s strategy of showing popular films that have high repeat value seems to have worked. So have premieres gone down in value?

No! That counts for a lot in terms of brand perception. At the end of the day it is about what your brand stands for. We show more premiere blockbusters than any other channel. Our focus is on having more premieres, strengthening our franchises and telecasting HBO Originals. Our USP is to offer something for everyone and be a one-stop shop.

What impact are the new players having on the genre?

From being just two key players in the market, now there are four – HBO, Star Movies, Movies Now and Pix.

After HBO’s output deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment ended, how have you lined up content to take on competition?

We have, in fact, expanded our content pipeline. Last year, we stitched deals with 16 studios. We have the very best of blockbusters like ‘Ironman 2’, ‘Inception’, our popular franchises include Rocky and Bond. We have cutting edge titles like Blind Side, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and ground-breaking original content like Temple Grandin.

‘There are plans to expand the base in India and HD will be a part of that‘

Movies Now was the first HD channel in the English movie genre. Is HBO looking at HD feed?

There are plans to expand the base in India and HD will be a part of that. We can’t really speak for others, but HBO has a multi-channel and HD presence in most of the countries across the globe. India will be no exception.

Content costs are escalating due to intense competition in the genre. Has revenue also expanded?

Rising content cost is a factor, but a point of concern more for our competitors and relatively less for HBO. Unlike the rest of the channels which are mostly home-grown or only operational in Asia, HBO is a global player with widespread presence. With multi-year output deals with three studios – Warner bros, Paramount and Universal -and content from 16 other movie companies, we are best equipped in the genre to manage content acquisition costs.

English movie channels in combine earned an ad revenue of Rs 3 billion last year. Will the genre post a 20 per cent growth this year?

Though this year has been a bit challenging for all non-sport categories with high influx of cricket, we wouldn’t like to speculate on what the genre has made. English movies has always been a very sought after genre with a wide variety of advertisers and HBO being the most preferred channel in this category, has maintained the growth rate as per the previous years.

What revenue growth is HBO targeting this year?

HBO has always maintained double-digit growth numbers and this year will be no exception. We don‘t have advertisers; we have partners.

We are also perceived as a very premium, international brand among the viewers as well as the advertisers. Many high-end and prestigious brands like Audi and BMW spend a large chunk of their marketing budgets on HBO. In the English movie channel genre, we command the highest rate for our inventory.

Are you tapping into new categories?

Yes. In fact, this has been our biggest success this year. We have added more than 30 clients this year, with far more contribution from new categories. It’s our high value perception that has helped us bring some non-traditional categories like real estate on board.

What are the challenges the genre faces?

English movie and entertainment channels face the same challenges as any other channel in the country - intense fragmentation. In the last couple of years, this category has seen a significant number of new entrants. HBO, however, has always stayed a step ahead of the game. Since inception, we have been one of the strongest players in the market with superior content and high value to advertisers and viewers alike.

The DTH base is growing rapidly. Are you looking at content innovations for this platform which can yield more revenues?

Yes! As the base grows, there is a need to tailor content for DTH.

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