Television

'We see ourselves tilting the scales this quarter' : Albert Almeida - Max executive vice president & business head

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After a 14-year stint with JWT, Unilever Business, Albert Almeida took up his first job in television as Sony Entertainment Television senior vice president marketing. In the two-year period, Almeida established himself as a strong marketeer and accomplished strategiser in the industry. He has been widely applauded for the impressive marketing and communications campaigns behind successful shows like 'Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin', 'Indian Idol', amongst others.

In 2005, he moved up to join Max, the movies and special events channel, as executive vice president & business head. In his new portfolio, Almeida is spearheading the channel's business strategy.

In a conversation with Indiantelevision.com's Bijoy A K, Almeida talks about how the journey had been for Max in 2005 and what could be expected from the channel in 2006.

Excerpts:

You were made business head in January 2005. Now it is almost a year. How has the experience been?

It has been vastly different from my last assignment at Sony Entertainment Television. Having completed a year and a half marketing Sony - which was a challenging as well as rewarding stint - it was time to move on. An opportunity to work as the business head of Max sounded exciting. For me, it is an opportunity to leverage my skill sets to strengthen Max and also for personal growth.

Max is a powerful brand, which is built on strong pillars. My task was not so much as to re-invent Max but to build on the existing strengths of the channel. We tried to live the 'Passion' in everything we did.

How would you analyse Max's journey in 2005. Milestones achieved? Lessons learnt?

In terms of programming, it is clear that people come to watch movies and cricket on Max. And therefore, we presented and promoted these properties with passion. One of the initiatives taken in this direction was re-launching the Mahamovies with innovative wrap-around programming using a movie jockey in June 2005.

Secondly, having established the evening and primetime slots, we then identified the afternoon slot and built it via movie titles that would resonate with female audiences. An example is the Madhuri Dixit Film Festival we launched in the second half of 2005.

We have now established this slot and have a festival taking place in every alternative month. Then we launched Sunday Houseful wherein we show contemporary blockbuster films between 9 am and 9 pm. This Sunday slot today delivers 1+ TVR over a 12-hour period on an average. Thus, Sunday Houseful has turned out to be a huge revenue opportunity also.

You have to keep running faster if you want to stay in the same place. What worked yesterday may certainly not be relevant today. In the entertainment space, you are competing for a viewer's share of mind, and also fighting to retain him for a larger period of time. It is therefore very imperative that your content and marketing efforts are both very powerful and engaging. Max has built this capability and will continue to demonstrate this time and again.

With too many channels across various genres and languages launching, dealing with the changing distribution environment has been a challenge. It is a significant barrier that channels have to address to grow. We have to play the game equally aggressively.

Compared to 2004, Max kept a low profile in 2005. Please offer your comments.

2005 may appear to be a relatively quieter year for Max. While you compare it with 2004, Max didn't have very big spikes either on cricket or in movies in the first half of 2005. But with the advent of Super Series and then the premiere of movie Lucky, we managed to create a buzz in the market. Now, we have intensified our efforts with the ongoing Saal Ke Sab Se Bade Blockbusters campaign.

What's your gameplan to get the channel on top with a stress on both cricket and movies? How do you look at competition?

Max, being a movie and special events channel, has got a very unique positioning. This channel reflects the passion of the nation be it movies or cricket. This passion comes alive in everything we do, be it big acquisitions, the unique way in which we programme the content or our innovative marketing and promotion efforts.

While 2004 was clearly a year where Max challenged and woke up the leader, 2005 has seen a resurgent competitor (Zee Cinema). This has shown through in all their efforts. Having said this, the last quarter - October to December 2005 - has seen us changing the status quo once again. And with our plan for the next quarter, we see ourselves tilting the scales yet again.

'Dealing with the changing distribution environment has been a challenge'

According to you, what's the strength of Max as a movie channel?

Our library of big contemporary blockbuster hits and then our ability to market our properties efficiently.

Which are the new time bands you are coming up with for movies? Please offer the nature of the marketing campaigns?

What we have lined up is a very aggressive calendar of blockbuster movies. This will be the channel's driver activity for the January to March quarter period of 2006. Max will unleash a slew of blockbuster movies through the Sunday 1 pm slot. Some of the hit movies the channel has lined up include Mangal Pandey, Veer-Zaara, Parineeta, Kaal, Iqbal, Dus and Waqt. The campaign has already begun with Yash Chopra's Veer Zaaraon Christmas Day.

The Saal Ke Sabse Bade Blockbusters campaign, covering on air promos, radio, print and outdoors, kicked off in the last week of December. On ground activities are being held in towns and cities through van promotions. We have also initiated lots of activities to create buzz in multiplexes and cinemas.

Which are the other big titles Max has acquired this year?

Bunty aur Babli, Salaam Namaste, Neal N Nikki, Mughal-e-Azam, Tango Charlie, Supari, Zeher, Charas, Rakhtand Socha Na Tha.
Throughout 2005, Zee Cinema has been banking on Amitabh Bachchan. Has Max zeroed in on any particular star to conduct a similar campaign?

We have created various special properties based on interesting themes. The Madhuri Dixit Film Festival and then the 5 Baje 5 Superstar series are examples. I believe, if you are banking on a single star, sustaining the growth over a long period is doubtful.

What is your plan for Hollywood Hungama? Which are the properties you have acquired of late?

We have made some significant investments in the last six months for Hollywood movies. We have acquired titles from studios including Fox, BVTI in addition to our own Sony Pictures International Limited.

Did the movie acquisition costs go up this year? Please offer your comment?

Acquisition has been very aggressive in 2005. Bollywood witnessed lots of box office hits. There has been an increase in the number of players acquiring movies.

The cricketing properties Max has lined up include the ICC Championship Trophy 2006 (to be played in India), and the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2007 (in the West Indies). What are your plans to promote and package these properties?

While it is still early to share our plans on how we promise to make people echo the sentiment Max Deewana Bana De, you can be sure that we will keep re-inventing the way cricket is presented and watched.

How will you be playing the Mobile platform for promotions as well as content delivery? Any plans to get into mobisodes or related stuff?

Max has been using its short code 2525 to do an array of marketing and promotion activities. We have generated significant revenues through our mobile activities. A latest example being the mobile-based Lucky promotion contest which generated about 850,000 responses in a 10-day period. Singtones is another strong property we have developed on the mobile front and is a huge revenue earner.

No comments on mobisodes at this stage, but I would say Max has a lot of plans.

What goals have been set for the channel in terms of ad revenue? Revenue-wise, what?s Max?s contribution to the Sony kitty in the 2005 calendar year?

We have grown significantly on the revenue side in the last year. We have aggressive plans to maintain the momentum.

All I can say is that we have grown significantly in absolute numbers and our share of revenue be it in the Hindi movie genre or as a percentage contribution to the network kitty have both shown a positive growth.

How much has Max spent on marketing in 2005?

Although we cannot divulge the amout in figures, you could assume a 15 per cent to 20 per cent hike in the marketing spends in 2005 as compared to 2004.

Which countries are you targeting next for launching Max international and what is the timeline? What are the challenges involved in distributing Max abroad?

We are already available in US / UK / Europe / Middle East and South Asia. The content we have on Max makes the channel a much sought after one in markets where there is a large Indian diaspora. Besides we have an establised platform in Sony that is already present in these markets. This helps us market Max effectively to the Indian audiences.

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