Television

'There are lot of shows out there about Hollywood and actors. But if it does not contribute to the movie watching experience, then it will not suit Pix' : Sunder Aaron - Pix business head

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These are busy times for Sony in the English entertainment space. Earlier this year it launched an English movie channel Pix. It also revamped Animax which is now a youth and lifestyle brand as opposed to being a kids brand earlier.

AXN meanwhile is taking its local initiatives to the next level with Amazing Race Asia which kicks off next month.Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto and Renelle Snelleczk caught up up with Pix business head and AXN, Animax India country manager Sunder Aaron for a lowdown on the plans.

Excerpts:

How much of a challenge has it been to push Pix into homes both on a distribution level and on a sampling level for the consumer? In a sense it is a niche within a niche.



Our library is a mix of older and newer films. The point is that we want to show films that have great stories It does not matter if it is old or new. When you say niche within a niche you are thinking of a classic film channel. We are not that. Our marketing and positioning focusses on telling good stories.

What you find is that a lot of English movie channels are focussed on brand new titles, big stars, big budgets, big special effects, big Hollywood stars. That gets you as lot of people who don’t even speak English just checking the channel. They touch it which gives wide reach. What we have though is a high tel appeal. My audience is a little more older, more affluent and they stay with us a little longer.

Strong stories are what guarantees a good movie. There are lots of examples of films with big stars, budgets etc which are not good. Getting into homes wasn’t that big a challenge as we are with the One Alliance. It already has relationships with the cable fraternity Our focus is on the main Metros. Cable operators make it difficult. We are growing though and have surpassed Zee Studio.

We have been careful in our communication and marketing efforts. Our communication makes sure that our viewer gets the message that films are specially chosen after going thousands of titles.

Then there is the question of adult films not being allowed. How is Pix coping with this situation in terms of getting titles cleared?



The different parties are meeting with the I&B secretary this week. Hopefully a solution will be found. When you think Adult you normally think of nudity or sex.

However a lot of English films are rated 'A' because the themes are mature.

Do you feel that an exception should be made for DTH as technology allows for parental control?



While the technology is there how many people will use parental locks? The greatest control at the end of the day is parental. What you are saying is taking the job of the parent and putting it on the programmer and service provider. It also comes down to what one considers to be an adult film.

A show like Inside the Actor's Studio gives Pix variety. What plans do you have as far as showing content other than films is concerned?



We have ideas. But the important thing is that it should not distract from the fact that Pix is a movie channel.

There are lot of shows out there about Hollywood and actors. But if it does not contribute to the movie watching experience, it it does not feel like a cinema oriented show then it will not suit Pix.

'The Man’s World returns for a second season. There

will be a kickoff on 17 November. It has been on my

mind to look at a sports based reality show'

You had earlier mentioned plans for localisation as as getting titles from independent studios. Has any progress been made here?



We will be airing Being Cyrus next month and 15 Park Avenue soon after that. Down the road we will create original shows that are reality based.

We are going to Mipcom this week to get titles. We will also go to the American Film Market in Los Angeles. Pix will be also be used as a vehicle to push theatrical films like Casino Royale. This will be part of an integrated 360 degree marketing campaign.

You are now going after the advertisers with Pix. What is the pitch being made?



The pitch is that we have content that have great stories which will draw in viewers. Our philosophy which is stated in the film Field of Dreams is that if you build it they will come.

What is happening with AXN?



AXN will unveil The Amazing Race Asia next month. It was produced out of Singapore and was a pan regional effort. The Indian team taking part will add local interest.

The teams basically travel across Asia in a race to finish first. As is the case with the US edition there is a gradual process of elimination. We have been secretive about the show in terms of locations the teams will visit and other details since if word gets out about who won or lost interest will dissipate.

What else can we expect from AXN on the localisation front?



The Man’s World returns for a second season. There will be a kickof on 17 November. It has been on my mind to look at a sports based reality show. Once these two initiatives that I mentioned conclude then we will be in a position to focus on the other ideas.

Any other new initiatives?



We have a marathon for Diwali. This is from 20-22 October 2006. It starts with a seven hour marathon of the World’s Most Amazing Videos. Then Fear Factor will have an eight hour marathon the next day. There will be three phases. The first is about adrenaline junkies facing their fears. The second phase deals with families and friends.

The third is where people are competing to win a million dollars. Then there will be a movie marathon. We have the Elite Weekdays at 11 pm from Monday –Thursday and the Elite Weekends from Saturday to Sunday from noon to 2 pm. We have shows like Nip/Tuck,CSI airing here. This is for the serious, thinking audience.

'Animax was originally positioned as a kids channel.


What we realised was that the animation we are showing is much more sophisticated in the sense of the storylines. So it wasn’t really appealing for little kids'

Could you talk about the revamp of Animax?



Animax was originally positioned as a kids channel. What we realised was that the animation we are showing is much more sophisticated in the sense of the storylines. It is like dramatic serials. There is more conflict, human emotions, deeper characterisation. So it wasn’t really appealing for little kids.

The target audience that we are focussed on now that we should have focussed on in the beginning is 15-24. It is young adults who are just starting to consume. It is an exciting group to go after.

They are going to cafes, getting a new phone every few months. They wear designer jeans. There is nexus between Animax and gaming and all those teenage aspirations. While Animax’s programming is animated it is not kiddie cartoons. It is what we call animation grown up. For the revamp we changed some of the colours. The appearance and look were changed. We also have animated hosts. We have also taken off shows that could be construed as being for kids. You will see more and more young, mature stuff. We also have new programming blocks.

There is Aniblast in the evenings. A little later on there is AniSutra which is more cutting edge. AniFlix on Saturdays shows films. It will take time though for the viewers perception to change. It will take several months to completely change market expectations whether it is viewers or advertisers. It will feel like a lifestyle and animation channel.

So you are also competing with the likes of Star World and Zee Cafe?



I would say that we are also competing with the likes of MTV, Zoom, Discovery Travel And Living. Right now we are still seen as competing with kids channels and the challenge is to get the message out that we are not in the same space as Cartoon Network.

We will talk more to our viewers. We wil go out talk to our TG and put them on the channel. There will be local vignettes. Gaming is an area we are looking at. We already have Gamemax on the channel.

Eventually we will get to a point where we can commission some shows. But that is still some time away. Right now it is an English feed. The problem was that we had Hindi mixed in earlier which confused operators and viewers. Down the line as the channel gets re established we will look at a Hindi feed as well.

You are also looking at on ground activities?



Yes. We are planning one that will be campus oriented towards the end of the year. We are also looking at doing a gaming event year on year. We are looking to provide a touch feel experience which is what AXN has done really well. AXN is a badge of pride brand for viewers. That we are hoping will happen for Animax also. Even if you do not get the stories it is cool in terms of the visuals.

Our marketing has also changed. We will not do a school contact programme. It will be a college campus connect initiative. Animax might help people get jobs in the animation industry or do career counselling. The profile of advertisers will also change. Brands like Nike, Pepsi will be seen instead of say a kids health drink brand.

Is merchandising also an option?



We feel that there are a few shows that look promising in this area. It will not be as big an area for us as Disney though. We will use merchandising to push the channel. Disney does the opposite.

Looking at the English entertainment scene DTH and addressability does give players the chance to launch channels dedicated to specific genres like crime which AXN has done in Europe. Are there plans to launch more channels like this in India sometime in the future?



Let’s see. We have a challenge to see that the channels we have including Pix which we launched earlier this year, Animax which has repositioned itself this year do well. We always have ideas and we are considering launching other channels in India.

The best way for a channel owner to thrive is to launch new channels which I am sure we will do sometime down the line.

If for some reason cable addressability again gets stalled is there a chance that Sony might take the English chanels off cable and put it only on DTH?



I don’t think so. As distributors of content we want to take it to as many platforms as possible and as many modes of distribution as we can. We are agnostic when it comes to that. The basic game for any programmer is to distribute content on any platform whether it is DTH, IPTV, mobile or cable.

Of course we want a fair price. This is where the challenge lies in India. English entertainment is a growing niche. The affluent English speaking

population is very desirable. So though we are relatively small businesses compared to the main Hindi channels it is nonetheless expanding. Each English entertainment channel from Sony has a unique offering. The more the number of viewers exposed the better they will do. That will not be the case if we do not have it on one platform.

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