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Year of flux and expansion for English movie channels : Pix business head Sunder Aaron

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The past year has been a great step forward for the entire English Movie Channel category which has gained both in size and viewership.

2011 – Looking Back before Seeing Forward:

The overall viewership for the category increased by a whopping 50 per cent. Channels have also realised the importance of creating brand extension programmes for their viewers to gain viewer loyalty and top of mind recall. Many new brand extension programmes have been launched by many channels to build a close relationship with their viewers.

The Pix Movie Club is a great example of connecting with viewers beyond their television screens. The club is college-based community for students which allows them to watch new Hollywood theatrical releases for free. The main link between the channel and the club is Hollywood and not the content on the channel. Many sponsors and advertisers are also very keen to be associated with such properties since it establishes a direct and personal connection with prospective consumers.

Distribution fees and carriage did not abate in 2011, and it was amazing in some circumstances to see new channels that address limited audiences launching and paying a high price just to make a splash in the market.

Looking at the ratings pattern for the genre over last year you will see that the English movie category is competing as fiercely as the GEC channels. The channels are putting forth tight scheduling and great content to garner maximum eyeballs.

There is fierce competition among the top four channels for the top spot. No channel remains at the same position for too long unlike the year of 2010.

Pix has its own interesting trends worth quickly highlighting. 2011 has been a great year for us in many ways. The year began with Pix introducing major blockbuster films which we acquired through our exclusive output deal for all films under the SPE banner. It gave me immense joy to crack this deal since this was a foundation for a brand new Pix!

The channel transitioned from a storyteller to a one stop destination for latest Hollywood blockbusters with current titles. The evolution is a continuous process for us and the channel is going from strength to strength. This is a very exciting time for us and even more so for our viewers who took a keen interest in the channel and its new content.

Trends in 2012

Content: Competition for content in 2012 will be more aggressive than ever. When it comes to the English movies category, fans of Hollywood films couldn’t be happier given they now have so many channels to choose from.

Most of the popular titles come from studios and, therefore, scarcity cannot be avoided. Economics teaches us that with high demand and limited product prices will escalate. This trend started in 2011 and will only mount further in 2012. I expect high pricing to remain for the next year at least.

Digitisation: Digitisation means channels must become more relevant for its viewers, since consumers will themselves hand select channels they want on their television set top box. This also marks a change in the television landscape which has been long overdue in India.

Digitisation should also lead to greater transparency and rationalisation for all the stakeholders involved in the industry including consumers, operators and broadcasters. Indian cable systems that offer multi channel TV in India are technologically outdated and need to catch up with the rest of the world. The economics of multi channel television are better for operators as well as broadcasters.

When you consider the great variety of channels that consumers have to choose from at low subscription prices, India may arguably have the greatest television market in the world. Keep in mind, our industry here is still very young; it’s less than 20 years old whereas private TV started in the 1950’s in the US. The evolution of television, the “Televolution”, will continue for some time.

Digitisation is just the next stage of growth for all of those concerned. While we can look at the other markets around the world for lessons and guidance, we should also be careful not to believe that they are offering us lessons on the right or wrong way of doing things.

The Indian television market is its own vast, and unique creature. Our own methods of packaging, pricing etc. will develop naturally as digitisation proliferates.

Distribution: While we can expect digitisation to have an effect on the carriage fees and cost of placements, it’s hard to anticipate what exactly will happen and na?ve to expect carriage fees to go away entirely.

Many of the channels and networks that launched with big carriage budgets meant to attain clear and immediate success are playing a valuation game rather than making their P/L a priority. At some point this will catch up with them.

Perhaps 2012 will see some shake outs of these channels, and should digitisation be immediately successful, we might see several of them convert their business models. Hopefully in 2012, we will see lots more services being launched by cable operators including VOD, SVOD, PPV, broadband and data services, Internet radio and, perhaps, even telephony.

Marketing: Marketing will play a more important role in a digitised environment than ever before. Marketers will need to utilise new and unique means to differentiate their brand from competition, while remaining cost efficient.

In the highly competitive English Movie Channel category, the top 4 channels have similar programming and brand offerings. This makes it essential for the channels to market and promote themselves distinctly.

For example, if I were to take a hoarding at Marine Drive to promote the Pix Super Movie of the Month, it may be successful in a typical (and costly) way, but it won’t create any differentiation for the brand (all movie channels have advertised themselves on prominent hoardings at one point or another). But if my communication has a differentiated message and/or is delivered via a distinct and innovative media vehicle, then the marketing communication would create a ‘differentiating’ factor for the brand as well as driving viewers to the channel.

At Pix we try to conduct as much ‘Differential Marketing’ as possible, to really distinguish Pix from the rest of the category. It’s not always easy, and it’s certainly not always cheap. In fact, it often requires experimentation which can prove to be expensive. However, given the changing television landscape, the brands which don’t run work on their Differential Marketing will run the risk of losing out.

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