Television

English movie channels will have to battle for reach

The fight for audience attention in the English movie genre is getting fierce as fresh competition arrived with the launch in February of World Movies from UTV. Market leaders Star Movies and HBO built their strategy on blockbuster content during the first half of the year. Pix carried out localisation initiatives while Zee Studio added more titles to provide "refreshing" content.

Industry trackers say the genre, pegged at Rs 1.7 billion last year, is expected to grow by 15 per cent this year. New channels will expand the market even as Star Movies and HBO continue to dominate the genre.

Tam data (C&S15+ six Metros) shows that while Star Movies has a viewership share of 36 per cent during the period 1 January to 30 June 2008, HBO is nipping at its heels with a 33 per cent share.

The gap was wider for the same period last year. While Star Movies pocketed a 43 per cent share, HBO's stood at 29 per cent.

Pix's share, on the other hand, has stayed steady at 17 per cent while Zee Studio has a share of seven per cent this year. World Movies which launched in February, has a six per cent share.

Star Movies has 12 films in the top 20 ranking, while HBO has eight of its films in the list. The titles are a mix of action and martial arts films that are easy to relate with like Commando, Rob B Hood, Superman Returns and Enter The Dragon.

Says Star India VP marketing and communications Prem Kamath, "The highlights of Star Movies' performance included The X Men trilogy festival. We continued to bring in big properties like Oscars and blockbusters like Last King of Scotland, Night at the Museum, Little Miss Sunshine. The channel also focussed on consolidating its existing brands Friday Night Premiere and Movie of the Month to consistently build big properties and provide a better viewing experience."

Star Movies has also added variety to its content. A case in point: VIP Access, which features forthcoming theatrical releases. There are a few other things planned in this area, adds Kamath.

And what of arch rival HBO? The channel's mantra of 'Big, New, Most' has helped it gain ground. The programming has been a mix of blockbusters like Superman Returns, critically acclaimed films like Munich and original shows like Entourage, the third season of which has just kicked off.

HBO South Asia country manager Shruti Bajpai says, "What is also important is our focus on entertaining themes. These are conceptualised for the channel every month. They attack different TGs and advertisers." Some examples of these are HBO Animation Fest, Mad About Diamonds, Fast Cars and Gorgeous Babes, HBO Earth Day.

Also playing a role are tentpole events. "We did a 'Hollywood's Best' initiative which featured Oscar nominated/winning movies. We also had 'HBO is Summer' during May and June, which featured Summer of 60 Nights. Here, a blockbuster movie was shown every night. There are also mini-stunts under this umbrella like 'Entrapment', 'Martial Arts Specialists 'Codename: SuperKids' etc. All these have resounded with our target audience," says Bajpai.

As part of its expansion strategy, HBO bought out the stakes of the partners in the joint venture in Asia except Paramount. And to have access to the big studios, it continued to maintain exclusive licensing arrangements with Sony, Universal, Warner Bros. and Paramount/ Dreamworks.

Pix's boat rocked steady in the ratings game, holding third spot in the English movie genre space. During the year, Pix carried out its local initiative Gateway in association with Ashok Amritraj. This has helped boost the profile and reach of the channel.

Says Pix business head Sunder Aaron, "We delivered on our promise of being a Hollywood film channel that would localise in some ways. The winner Bejoy Nambiar heads to Los Angeles. He goes through a two-month boot camp under the tutelage of Ashok Amritraj. After that he goes into a project which is already under production."

Pix's content strategy is to stick to its basic tenet of telling great stories. Pix also has slots for different genres like thrillers and dramas.

Aaron says the late night slot is gaining viewership. Even the Sunday afternoon slot has grown. "Going forward, Pix will focus on strengthening the afternoon band," Aaron adds.

The year also saw the launch of World Movies in February. Armed with 650 movies, UTV Entertainment Television COO Dilshad Master says the initial response has been good. "Our research at the time of launch showed that language would not be a barrier for our audience. This has proven to be the case. We have also chosen films correctly. They need to have global appeal and also be contemporary in nature."

Targeting Sec A, one of the key slots for the channel is Platinum Collection. The segment focuses on high profile award winning films from around the world, boasting of titles like The Counterfeiters from Austria (the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film this year), Twilight Samurai from Japan, Zelary from Czech Republic, and Hidden Blade from Japan. It has also got thematic slots for comedies, thrillers, etc.

The channel will also create a Friday Premiere slot later this month.

To add variety, World Movies covered the Cannes film festival in-depth with the initiative 'Cannes Calling.' It is now looking at doing something around the upcoming Toronto Film Festival. "We will launch our home video division in the coming months. We will also focus on the strategy of releasing films into cinema halls. Having said that, the core of our business will be the television channel," adds Master. 



One of the challenges for this genre is to build reach. While distribution in the metros is in place, there is an audience in the smaller cities that is not being tapped sufficiently enough because of availability issues of the channel. "The reach and relevance of English movie channels has to increase," notes Aaron.

As the market evolves one can only expect increased competition and fragmentation. Says Kamath, "Each player will not only try to stay ahead of the game, but also maintain an effective cost structure. However the game will always remain to be driven by the titles shown on the channels."

Mindshare's Amin Lakhani agrees with the fact that a lot depends on titles. "Star Movies has held fort while HBO has picked up the pace this year. Both these channels do good stuff around their films. Zee Studio has tried a lot of things like refreshing their line up with more titles. However they have struggled as far as numbers delivery is concerned. The world cinema genre will grow steadily. It is bringing a new experience to the viewers. However it is mainly the elite who will tune in to this due to the subtitles," opines Lakhani.

Channels with compelling and consistently 'winning' content will continue to flourish while the others will just about manage to survive at the periphery.

Says Bajpai, "A larger Indian audience than ever before is viewing Hollywood movies and the appetite for such content seems to be increasing. Breaking through the clutter and being able to hold on to the attention of the audience, which is usually short due to the ample choices available, will be a rising phenomena in this category."

Rank Channel Film Rating
1 Star Movies Commando 0.37
2 Star Movies Rob B Hood 0.29
3 HBO Enter The Dragon 0.28
4 Star Movies The Breed 0.27
5 HBO Mr. Bean's Holiday 0.27
6 Star Movies Predator 0.26
7 Star Movies Night At The Museum 0.26
8 Star Movies Tremors 0.25
9 Star Movies Rang De Basanti 0.25
10 HBO Superman Returns 0.25
11 Star Movies Winners and Sinners 0.24
12 Star Movies Pirates of the Carribean 0.24
13 Star Movies The Mummy Returns 0.24
14 HBO The Mummy 0.24
15 HBO Ghost Rider 0.24
16 HBO Son Of The Mask 0.24
17 Star Movies Spy Kids 0.22
18 Star Movies Tom Yum Goong 0.22
19 HBO King Kong 0.22
20 HBO The Mask 0.22
Source: Tam c&s 15+ Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad

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