Television

Syndication: The new script for movie channels

A new volley of Hindi movie channels are expected to hit the market soon. With UTV, Reliance and NDTV readying for launch, the movie acquisition landscape is seeing a significant change.

Costs, for sure, are ballooning. Libraries are also just not available for the new entrants.

The industry, though, seems to have found an answer: syndicate titles. The trend which was started by Sahara when it lent a pack of big titles to Star, seems to have caught on.

BANKING ON SYNDICATION

Sony Entertainment Television (SET) India has syndicated 70 titles to INX Media, the Peter-Indrani Mukerjea venture, for over Rs 400 million. These include recent titles like Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Jaan-e-man, Cheeni Kum, Omkara, Eklavya, Parineeta, Partner, Namaste London, Golmaal, Baghban, Waqt, Kaho Na Pyar Hai, Viraasat, Aashiq Banaya Aapne, and others. There are also classics such as Guide, Deewar, Jewel Thief, and Satte pe Satta, among numerous others.

For 9X, the Hindi general entertainment channel from the INX Media stable, this was an important part of the overall programming strategy. Movies have primarily driven the ratings of the channel.

The film purchase story doesn‘t end there. Star India and Filmy have inked barter deals for titles like Rang De Basanti and Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd in exchange for titles like Guru. Of these, Guru and Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd were released in 2007.

Filmy has syndicated few titles like Abra Ka Dabra and Chhota Chetan to Pogo. Even Star has given away children‘s films to kids‘ channels while receiving Gadar - Ek Prem Katha from Zee.

Ready to jump on to this new bandwagon, broadcasters are going heavy with syndicating titles. It is a new business model that seems to be evolving and is expected to take good shape in 2008.

TERMS

Their could be various factors determining a syndication deal. A title is given away either for a certain period of time or for limited airings. Sometimes it could be a combination of both. For instance, SET India has syndicated titles to 9X for one airing followed by a repeat.

"Titles are cautiously picked up suiting the programming requirements of a channel," says SET India head of telephony and licencing Kaushal Modi.

For example, channel X is running a thematic festival at a particular slot and wants few titles. It will buy those titles from Channel Y for a particular period of time.

Star Gold is airing Gadar - Ek Prem Katha, which it has bought from Zee, and Guru, which it has bought from Filmy, in the 20-day film festival which will roll out on 18 February.

Titles are also picked up, depending on how well it delivered on ratings during previous airings.

REASONS

With an ever-increasing number of channels and a limited number of big-ticket films available for sale, there seems to be a crunch in the availability of films because of which prices increase.

Are broadcasters ready to pay so much?

Modi says, "If the deal is such that it will give a good recovery, then why not buy an over-priced product."

Thus, it is a clear case of demand and supply. The workable model is to sell the movies to multiple broadcasters.

The Indian Film Company (IFC) sold out Jab We Met to four broadcasters at a reported price of around Rs 220 million.

Of the lot, Zee was the first to air it. This will gradually be followed by 9X, Sony and UTV‘s upcoming Hindi movie channel which is slated for launch on 24 February.

IFC‘s CEO Sandeep Bhargawa says, "As a producer/distributor, my motive is to exploit my product on as many platforms as possible in a limited time."

Contradicting this, NDTV Imagine‘s EVP of business operations and ancillary revenues Gaurav Gandhi says, "The movie loses its freshness due to frequent airings which affects the channel. People may not come to watch the movie again and again if it is aired within a gap of 15 days."

"A Hollywood model works better wherein the perpetual rights remain with the producers and the movie keeps rotating among channels year after year or a stipulated period of time," adds Gandhi.

Thus, syndicating a title works when there is a hiatus between the first and second channel‘s airings.

Title syndication becomes necessary when it comes to enriching the repertoire.

Filmy business head Shailesh Kapoor says, "The idea is to create as many windows and get maximum viewers, as we did by selling children‘s films to Pogo."

Adds an industry obserever, "Big-ticket films cost a lot of money for a broadcaster. Syndication can also be a feasible model to recover that cost."

WHAT REMAINS EXCLUSIVE?

Amidst all the barters and syndications, one thing which channels still want to bank on are exclusivity.

SET India has retained all the Yashraj titles from being syndicated to 9X. These titles are with SET till 2012.

Star India SVP Sameer Rao says, "The deal has to be commercially workable. At the end of the day, movie channels rely on a differentiating factor which is exclusive titles. I would not be different anymore if I give my strong titles to several other channels."

If exclusivity matters, then how will a new channel start? New movie channels have to start up with a sustainable library. They may not have good big-ticket films to start with.

Commenting on this, Gandhi says, "Upcoming channels have to work very hard to get the library. That is when syndication happens. However, a channel with exclusive titles will enjoy an upper hand. A premium title will fetch premium results."

But how far will the syndication model succeed? Says Gandhi, "This will be clear once the channels are operational. But one factor which has given it a shape is the fight for big-ticket titles which will always remain."

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