Blockbuster year for English entertainment

MUMBAI: Much like the first two seasons of Sherlock – BBC’s contemporary take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic – AXN’s ongoing season three too has taken viewers by storm. Be it the super sleuth’s resurrection on New Year’s Day or his friend Dr Watson getting married to Mary with him as ‘best man’, actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock has had audiences riveted with his histrionics.


The three-episode season opened on AXN on 3 January, within 48 hours of its UK telecast and a fortnight before its US premiere. And the channel is expecting it to be an even bigger draw than its predecessors.


Without divulging the “premium pricing” at which the “premium product” was bought by the channel, AXN programming head Arpit Mankar refers to the series as the ‘TV event of 2014’ and encourages us to refer to AXN as ‘The Sherlock Channel’. He is quick to point out how the channel changed its tagline to “Sherlock lives and AXN is reborn” as part of its repackaging exercise. In a bid to help the uninitiated play catch-up, AXN aired re-runs of seasons one and two of Sherlock through New Year’s Eve. As AXN business head Sunil Punjabi reveals, similar such re-runs have helped hike the ratings of season premieres in the past.


Apart from Sherlock, sci-fi thriller Orphan Black, which debuted on AXN last month, has been the other big thing, with viewers lauding Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany’s turn as several identical women revealed to be clones and embroiled in a deeper controversy. Apparently, all apprehensions about the show melted away after watching the first few minutes where Maslany is witness to a clone kill herself in front of a running train. Not surprisingly, the series opened with ratings greater than those of the chat show, Koffee with Karan.


AXN boasts some of the best English premium content but is going all out to acquire newer titles this year. Starting with the launch of Undercover and Justified this month, the channel will premiere the new season of Top Gear and Hannibal late February or early March as well as CSI’s latest season. Also lined-up is a Bulgarian TV series named Crossover, where AXN has got Bulgarian natives to dub in English to retain the show’s authenticity. Last but not the least audiences can look forward to 24: Live another Day, which AXN is betting big on, given that Indian viewers have already seen 24, both the original and the adaptation.


On the reality shows’ front, Total Blackout will debut next month where contestants will perform tough tasks in pitch darkness, often evoking a very amusing response from the audience. Amazing Race and Ninja Warrior are the other new reality shows in queue.   


AXN’s main objective is to give viewers an ‘adrenaline rush’ through its programming. The channel acquires content that it feels will garner a cult following. It also tries to balance between fiction and reality-based content.


Informs Mankar: “Right now, we are only buying shows with content that excites us. We have deals with various networks for content. We are in the midst of getting some exciting new content from CBS, which includes shows like Beauty & the BeastElementaryAmazing RaceBlue BloodsHawaii 5.0 and Reckless.”


With so much high-value content, the marketing budget has been upped from a mere 5-6 percent to nearly 12 percent of revenue, which too has seen significant increase; reveals Punjabi.  


Elaborating on the marketing strategy, he says: “For old shows like Supernatural - which already has a huge fan base - word-of-mouth itself has helped us bring back our loyal audiences. However, it’s not the same with our new shows. For them, we have had multimedia campaigns, like what we did for Hannibal. And that has undoubtedly amplified the audience’s anticipation and eventual response.”


While on the topic of programming in 2014, it would be interesting to see what’s lined up on AXN’s rival channels.


Beginning with Star India, of its two English entertainment channels, Star World will debut the all new comedy drama Bunheads about a Las Vegas showgirl who ends up a ballerina in a sleepy seaside town plus latest seasons of old favourites like Melissa and Joey. The channel will also launch Suburgatory which follows the life of a single father and his attempts at giving his daughter a better life.


On the network’s other English entertainment channel, Star World Premiere, viewers can catch the new crime thriller Intelligence starring Josh Holloway and the new comedy drama Rake featuring Greg Kinnear. Not to be missed is the latest season of American Horror Story: Coven which revolves round things like witches and voodoo.


Meanwhile, Zee Café from the Zee stable will bring the latest seasons of popular reality shows - American Idol, America’s Got Talent and The X-Factor to Indian drawing rooms.

Not to be left behind, Comedy Central promises a bigger laugh riot with new shows: House of Lies starring Don Cheadle, World’s Craziest Fools featuring people across the globe in ridiculously silly acts, Just for Laughs and the latest season of Arrested Development.


Indeed, it’s going to be some serious competition for AXN. But for viewers, they’re in for a ball…

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