Mansi Shrivastav comes across as a calm, joyful young lady. With reason: the content head of two English entertainment TV channels - Movies Now and Romedy Now which entered the genre late- has managed to create offerings that have given the older established players some sleepless nights. A large part of the credit goes to her: among the first employees to have been, she has battled in the doorways of MipCom and MipTV and other content markets, along with her former boss Ajay Trigunayat, to acquire the best of Hollywood movies and show - and succeeded.
The catalogue she acquired has helped carve out a space for the two channels in the minds of the victims of several TV viewers.
Born in Jamnagar, she is a Stephanian who did her English literature graduate degree and then decided to pursue a Masters in Spanish. Midway she knocked on the doors of NDTV in 2001 and was hired to work for Star Plus’ Ji Mantriji - a Hindi adaptation of the BBC show Yes Prime Minister.
It has been a whirlwind journey for her since and Mansi declares that if it were to be captured on celluloid, the film would be aptly titled ‘Rush’.
Indiantelevision.com’s Herman Gomes caught up with to get insights into what has gone into making the two channels the successes they are today. Excerpts:
Take us through your journey so far.
It has been a roller coaster ride because it has been about news, reality shows, fiction as well as nonfiction shows. I joined Times almost a year before Zoom went on air. This was followed by the launch of Movies Now and Romedy Now and it has been a good 13-14 years.
What were the initial problems Movies Now had to face at the time of launch?
We had entered a very competitive market where established players were already present. Some of them have been there for more than a decade or even two in some cases. When we came in, we had to break a lot of perceptions. People were apprehensive about the kind of content we were going to launch.
Other channels had already established long running deals in the market with the parent company. The initial challenge, therefore, was to reach out to every market and explain to the world who we were, buy the content and give them strong reasons to engage with us rather than the established players in the market.
The other major challenge was breaking myths per se, because everyone felt the content was blocked by other players.
Many months prior to the launch, we had to undertake a lot of research; 89 per cent is the number we all have ingrained in our minds. This is because 89 per cent of the viewership is generated is from library titles. So we remained focused on this number and purchased content and titles which had high levels of repeat potential like Baby’s Day Out, Titanic, Terminator and Die Hard. What started off as a challenge turned out to be the recipe for success.
Which are the different studios that you have signed output deals with?
Our very first partner was Fox Studios followed by our second deal with Warner. They together continue to remain as our base deals. We also have had deals with Sony and MGM. While we engage with many independent studios worldwide, we have worked with several studios in the US and Europe for smaller deals.
At the time of our launch we showcased Rocky titles, which was a small deal with MGM, but Rocky was precious and with a fantastic marketing campaign it came to the viewers like never before because we scheduled it and programmed it in a certain way. In fact, the very first promo that went on air on Movies Now at 6 in the morning was Rocky.
How large is the library of your two channels?
It’s large but I won’t be able to quote a number but it is almost 1000.
How different is the lineup of Movies Now from that of your other channel Romedy Now?
They are totally two different brands. Movies Now has content that is very adrenaline pumping, action, science-fiction, martial arts, thrillers and even slapstick comedies like Baby’s Day Out and Dumber and Dumber type of content. Romedy Now is focused towards a psychographic segmentation that has been done on the basis of three emotions. They are as different as chalk and cheese but both complement each other since both are catering to two different kinds of personalities or maybe even two different facets of the same personality.
While Romedy Now cheers up your day and makes one feel upbeat, Movies Now on the other hand is literally about guns and fast paced adrenaline thrillers. The idea during the launch was that they would remain distinct.
Which are the titles that have done well on Movies Now and which have been your favourite among them?
That’s a tough question. I like Avatar. There are some titles, which can surprise you out of nowhere. A random title like Aliens in the Attic performed well for us. I think the challenge for the content team was not just to pick the obvious titles like Die Hard or Terminator. The interesting ones for us are titles that surprise us as well as add a little bit of extra viewership peaks in that week.
What is the research that the channel undertakes before launching a show?
The launch of a new show in India is very different from the US. So for us it is important to see the context of how it is going to be viewed here in India. There are some shows that are detached from the Indian context and will probably alienate the Indian viewer. A lot is based on gut, of course, but there are examples of shows and trends that are doing well in the market. But the final decision we make as a programmer is by watching a show and taking a call whether it will work for our particular target audience.
Is the research carried by an in-house team or sourced from an independent research agency?
We do both. But we have a strong research team, which is constantly looking at market trends and viewership patterns. TAM is also of help and there are agencies and focus groups that the marketing team engages with.
Can you tell us about the recent premieres on Movies Now?
We do not focus much on premieres but premiere-wise we have had Rush - both movie and the show. The movie Rush is adrenaline pumping and very iconic. Its characteristics are very much in sync with the philosophy of Movies Now. There is also Rush that is the form of a series whose format and content is engaging. Our next premier will be Olympus has Fallen while we have monthly properties for Independence Day, Dushera and Diwali
How successful is your micro property Moviethon?
Moviethon was a launch property. It’s been one of our successful ones because of the fact that it does not break up the day and has back-to-back blockbusters, which is what Movies Now always promised. Through it we bring to our viewers uninterrupted entertainment at any given point of the day. When we launched in 2010, we had made a conscious call not to break up the day into separate morning and afternoon properties. The whole endeavor was to provide non-stop back-to-back blockbusters. There was a time when Moviethon on the Sundays was performing better than several of the players put together in the market. Moviethon is an amalgamation of the best titles.
For example, we started off with Shaolin titles for the first time in 2011. It was so successful that we have repeated it several times but every time with a new bouquet of titles. When it was launched for the first time we pitched it against a very important property that was going out in the market on our competitive platform. Shaolin won hands down. What we had done is we had taken the entire gamut of Shaolin movies that was there and positioned it in a certain time slot and added a very different marketing spin to it saying that Shaolin was sexy and not boring. It’s been a very promising one and therefore we continue to show it here. It’s been on for four years now.
Are you looking at expanding with new titles?
We are constantly expanding and are looking to associate with newer studios. In the coming six months there is a very significant component that is going to be added to our library and it will add richness to both Movies Now and Romedy Now in terms of content.
What are the key challenges that you face as a programmer within the English entertainment genre?
I think today the key challenges would be to get content. Buyers and sellers are vying for the same product, which has made it a precious commodity. Therefore, we are constantly fighting for the best titles that are in the category across studios. Also, I think the challenge is to pick the best content and in that I would mean a combination of new and old titles.
Then, how important a role does marketing play for the new channels?
It is very important for all of us but for us more so because we focus on titles that have already come in the market. We are not just focusing on new titles but on titles that viewers want to see and some of those titles may not have been aired for two to three years.
When we had launched, there was a whole gamut of titles we had bought which had not even seen a primetime during that period. But for us marketing has been key factor because we have brought together titles that have been aired before but not in the same form.
Rocky and Shaolin are examples. Fans may have seen Bond titles on other platforms but on Movies Now it had a different take and all the credit goes to our marketing team who put Bond out there as one of our prime time viewership garners.
Another example was Chaplin, which had a very different marketing campaign. Expectations were low since it was a black and white film but internally we had a lot of conviction that we would do well. But in spite of all the apprehension Chaplin was one of the highest rated films in that week across English movie channels. It added an entire new look and feel to that property.
We have heard that the two channels will be revamped this festive season. Is it true?
We are looking at a re-ignition. We want to promote a lot of festivals and are thinking of adding new content. We had Terra Nova for the first time, followed by Crisis and now Rush. Overall, in the coming six months additional adrenaline blockbuster titles will be added but there will not be a change in strategy.
What is the line up for your 1 pm slot and how important is the slot?
The 1 pm slot today is the most important slot after the primetime as it garners the highest viewership after 9pm. When we launched, we focused a lot on our non- prime time slots like the 1 pm and 3 pm slots. Amongst all of them, we have been doing exceptionally well at 1 pm. Thus, Movies Now has been a leader for many of the weeks in the 1 pm slot. We sometimes play a very big blockbuster at 1 pm or a repeat telecast of a movie one may have missed the night before. But since it is a very critical spot we are careful how we schedule the movies.
Do you see a growth in consumption patterns of Indian audiences for English movies and shows?
I think it is happening as we speak and we are slowly catching the wave. We ourselves have moved from initially targeting just eight metros to now including 1 million plus towns. The country is already consuming different kinds of English content, whether it is a Spiderman movie in different languages or even in pirated forms. I think there are enough platforms that are catering to the various demands as well. Romedy Now is an example of a movie channel which does not have the usual adrenaline, action, sci-fi kind of movies but the appreciation that it is receiving and the viewership it is garnering is an example of how the country is moving towards larger and higher consumption patterns for English content.
Do you see an Indian production company coming up with an English show, soon?
That will be interesting but a lot will depend on quality. Quality is the key for us. As long as Indian production houses produce such quality works it could be possible of course. There was a show like 24 that was produced in India and it was of high quality standards. As long as the content is in sync with our brand we wouldn’t hesitate to engage with such houses especially for Romedy Now. There is every possibility that you may see content that is locally produced. The only filter would be that it would have to be within the gamut of ‘Love Laugh and Live’. You can’t have a Hollywood film and then suddenly switch to another piece of content which is not so well produced.