Sony Pictures Networks launches Max HD, targets urban movie buffs

MUMBAI: Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) India has launched the High Definition (HD) version of its Hindi movie channel Sony Max. Although the HD channel has arrived admittedly late in the market, the network plans to steer clear of the replica model for most HD avatars to channels, by taking on a completely different brand position - 'Jee Ke Dekho.'

Sony Max HD goes on air from 25 December and will be available in a separate HD package with the popular DTH players.

When queried as to why the network waited so long to launch the channel's HD feed, Sony Max and Sony Max2 senior executive vice president Neeraj Vyas says, "We were very clear that we didn't want an HD channel just for the sake of it. We were also waiting for the right kind of content to come along so that we could showcase Hindi movies with a completly new approach and brand message altogether."

The other reason for the delay, Vyas reveals was from a technical standpoint. "We have taken at least 120 classic Hindi films like Anand and remastered them for High Definition airing. Who would not want to see these classics remastered digitally for HD in 5.1 Dolbi sound?" he questions, adding that such movies would mostly air on every Saturday on a special programming slot.

"Apart from the new popular movies, which the audience nevertheless enjoys, we also wanted to expand our purview to give out more holistic content," he adds.

With an aim to reach out to Hindi cinema lovers with a cultivated palate for not just the mass entertainers but alternate and critically acclaimed cinema, Max HD has created a special programming slot for quality cinema with a niche following. "The new HD channel will have something called 'Friday Select,'which will largely air critically acclaimed movies like Paan Singh Tomar, Shahid, City Lights etc. These are brilliant films but do not usually find exposure through normal standard definition channels as they are mostly mass focused," Vyas explains.

Vyas also agrees that acquiring licenses for such alternate movies for Max HD will also be relatively cheaper. "They will definitely be cheaper than any Shah Rukh Khan starrer. But primarily, it's not about a better deal for us, but about setting up the right tone for the channel."

Max HD will be targeted at a niche audience and Vyas informs that the varied content is to broaden the appeal of the channel. "Our target audience is clearly SEC AB 18 - 45 years of age. Our target markets are also metros and cities and towns with plus one million population," Vyas shares.

Speaking on the advertisers, Vyas says, "Advertisers are excited about Max HD as the channel will offer them a very premium and wider audience." Currently the channel is in talks with two to three brands. Deals are expected to be signed within a month of launch.

Having said that, Max HD will not turn away from the mainstream blockbusters audience either. "We will have our Dhooms, Krrish, and PKs as well, while at the same time we will curate a list of alternate cinema for them," he says.

When asked as to why the focus is on urban audience when the industry is abuzz with BARC India's rural inclusive ratings, Vyas simply points out that while the rural audience always existed, High Definition television's market is still growing, and enjoying a more profitable business in the urban areas. "Within the industry, it has been noted that premium HD channels have recorded ten-fold top line growth according to the 2015 FICCI KPMG report," he further adds.

"I expect this channel to run profitably with its subscription and advertisement based revenue models. HD is a growing base and it's not something I see becoming stagnant. Even at its nascent stage it is at six million homes. That's a great growth story. If you go by the year's television sales, 55 per cent have been HD enabled TVs. I think HD is the future. Not to mention, with digitisation coming in place, channels will get more exposure in smaller markets. For digital, it may take some more time due to the space constraint as digital pipe is bigger than the analog," Vyas explains.

The network's effort to make Max HD different from its Standard Definition version will also be seen in the entire packaging. "We have changed the colour palate for our packaging completely to bronze, gold and glitter, whereas Max is essentially reds, blues and greens. So the whole attempt was to set a different tone with Max HD."

This can be seen in the several new promos of the channel. With strategic use of popular Hindi cinema dialogues that evoke nostalgia, they successfully capture the moments that make cinema larger than life for us, while highlighting the significance of High Definition feed. In fact, identifying their target audience as social media savvy netizens, the channel has gone ahead with digital first campaign to launch the channel. From contests like 'Your Jee Ke Dekho Moments'running on their social media platforms, to the promotion videos releasing on 23 December, the build up the HD channel's launch is mostly digital heavy with some print promotions as well.

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