Television

There is no channel loyalty in the genre: Monica Tata

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With nearly 25 years of experience behind her, HBO South Asia MD Monica Tata brings expertise in the management of television networks’ operations to the table.

Tata has worked as part of the leadership team at Turner and has had a consistent record of increasing sales, effective negotiations, profit and loss analysis and strategic implementation of business operations; her performance with Turner and prior to that, Star India, stand testimony to her path of excellence. 

An ability to overcome obstacles and capture opportunities by closing exclusive deals and creating and implementing savvy marketing strategies has been her forte. Tata’s efforts have been validated in the past, when she was adjudged one of India’s hottest young executives in media in 2009 by Business Today; counted among the ‘Next 30’ most powerful women to look out for in 2010; and among the top 50 influential women in media, marketing and advertising by a leading industry magazine - IMPACT in 2012.

Sidharth Iyer of Indiantelevision.com spoke to Tata, who was also the Guest Editor of the Day, about the progress made by HBO in the past decade and the traction received by HBO Defined and HBO Hits among other things. Excerpts...

Currently, the market is cluttered with nearly 10 English movie channels. What is HBO’s strategy to stay ahead of competition? What is the impact that the new players have had on the genre? Has it really eaten into someone’s ad pie?

HBO has been around for 13 years, but when we launched HBO Defined and HBO Hits, the whole integrated strategy was what we were working towards for sustaining all the three channels.

The proposition in premium and basic is very different; the basic clearly runs on advertising revenues and the content mix that you will witness in the basic version is driven by genres that are well received, primarily action and comedy. And that is what drives ratings, viewership and ad revenues in the end.  

For our premium channel, the main proposition is that it is 100 per cent ad-free, and it has HBO original content and allows us to take more risks as we don’t have the sword of ratings hanging over our head as we are creating and providing a proposition.

So, the way the sharing of the content is structured, it brings about a viewership experience between the three which is quite unique by itself. There is competition in this space now compared to a decade back, when there were only three major players.

I think there is clear fragmentation in the genre and the major point of concern is that if you compare it to the English news channels, where there was an advent of more channels and it helped in increasing the size of the advertising pie; the same can’t be said for the movie space.

Even as more and more channels have come on-board, the pie hasn’t really grown and that is a cause for concern for the genre. The viewership pie has grown by about 5-6 per cent but the revenue generated from advertising still stands between Rs 450 - Rs 500 crore, which was around Rs 350 crore a decade back… so really not much has changed.

Having said that, this is one of the few genres where the revenue index to ratings is very high because of the premium value it holds in the market and with genre-specific channels also coming out now, the opportunities are there to be harvested.

Which studios do you have first output deals with? How big is the movie library of HBO?

We have tie-ups with Warner Bros and Paramount for first output deals, and the concept in the category has been changing in recent history. And the other prevalent issue is that content flows from one studio to one broadcaster and then to others with first, second, third and fourth runs.

So, if we take an example of any movie in the last five years, it would have been seen on five different channels. But, where we are different is in the fact that apart from the deals with bigger studios like Warner Bros and Paramount, we have deals with other smaller and independent studios and producers of content as well.

On the acquisition front, we not only look at acquiring big titles, but also some niche movies which are high on brand value and content as well. We recently got on-board some of the best movies from the recently concluded Oscars and are proud to have exclusive rights to titles like ‘12 Years A Slave’, ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’.

We would be having anything between 700-800 movie titles and are certainly focused on building on this along with creating more engaging original content globally.

How has the traction been for HBO Defined and HBO Hits? What are the challenges faced by the genre in today’s day and age? How can they be overcome?

When HBO basic was launched, the lay of the land was only ad revenue supported and we have continued to grow in the space. And we were able to bring HBO Defined and HBO Hits into the country on the back of digitisation.

The response for the ad-free service is really encouraging, after having executed it on key platforms. The challenge now lies in growing that base, as the transition on the DTH platforms has been really smooth but the hurdle comes with the cable services. I believe the cause for the issue is the fact that there are too many stakeholders coming into play with multi-system operators and then the local cable operators to funnel it down to the end consumer.

In the end, the industry needs to come together and keep in mind the interest of all the stakeholders and come up with the right value chain for a healthy ecosystem.

HBO GO - the online streaming service of HBO - was launched in the Philippines yesterday, any plans of bringing the service to India? 

HBO GO is a versatile service enabling subscribers to maximise their HBO experience across multiple devices, whether at home or on the move. But, there are a lot of hurdles that we need to consider before getting such a service to India. HBO GO’s broadband streaming service allows users to enjoy uncut, award-winning HBO and Cinemax Original content on multiple devices including computers, tablets and smartphones (iOS and Android) anywhere, anytime. The service is currently available only in Hong Kong and now Philippines.

In India the service can't be launched currently because we want to ensure that when the consumer logs on to watch some of his/her favourite HBO originals, they should not have to wait for the video to buffer and should be able to enjoy seamless viewing. The opportunity is really a great proposition for subscribers, who will have unlimited access to an extensive library of original movies, concerts, documentaries, and series, including complete seasons of favorites like Sex and the City, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, The Sopranos, and Entourage, and thought-provoking titles like Angels in America and John Adams. Special behind-the-scenes content of HBO Originals such as Boardwalk Empire, True Blood and Banshee will also be available exclusively on HBO GO, if and when the service comes to India.  

Social media is a platform that is really acting as a great catalyst for most channels in the English movie genre, what is HBO's strategy in the space?

Social media is certainly a great focus point for us. We make a lot of effort in keeping our fans engaged on our social platforms, with a fanbase of over 3.1 million on Facebook and nearly 36,500 followers on Twitter, I believe we have encouraged the fans to really voice their thoughts on the kind of programming that they would like to view on the channel and we do consider their views.

Our digital media is handled by New Delhi based OMLogic, who really help in keeping our social audience engaged with continuous uploads and comments flowing in. DDB Mudramax helps us with the planning and execution of our creative campaigns and we are well represented by Madison PR, who do a great job in handling our public relations for us.

What do you think works in today’s day and age, appointment viewing or brand loyalty; or a good mix of both? What is it that viewers expect from the English movie genre?

If you cover the logo of any movie channel with your hand, you won’t really know which channel you are seeing and this will be the case even five years down the line. To me, this is the biggest problem with the genre as there is no loyalty; the consumer is not watching the channel but the titles.

So, if they are aware that a certain movie is coming on one channel, they will go to that channel, so the question really is how to create brand loyalty. In today’s fragmented world, there is so much of choice; the consumer is spoilt for choice.

So the added value that we believe in to promote the proposition of brand loyalty is the cinematic experience. We believe we are doing that with HBO Defined and HBO Hits, with no advertisements, there will be no breaks, there is an HD experience and add to that, the technologically advanced sound with Dolby Digital surround sound.

And the future lies in adopting technology in a big way, to the extent that I would go on to state that in today’s day and age, technology is king. And the idea is to bring the technological experience to the audience. We have taken the first step with ‘HBO on Demand’ on Tata Sky and these are the kind of things that will be bringing a revolution in the genre.

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