Under her watch, the English movies channel has only grown from strength to strength. Before taking charge as MD, HBO India, Monica Tata worked with Turner International India, quitting as General Manager, Entertainment Networks, South Asia, in 2012. Tata has nearly two and a half decades’ experience in the media and entertainment industry, and spent most of her formative years at Star India before moving on to Turner.
Indiantelevision.com was more than happy to have Tata over as Guest Editor for a day and play fly-on-the-wall even as she grilled Tata Sky chief commercial officer Vikram Mehra about the association with HBO and more...Excerpts of the conversation between the two:
Monica: What is the business model for providing the ‘HBO On Demand’ service?
Vikram: The way we are looking at it right now, which is also in sync with our philosophy at Tata Sky is that apart from offering television channels which customers are used to, providing those channels with great picture quality and better customer service is our lookout.
We are also very keen to try out unconventional products and services, which customers haven’t tried out till now and give them a flavour of that. Whether it’s trying out varied services like Karaoke which nobody ever thought could be offered on a television-based platform, which is a global first for us. On our partnership with HBO, where customers are showing interest in watching premium content like HBO Defined and HBO Hits. Not only are they getting to watch 100 per cent ad-free content, but also older seasons that they would not have been exposed to otherwise.
So, somebody who has never been exposed to say, a Game of Thrones, and is keen to watch season four, what with so much publicity around it, need not bother with downloading bad quality content from Torrentz or buying it from the pirated market. Our partnership with HBO is such that any customer subscribing to its premium offering would also get a free entitlement to watch back seasons of all leading shows on VOD.
Monica: So will this be available to everybody or only to HBO premium subscribers?
Vikram: This will be available only to HBO premium customers. This content is offered only as a free value-add to people who have decided to go out and subscribe to the HBO premium service. Conventionally, what used to happen; people would pay for a channel and just get that. But with HBO, for the first time in India, when you pay for the channel, you will not only get the channel but also the free VOD entitlements along with it.
Monica: Please share your views on the genesis of this unique partnership. For the first time, ‘HBO On Demand’ has been brought into the country. Where did it begin and how was the experience?
Vikram: Not only the ‘HBO On Demand’ part but also HBO channels are a complete breakthrough in this country. Nobody else has been able to come out with their high-profile channel which shows you great movies in great picture quality and ad-free. Nobody has that kind of service in the country today.
For us, it is a very big experiment that we genuinely believe in. We have been getting fabulous response from customers about these two channels. And our constant endeavour is to keep thinking what more can we bring to customers.
We have a very well established VOD service today with over 3,000 video titles that we typically sell on a transaction basis or a subscription basis. But you cannot get this content unless you go out and subscribe to the television channels of HBO premium.
We are already getting a large number of calls at our call centres and people want to know more about it. If you check twitter, there are people tweeting about how Tata Sky has brought in a great initiative and we are extremely excited about it.
Monica: What has the response been like and how excited is Tata Sky about the season 4 premiere of the HBO Original Series, Game of Thrones, on HBO Defined?
Vikram: I am a huge fan of Game of Thrones and we are pretty excited about it. It will be an absolutely new audience that we can open up in this country for a Game of Thrones kind of high quality production. I am yet to see anything of this kind of production quality to be put on television. It’s mind-blowing and a new generation, a new kind of crowd is going to open up to this show.
Hence, we are very clear that when we promote season four, it will not be limited to just larger towns but also mid-size and small-size ones. And our communication will say, “Don’t worry if you have missed the first three seasons, why don’t you download from VOD and check it out!”
Monica: Do you think that the dual language proposition is an interesting one and is working well?
Vikram: It is working quite well. Our endeavour is not only limited to people in Mumbai or Delhi. It’s a huge mental block for people in smaller towns who think they won’t be able to catch the accent. The moment they understand that there is a provision to shift to Hindi, it’s a huge comfort to them.
So, ever since we have started promoting the dual-programming concept with HBO, we have seen absolutely fresh households opening up to the entire concept. We have seen a substantial increase in the subscription of the service.
Monica: What do you expect further from this Tata Sky-HBO partnership?
Vikram: Our endeavour is to keep on doing newer things. As a company, we take pride in the fact that we are not just a digital TV service provider. I think there has to be newer things brought to this market, which India has never seen and some of the things globally have never been out here. We believe that in HBO, we have a partner with whom we can go and try these things out. So, we are very excited about making the life of Tata Sky people more ‘Jinga Lala’ with HBO.