'The whole movie genre is moving towards a better commercial exploitation of GRPs' : Ashutosh - Filmy business head

Making an entry into a genre that has three firmly entrenched channels - Zee Cinema, Max and Star Gold - will be Filmy on 12 February.

For Sahara One Media & Entertainment Ltd, the movie channel will be crucial to its growth plans as it will be the first digitally encrypted channel from the stable. Though initially free-to-air, it has the potential to go pay. Also, it can be the centrepoint to drive the Sahara network towards subscription revenues by stitching together a general entertainment and a string of news channels.

Filmy is playing with several strengths even as it faces the challenge of arriving late in the marketplace. Sahara One Motion Pictures, for instance, has rolled out several superhits like Page 3, Sarkar, No Entry and Hanuman. The channel will, thus, be sourcing content from one of the biggest and possibly best film production outfits.

Betting on a mix of movie titles and programming, Filmy business head Ashutosh says there is space for the channel to expand the market. When serving as business head of ETC, he established connections with the Bollywood industry. Prior to his ETC assignment, he spent a good eight years across a broad spectrum of media assignments.

In an interview with's Sibabrata Das, Ashutosh unveils the strategy of Filmy and the challenges movie channels face to scale up revenues


Do you regret the delay in launch of Filmy as during this period Star Gold, the third popular Hindi movie channel, revamped and strengthened its position?

There was some delay in putting up a sturdy backend infrastructure for our encrypted channel. But we don't see that affecting us at all. There is space for more Hindi movie channels. Remember, we are talking about the most stable genre; nobody can do away with movies or movie-based programming. Even general entertainment channels like Star Plus run film trailers. A certain level of viewership is always available with movie channels. And we have strong movie titles to drive the channel up.

But with the genre not seeing any big jump in revenue growth, isn't it tough for a new movie channel like Filmy?

It is true that general entertainment channels (GEC) earn more revenues from their GRPs (gross rating points) than the movie channels. But that is slowly changing now. The whole movie genre is moving towards a better commercial exploitation of GRPs. Movie channels are getting termed as mass channels.

What role will Filmy play in this?

Our main role will be to expand the market. We will not only be showing movies but also have a rich dose of programming. Rather than being a back-to-back movie channel, we will have anchors who can provide character to the channel.

We will have a flagship set of four characters that will be integral to the channel's programming formats. Lallan (a rustic who has migrated to Mumbai from a small town in Uttar Pradesh), Lal Gulab (a typical villain as seen in all movies), Rokkky (who has the air of a Bollywood superstar and is played by Hindi film actor Chunky Pandey) and Ruchi Reporter (who is like a sting journalist and is interested in exposing the private lives of stars).

The team at Filmy took a couple of months to conceive of these characters who can add flavour to the channel. This we have designed as our differentiator from the other movie channels. We are spending heavily on programmes and expect the channel to have an impact on audiences soon.

Was it strategically right for Sahara One to sell telecast rights for 64 movies (some of which included hits like Page 3 and Sarkar) to rival network Star Gold, particularly when Filmy was preparing for launch?

There was no Filmy at that time. The exact launch schedule was not drawn up. So syndicating the movies was, according to me, a great move. It generated liquidity.

Now with Filmy in the marketplace, will Sahara not syndicate movies to rival channels anymore?

If we are able to exploit our properties better here, then why have such deals. There could be some properties which Filmy will not to be in a position to exploit immediately. In such cases, syndication will get much more value for the company.

'Our USP is that we are filmy, and not just a film channel'

But you will be able to exploit the properties better, only if you grow the channel. And the best way to grow is to stop good content to rival channels. Would you agree?

We also think along the same lines. The key properties will not be given.

Competing movie channels air between five - six movies a day. How do you expect to counter them with just three movies?

We will have a daily dose of three movies at 10 am, 3 pm and 8 pm. A big movie will be telecast on Sundays in the 3 pm slot. We will also have a variety of wrap-around programming; our anchors will provide you a whole new experience of seeing cinema at home. While other movie channels are mere telecasters, we want to be the mouthpiece of Bollywood. That is not to say that we will be any less on movie titles. We will have premieres on the channel. Though our programming lineup is yet to be finalised, No Entry will be one of our big movies. We will also have double premieres on both Sahara One and Filmy. However, our USP is that we are filmy, and not just a film channel.

Why did you decide on dropping the 'Sahara' name from Filmy channel?

We will not have 'Sahara' as a prefix to the name 'Filmy.' Sahara, after all, stands for other values - patriotism and a corporate house. We wanted a name, which would be very simple and tell everything about Bollywood. The bug Filmy is the best thing to happen - it represents everything about Bollywood, it is a movement.

Competing channels have a bigger movie library. What are the acquisition plans to expand the library?

We have more than 350 movies and are planning to double it in the next one year. Our focus, though, will be new movies. By and large, the recent movies are watched; movies are perishable items.

Distribution is one of the biggest problems for a new TV channel today. How are you handling it?

We have our own distribution team. We might also have some outside agency to advise us as we have to seed boxes across the country. Movie channels need to spread out as they have a skew towards C, D and E towns. Though encrypted, Filmy at this stage will be a free-to-air (FTA) channel. As the only FTA premium movie channel, we will have an advantage on distribution. The challenge is also to take the brand across to India because the existing movie channels are well penetrated. Sustained marketing will be very important.

What are the marketing drives for the channel?

We are doing the Filmy Yatra across the country which will culminate on 14 March in Mumbai. We will celebrate that as the World Filmy Day because on that day the first Indian talkie, Alam Ara, was released.

What are the revenue expectations in the first year and when does the channel plan to break even?

We hope to achieve revenues almost half of what the market leader earned last year (according to's estimate this would be around Rs 500 million). We will not compromise on the effective rates and will have shorter and tighter commercial breaks. We are, after all, adding on a channel in a company where you have Sahara One Motion Pictures. There is a huge synergy between the two businesses. For Motion Pictures, the channel will be an important vehicle for their movies to get popular. And for Filmy, it will be able to source content from one of the best and biggest producers in the film industry.

Do you see acquisition costs going up with the entry of a new movie channel?

Yes, but maybe not to that extent. Some GECs like Star Plus are not concentrating on movies. These channels can afford to support higher costs. But their movie channels, in contrast, will have a much lower ability to derive higher returns. So the natural inclination of a steep hike in acquisition costs will to some extent be neutralised by a return on investment considerations.
When do you plan to launch Filmy overseas?

We hope to launch it abroad by the middle of this year. Our film acquisitions are made keeping this in mind. When we buy movie rights, we acquire it for overseas territories as well so that we can take the channel across the globe.

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