We place a very high premium on fan experience: Turner's Rohit Bhandari

MUMBAI: Competition has brought the best out of the TV channels operating in the English movie genre. With 14 channels vying for the crown, the genre has witnessed a flurry of changes in programming strategy and content aggregation as well as viewer-engagement manoeuvres. In the quest for curating quality content, increasing the fan base and expanding the target audience, channels are in the race to bag rights for premieres and beefing up their content library. The viewership for the genre has been reasonably steady through the year even as the yearning for the consumption of movies increases on over-the-top (OTT) platforms.

Turner India senior director and network head- English entertainment Rohit Bhandari feels that there is no empirical data that proves any cannibalisation of viewership. They are currently driving all the strategies towards making the television-viewing experience an almost personal and incredible one rather than diverging into OTT for now.

Both HBO and WB are available across all the DTH operators and key national networks and MSOs across India. Turner India is planning to strengthen its line-up of premieres for the year 2018, which will have movies from big studios like Warner Bros and Paramount and help in reaching the goals.

Bhandari, in an interaction with, said that the network intends to deepen the relationship with its fans by not only by expanding the content library but also by giving them more meaningful experiences through innovative ways by which they can participate and engage with its brands.

Edited excerpts:

What are your plans, innovations and strategies for 2018 for your English movies channels?

We are a fan-first company, and our strategy for HBO and WB reflects our viewer-centric approach. Our plans are centered around growing and super servicing our fans, the successful execution of which will ultimately help us to achieve higher ratings and in turn enable us to deliver bigger advertising revenues. Through interesting content and continuous engagement with the audience, we intend to build upon the strong fan-base we have. This, of course, would be aimed at increasing the total number of viewers and increasing our revenue share.

Ted Turner once famously said, 'Just because your ratings are bigger doesn't mean you're better.' We are driven by the same thought. While ranks are important and we are constantly monitoring what’s happening with the genre, we’re focused on being better. We are taking a `Kaizen’ approach to everything that we do. We look to improve continuously with not just our content acquisitions but also with our distribution, marketing and communication plans.

We place a very high premium on the fan experience and we look for opportunities to create an environment that our viewers have come to expect from our brands and delivering that experience.

Will there be a change in the programming line-up this year?

In 2018 our fans can expect an even stronger line up of premieres. A line-up from Warner Bros and Paramount Studios that we now will help drive our reach and expansion goals. While we started the year with a bang, with the premiere of Kong: Skull Island, we have some great titles lined up for the year such as Wonder Woman, Transformers: The Last Knight, Baywatch, Dunkirk, Justice League to name a few. Creatively curated together from an extensive library of ever-popular hit titles in our library, we are confident of keeping and growing our fans with this great line-up.

What is your current target group?

The core target group that English Movies seeks is 16-30 years, with some spillover happening at both ends of the age spectrum. However, from a BARC measurement point of view, we evaluate our brands on 1 Mn+ markets, 15-40 age group, NCCS A audiences.

We will expand this fan-base by empathising with our viewers. In 2017, we interacted with fans by using languages and mediums that they were most comfortable with viz. social media and instant messaging like WhatsApp. The idea of interacting with their favourite movie channel in real time generated a lot of excitement for our fans and created great value for us in terms of pure engagement and feedback. This almost personal experience with the brand is what we will be continuing with, going into 2018, thereby widening the fan pool.

Is there any change in the prime time band?

Our strategy around prime time band remains the same as last year. We follow a differentiated strategy during weekdays and over weekends. Given that weekdays are busy times for people, we play more of the action oriented blockbuster titles as the viewer is looking for a quick fix and blockbusters offer them an easy entry into the film. However, the weekends allow us to expose more of our library to our viewers. With 1 pm and 9 pm being the key slots which are reserved for popular titles, the other slots like 11 am, 3 pm, 7 pm etc. allow us to play a variety of titles across genres. 

In terms of viewership, how are the channels performing?

With its brand promise of Experience The Magic, HBO focuses on presenting its viewers with some of the biggest blockbusters from Hollywood and we ensure that our loyal fans are provided the best in movie entertainment and with our exciting and highly popular library. HBO continues to be amongst the top performing movie channels in India.

Youth brands and male brands dominate our channels. Auto, mobile handset, e-commerce and IT products are key categories.

With increasing digital content consumption, are you planning to launch an OTT platform?

‘Experience The Magic’ is an intended consumer experience that we want consumers to feel every time that they engage with HBO. Given the variety of choices available to the consumer today, we realise that it is important to convert our consumer from a viewer into a fan, and the only way of doing that is putting the fan at the center of everything. A majority of fans in the multi-tiered Indian market love the experience of films – visual as well as audio – that television brings them, and we are currently driving all our strategies towards making this television-viewing experience an almost personal, incredible one rather than diverging into OTT for now.

What are your marketing and promotional strategies for the new content?

Our industry is evolving and consumers demand not just choice - which they already have a lot of - but also convenience, value and more than just great content. They are also looking for unique experiences. Which explains why we at Turner have a fan-first strategy and been so focused on fan experiences. This transcends further into our promotional and marketing strategies for new content. For example, for our recent premiere of Kong: Skull Island, we made the experience even more special for fans, with HBO and HBO HD releasing cool ‘Stand with Kong’ filter available on Facebook camera filters. Fans could use the filter for a cool picture that would visually bring them face to face with Kong himself. Further, we also created a unique Facebook SmartApp, so fans could see how they measure up to the gigantic legend. This was accompanied by exciting contests on HBO’s social platforms.

All major titles throughout the year will see similar strategies that bring fans closer to experiencing the magic.

Has the trend of watching movies on OTT platforms affected business?

We believe that even though OTT is growing, TV will continue to be the main source of entertainment for a majority of the audience in the Indian market. It is a multi-tiered market, and for OTT to have a significant impact on TV viewership, there needs to be economic affordability and the access to good bandwidth. Also, the experience of television, which complements the largeness of a film and its effects, cannot be compared to that of OTT. Over the last couple of years, our ratings have been rather stable and while there certainly has been higher acceptance to the various OTT players, there is no empirical data that proves any cannibalisation of viewership.

Do you think ad revenue will pick-up this year? 

HBO as a brand is iconic that advertisers have appreciated and respected over the years. With the launch of HBO HD coupled with its new look, we saw a steady positive response from advertisers in the last couple of years.

2017 was a challenging year for everyone with demonetisation and GST implementation. 2018 has opened far better and we expect to see a pickup from March onwards. A trend we hope will strengthen even further. 

HBO is perceived as an aspirational brand, identified with big premieres, large blockbuster titles and hence, has always commanded a very strong premium on rates over competition.

2018’s exciting lineup has piqued advertiser interest. At the end of the day, advertisers need some big vehicles to get their brands onto and this year HBO has the right mix of titles to attract some of the biggest brands and advertisers.

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