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Sunder Aaron

Senior Vice President & Business Head | 29 Jan 2010

Mass media isn’t cost effective, but there are certain films for which you want to use outdoor more, but otherwise, it doesn’t pay off. Radio and online does well. We also have on-air spots on channels that have a similar target group. Most of the movie channels are not promoting their websites too much, but we are revamping our website and making it more interactive. The new website will be launched in the first week of February.

Sunder Aaron has been in India for six years, and during his tenure in India, Aaron also managed local operations for the two English language channels for the Sony Pictures Television International networks group (based in Singapore) – AXN and Animax. Prior to this role, he was Vice-President, International Networks for Sony Pictures Television International, and worked on the ground with local business heads at Sony Entertainment Television while reporting to the top television executives at Sony Pictures Entertainment in Los Angeles. His primary duties included advising and assisting senior executive management on all corporate development projects and ventures at SET India.

Aaron is also the Co-Founder and COO of Cinema Entertainment Group (CEG), an entertainment media company. CEG's first venture was the launch of a new interactive digital television channel. As COO, Aaron was responsible for consumer and trade marketing, and programming and production aspects for the network.

Before launching CEG, Aaron was Director of Programming for Encore International, a division of Liberty Media Corporation. Aaron's tenure at Encore International also included a post as Director of Business Development, where he was responsible for planning of new ventures, and oversaw the company's advertising inventory on China Central Television channels.

Prior to working at Encore International, Aaron was Director of Programming for Asian Television and Communications International, a subsidiary of Liberty Media Corporation. He was responsible for the programming business in Asia, negotiating and executing license and barter agreements for all library acquisitions and sales. While there, Aaron also built an educational programming distribution business and was a key member of the team that successfully negotiated, structured and launched a media/advertising Chinese joint venture company with International Family Channel.

Aaron's experience in entertainment and media includes posts at Gotham Entertainment Group as Director of Business Development and media buyer and planner for JWT.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Khushboo Tanna, Aaron speaks at length about PIX’s strategy for 2010 and plans to cash in on the IPL buzz.

Q. How has the year 2009 been for PIX and what were the key milestones?

2009 was a good year because we had a steady evolution. When we had launched the channel in 2006, we had launched it with a lot of library movies from Sony, and we kept on adding more and more films every year. In 2009, we started getting more active by adding more current films, for example, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. That clearly set the tone for the channel and made our intentions clear to the market. We were clear about the strategy internally, but when we demonstrated it to the industry and the trade, it was making a statement. We followed it up with a property we created, called ‘Super movie of the month’, where we showcase a big current release every month. We were fortunate to acquire some titles that fit the bill, such as ‘Outlander’ and ‘Push’. We have tried to keep up the pace. In 2010, we are going to build on the growth that we had in 2009.

The main milestones of 2009 included getting new movies and getting the FA Cup, which helped widen the reach of the channel. Distribution was also strong this year. There are always some challenges, but overall we have made stronger marketing efforts in places such as Delhi, which has helped widen our reach there.

Q. Which shows or movies would you say helped to attract more viewership on PIX?

‘Chicks on Flicks’ is a show that has done very well for us. For a couple of weeks it was the No. 1 English show across all English movie channels. We just started the second season a couple of months back. Overall, the channel has continued its growth and has made gains on our primary competition. On several weeks we are beating them and every week we will beat them in one market or the other. They have a lot of big movies but despite that we are still able to attract the audience. Our reach is the same as that of HBO and Star Movies. Our channel share in 2009 was 18-20 per cent, our goal is to have a channel share of 25-30 per cent this year.

Q. What are the key challenges you foresee for PIX in 2010?

The key challenge would be to increase the English movie watching audience.

Q. What were the changes in terms of content that were introduced in PIX in 2009?

One thing that we did to increase the reach of the channel was to add subtitles in September 2009. We do the subtitling here in India, so we have greater control over it and the type of language that is being used. Even in case of an error, we can change it much faster and before the movie goes on air. With that, we expect the channel to get well placed in markets that are not urban or among the top metros and we expect a lot of growth in the South market.

Q. The IPL tournament that will be held in March-April 2010 is seen as a major challenge for channels of all genres. PIX would be in a little bit of a fix considering that MAX, which will be airing the IPL matches, is PIX’s sister concern. What is PIX’s strategy to deal with IPL?

We benefit greatly from MAX being a sister channel as our movies get promoted during IPL. Last year, we had come up with a property called ‘PIX Premier League’, which we will run during the six weeks of IPL. We shift our schedule a little so that people can catch a good movie at 6 pm before the match begins and then again at 11 pm after the match is over. We also try to counter programme during the match. We promoted ‘PIX Premier League’ and it worked well for us last year and we hope that it does just as well for us this year too.

Q. PIX is generally perceived as a ‘library’ movie channel by the industry. What is your reaction to that?

PIX stared premiering new movies a long time ago. In 2009, however, we did a better job of promoting and positioning ourselves. We have probably as many library movies as HBO or Star Movies. You cannot have a movie channel without library movies. Other movie channels have more current films as they have easier access to studios than we do. When we launched the channel, you could have characterised it as a ‘library’ movie channel, but not anymore.

Q. What is the way forward for PIX in 2010?

We will continue to get new films and also expect the FA Cup to gather frenzy by May. We have got a major film coming up, called ‘This is it’, which will premier on the channel after the IPL match. Typically, a Hollywood movie premieres in India a year or year and a half after its release in the international market. We are trying to change that perception and will have this movie just months after its release.

Q. PIX does not have a programming or content head. What is the structure that is followed by the channel in this case? Any plans to get someone to head it?

We have a programming team that works on acquisitions and reviewing films, and frankly, I grew up watching these movies all my life, so I know this genre pretty well. Therefore, as of now, there is no reason to change our style of operation. We tend to do very well in the afternoons and want to get new movies in the afternoon band.

Q. What is PIX’s strategy to forge ahead of the competition in terms of content?

We will continue to buy new movies. One of the ways we position ourselves is hand-picked movies. The competition generally has an output deal with a movie studio, but we do not have the luxury to do that, so we scout for independent producers. The viewer is not going to like all the movies that are on the channel, but we do take more care than our competitors in terms of picking out movies. Some lesser known good films do not enjoy high vierwership as we cannot promote each and every movie. It is natural when our audience is just 2 per cent of the total television audience.

Q. What sort or marketing works for a movie channel? Is mass media effective?

Mass media isn’t cost effective, but there are certain films for which you want to use outdoor more, but otherwise, it doesn’t pay off. Radio and online does well. We also have on-air spots on channels that have a similar target group. Most of the movie channels are not promoting their websites too much, but we are revamping our website and making it more interactive. The new website will be launched in the first week of February. We noticed that generally the audience comes to the website to check the programme schedule, so we decided to offer them more while they were checking out the schedule.

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