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Shruti Bajpai

Country Mgr, South Asia | 31 Dec 2010

The whole English entertainment channel space is much smaller than the English movies space. The biggest seller on Star World is ‘Koffee with Karan’, which is a Bollywood celebrity show. Movies Now, again is a library channel. They will show the movies that have already premiered on other channels. Our USP is if you want to see a movie for the first time, come to HBO. We have premiered movies which did not even get a theatrical release in India.

Shruti Bajpai is a marketing professional and has dealt with exciting brands and challenges in her career. She joined HBO in November 2000, prior to which she was Brand Marketing Manager at Nestle India Ltd. While at Nestle, she was part of the marketing team that launched Polo.

Bajpai joined HBO when the channel commenced operations in India in 2000. After serving HBO as Director, Marketing for four years, she rose to become the Country Manager, South Asia, HBO Asia in 2004. She has been involved with HBO since its launch and is responsible for the overall management of HBO’s business in India. Her key responsibilities involve managing the commercials in all of South Asia, overseeing the distributor partnership and implementing a comprehensive communications strategy for the brand in the region. As Country Manager, Bajpai has been successful in managing all aspects of the channel in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

For the past eight years she has worked towards steering the channel through its launch and consolidation phase with the objective of establishing – with the viewers, and the affiliates – the franchise of the HBO brand and the quality entertainment it stands for.

Bajpai’s success formula is: ‘See life through the child in you’.

In conversation with Deepika Bhardwaj of exchange4media, Bajpai speaks at length about how the year 2010 has been for HBO, and the strategies chalked out for 2011, besides plans to further fortify HBO Originals and bringing in more new content.

Q. How has the year 2010 been for you?

2010 has been the best year for HBO in India as we have grown 15 per cent year-on-year in revenue, the highest growth ever since our launch in 2000. We had 36 per cent share in the market for last four weeks and 33 for the last 10. The competition has been steady between Star Movies and HBO, with both tossing between the No. 1 and No. 2 positions.

We added more than 35 clients to our list this year like MTS, Spice Mobiles, Max Bupa Health Insurance, and Unitech Wireless Pvt Ltd, among others. More than 30 of our total clients are exclusive on the channel.

The main focus in the year 2010 was to exploit the social media and the HBO India fan page was created in the middle of the year. From 4,000 fans in July, the community now has more than 180,000 members and the forum is very active with information on all the movies and latest happenings updated on the page. The idea really is to reach out to the younger audiences, increase loyalty towards the brand, and also spread the reach. The community also helps us get feedback from viewers, which helps us a lot.

Q. The ratings have been steady, could you highlight some of the main strategies adopted this year that have helped you maintain this balance?

HBO has done well since the beginning. We have always offered quality content to our viewers and thus, we have a strong viewer base. We believe in product innovation and thus, our original series stand apart. The competition has always remained between the top two. And our focus this year will be to bridge the gap.

Q. This year has been sort of a renaissance year post the recession. Has the overall viewership increased? What were the main achievements for HBO in 2010?

Our market share in the last six months has been between 33 per cent and 36 per cent of the total market share in the category. I don’t believe so much in ratings, but that’s the parameter we follow. The main action in 2010 definitely was our digital presence. We have gone from 4,000 fans in July to more than 180,000 fans as compared to our competition, which currently has about 100,000 fans.

Recession was not so bad for us our clients continued their association with us. There was an impact, but not really huge. Advertisers tend to stop experimenting with new platforms during budget cuts, but continue with the established platforms.

Q. How are you looking at promoting the original content on the channel? The late evening band is already cluttered with channels hoarding to present their best shows during that time, what kind of viewers are you targeting for the original series?

The HBO Originals are not really the raters, they are the differentiators. We don’t put Originals in the league of other things; they are to establish our promise of providing content that you will not get anywhere else. HBO will bring a spectacular line-up of its Original productions from the best of Hollywood filmmakers in 2011. That adds a lot of credibility. ‘Boardwalk Empire’ has been created by the team of ‘The Sopranos’, along with legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese. It takes the viewing experience to an altogether different level.

We will also bring Season 4 of ‘True Blood’, second series of ‘Hung’ and ‘Bored to Death’. Our Original series have won Golden Globe Awards and many others.

Q. The year 2010 has seen so much activity in the English entertainment space. Big CBS has launched and now dedicated Hollywood movies channel Movies Now has also gone on air. Do you think HBO will have tough time in 2011?

Big Prime CBS is essentially an English entertainment channel. Movies will form a very small portion of the whole content, so it’s not in competition anywhere. The whole English entertainment channel space is much smaller than the English movies space. The biggest seller on Star World is ‘Koffee with Karan’, which is a Bollywood celebrity show. Movies Now, again is a library channel. They will show the movies that have already premiered on other channels. Our USP is if you want to see a movie for the first time, come to HBO. We have premiered movies which did not even get a theatrical release in India.

Q. How do you look at the English entertainment space in India? Has it grown a lot over the years? Has the demand increased?

The whole English entertainment space is very small in India. The launch of new players will expand the space, which is good.

Q. How do you plan to differentiate yourself in the coming year? What are the plans for 2011?

The year 2011 is going to be a very important year for us. Our focus this year is to bring a variety of content for our viewers, thus we have tied up with more than 13 new independent studios and movie companies, while continuing with our old partners like Warner Brothers, Universal and Paramount. Some of the best independent studios we have now tied up with include Inferno, Morgan Creek, LionsGate, and Summit.

Biggest blockbusters from year 2009 and 2010 will be premiered on the channel in the coming year. Out of the top 25 worldwide box office hits from 2009 and 2010, HBO has acquired rights to premiere 50 per cent. Therefore, rest of the market – the other 7-8 channels in the league – will share the remaining 50 per cent. 50 per cent will be on just one channel! We also plan to bring very high quality productions like ‘Board Walk Empire’, ‘Spartacus’, and ‘Hung’ to the channel this year. We also plan to show the favourites throughout the year, franchises like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Harry Potter’.

Q. How often do you repeat your content?

Well, the number of times you can show a movie after obtaining license is limited. It’s not that if you have acquired the rights to air you can show it as many times as you want. There are limitations to that. We do repeat content, but very rarely. Our inventory is quite full as of now and I don’t think we have any space to repeat.

Q. How have experiments like Hollywood Premiere League, L’Oreal’s Women’s Festival and other advertiser-dedicated initiatives fared? How has the brand been helped?

Hollywood Premiere League (HPL) came during the time of the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year. Everyone said it was cricket time so no one would watch it. But the response to HPL was amazing. All the channels followed us after that with their own versions. Engaging content is always welcomed.

Q. Do you intend to add some more channels from your bouquet in the coming year?

No, not really. We want to focus on this channel only.

Q. Please tell us about the promotion strategy for the channel. How much do you spend on outdoor advertising? How much on other mediums? Any special plans for on ground campaigns or digital presence?

We do a mix of all the mediums for our promotions. It depends on what the content is. For example, we did an outdoor campaign during ‘Transformer 2’. So, it depends on what are we showing on the channel.

Q. Have putting sub-titles helped?

Sub-titling has definitely helped. It has helped us reach a wider audience. There are many who don’t understand strong American accents, thus it help those viewers a lot.

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