HBO - the Home Box Office, a pay channel since 2000, is close to reach the breakeven. The English movie channel has set benchmarks for its peers in a span of four years.
With a 30-year existence in America, around 15 years in Asia and four years in India, HBO has successfully carved a niche for itself across the geographical expanse where it is beamed. "HBO now has all the ingredients that are not easy enough to replicate," claims a confident Shruti Bajpai, Country Manager, HBO.
While sharing the success story with exchange4media.com, she said: "Initially, we entered a heavily cluttered market but with a determined spirit we followed a planned approach to ensure a rich and gripping schedule with a tempting content that would leave viewers wanting for more and more of HBO. Since then, we never looked back."
Dwelling on the strategies and vision of the channel in India, Bajpai said, "2001 was the year when we started expanding and became synonymous with the household English movie channel. HBO has a certain amount of respect, and we have commanded that respect with our inherent heritage. All this has helped us successfully reach out to 26 million households." And, how was that achieved? "Our USP comprises of depth and width of Hollywood blockbusters blended with a unique theme package and finally, the cutting-edge programming strategy. This is all that makes HBO a heady mix," she responded.
On HBO's unique distribution strategy she said that Sony took up the mantle from Turners and since then, Sony had been doing an impressive job. " Four years is a short time to achieve this incredible task of becoming the No 1 English movie channel in India. There were not many hiccups that we have had with 150 advertisers with us," she said with a smile.
Bajpai wore a placid face when asked about her struggle with the mindset of Indian consumers, to whom Hollywood movies were largely all about sex. She stressed that judging by that psyche would underestimate the Indian English movie viewer. "He is more discerning, caring and masala movies are wholesome entertainment feast here. We were able to bring the latest and best in the line of Hollywood because of our tie-up with Universal, Columbia Tristar, Warner Bros and Paramount. You won't believe that 70% of the best international movies of 2003 were brought to India by HBO," she said.
Referring to the runaway success of the 'Sex and the City' series, she said that the series was well written, wittily narrated and was an attempt to talk about serious society-related issues and targeted at the global urbanite. "Sex and the City was not a differentiator to HBO but we were able to cater to a wide spectrum of audience." shared Bajpai. "Sex and the city was the most popular HBO programme; it increased the viewership by 25%. It was very popular in America and we were confident that the Indian viewer would love it. Sex and the city was just not increasing the ratings but a quality based variety to the Indian viewer," she added.
About the HBO Originals, she elaborated that the series had started in 2000-01. "We had the biggest HBO Original movie 'Band of Brothers' and it was an icing on the cake that we added value to HBO. I doubt that there are other movie channels capable to come up with their own proprietary functions," she averred.
An interesting study that came to light from this discussion was that every six out of ten movies viewed, HBO had the highest movie TRP in the month of January 2004. To explain there were top 10 movie channels, out of which six channels had shared their performance. HBO had recorded the highest viewership ratings. The facts are supported by a study done by TAM for SEC AB 25+.
Bajpai shared the intricacies of HBO success and future strategy. "We were the first to do an experiment on Hindi-dubbed movies of 'The Mummy' trilogy. It was a big, big hit. Once again, HBO experimented by adopting a 360-degree strategy for the movie, Spiderman. The 360 degree approach entailed Spiderman road shows, strips of Spiderman jumping out of the newspaper which was an activity done with an aim of adding an element of freshness to the HBO advertising strategy. HBO was the first of the big blockbusters in India to have promoted an English movie through 360-degree approach. Mudra, our creative agency since the last four years has done a great job," she said. Adding to this she stated that till date HBO had introduced at least 150 different themes on board unlike other movie channels, which do not hold a standing in these alluring thematic series.
And, what about her plans for the year 2004? "Starting with July, we have a special series catering to the young tiny tots and young adults which will include Batman returns, Superman II and Spiderman," revealed Bajpai.
What makes HBO a stand-alone channel? She quipped that HBO did not believe in doing what others did. "We have been associated with CRY for the last six months, that too without any fee. We don't feel the need to sponsor air-time, unlike others," she said.