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The approach we took to movies is that we must challenge the status quo: Sunil Lulla, CEO, Times Television Network

The approach we took to movies is that we must challenge the status quo: Sunil Lulla, CEO, Times Television Network

Author | Fatema Rajkotwala | Monday, Dec 27,2010 6:30 AM

The approach we took to movies is that we must challenge the status quo: Sunil Lulla, CEO, Times Television Network

Times Television Network has focussed largely on the English speaking, urban affluent audiences. Its primary channels – English news channel Times Now, ET Now, the stocks and news channel, and Bollywood channel Zoom – all cater to the one-million plus upper-middle class market, which reflects in the content structuring, packaging and presentation of news.

In conversation with exchange4media, Sunil Lulla, CEO, Times Television Network, talks about the new addition to the Network’s channel bouquet – English movie channel Movies Now.

Lulla explained, “The approach we took to movies is that we must challenge the status quo. We observed that movies that have an engaging quotient are preferred by viewers for a second and third watch. These movies that work are of a particular nature – you may call them action, comedy or fast-paced movies. In the English movie genre, what builds is accumulative reach. The second aspect of at home movie watching is the experience. All of the current experience is monotonous. ‘Hollywood in HD’ (the tagline for Movies Now) breaks that status. It captures the best of movies that can be viewed in the best experience. The quality of picture and sound is completely different and it amplifies the kind of movies that we will showcase.”

Studio tie-ups
Both HBO and PIX have original content as well as a wide-ranging movie library bank. Commenting on the idea behind content acquisitions for the channel, Ajay Trigunayat, Channel Head, Movies Now, said, “We have relationships across all the studios such as MGM, FOX, Summit, Celestial Pictures, and many more are in the pipeline. That is where we saw that in the past 10 years, the market belief that new movies drive the ocean is not true.” Trigunayat further said that contrary to popular perception, English movies was not a niche category anymore as 40 million viewers, spending 42 minutes per week on a single media, had redefined the category. “To be honest, it doesn’t matter what relationship you have with a studio. What is important is what is being watched by the Indian audience and why and, therefore, what is the product that we will offer,” he stressed.

Content acquisition and building a steady supply of a movie base is another core aspect of running a movie channel smoothly. Immediate competitors for Movies Now are PIX and Star Movies, both of which have strong studio affiliations. PIX is favoured by its association with Sony, while Star Movies is a long established brand, leading the English movie genre comfortably in the Indian market.

Saurabh Yagnik, Senior Vice-President and General Manager, English cluster, STAR India, told exchange4media, “We have longstanding deals with studios like Fox and Disney through strategic relationships and tie-ups, both for movies and general entertainment. Advertising interests in international and Indian content is completely different. In the movies space largely, the first output deal – that is, getting the content for the first output deal on channels, is largely tied up between all the international broadcasters, where Star India is a part of News Corp. We have deals with Fox and Disney for all their first output, all their currents that first come into the satellite space, we get the first rights. At an Asia level, we have relationships with a lot of independent studios. Now, we also have a tie-up with Sony, where the second output and titles will come to us. We have a very deep library. So also with HBO and PIX, who have strong studio affiliations. These give distinct advantages in terms of a movie library. We are in talks for bringing in the movie ‘Avatar’ soon.”

Star Movies and HBO generate considerable hype by announcing new titles and television premieres. When asked how Movies Now proposes to tackle this challenge, Lulla replied, “As you will see, when the movies play out, many of these movies have not been available for the past two and a half years. Each brand has a journey cycle, and for starters, we have to get the audience to want to see the channel, get hooked and then build an affinity, and this is a process that takes time. New titles are not what build affinity with the viewers, familiarity is what delivers. We have to first build a familiarity, a threshold of audiences and then build an engagement; the journey is always more interesting than the destination. A lot of channels have used the newness of movie titles as a way to packaging commercial sponsorships, which is not necessarily a viewership angle. Also, new titles are expensive; they may work or may not work as is seen 90 per cent of the time.”

Content strategy
The content selection for Movies Now is based on the strategy of reviewing and passing movies through a filter on the basis of their performance on Indian television and thus gauged potential for success.

Elaborating on the content idea, Trigunayat explained that new movies were not always the best choice for content on the ratings charts. “There are approximately 160 new movies that will come out between HBO and Star Movies, and let’s say starting January 1 on PIX, but those movies contribute to only about 11 per cent viewership in a year. 89 per cent viewership comes from library movies, whether they are two years old or 23 years old. We have observed that movies like ‘Predator’ (1987) or ‘Terminator 2’ and a popular movie this year, which did not see a theatrical release, ‘Never Back Down’, are among the most watched movies every time they are aired. For example, in the last three months, the highest rated movie has been ‘Titanic’ at 0.39, which is a 1997 movie. What we are offering is risk free content to advertisers that are going to get the ratings. Monies spent on marketing for super hyped movies like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ or the Oscar winning ‘The Hurt Locker’ has proven to be disproportionate to the money spent on cost of content.”

Movies Now will begin with a tighter focus in eight metro markets, with plans to expand its horizon in due course of time. The strong point for the channel is its High Definition format. There is a fundamental difference in viewing quality between a theatrical release and television release of a movie. An English movie watcher typically appreciates good quality of visuals, audio and graphics; it is not simply the novelty or entertainment value of watching a movie on television.

Commenting on the genre cluster, Lulla said, “When Times Now was launched, it expanded the English news market; ET Now added 25 per cent more viewers to the business market, and I’m hoping we add more to this. What the Times Television Network does with the marketing arm of the Bennett Coleman & Company Ltd is that it increases the viewership base. You make the market bigger, everything else follows.”

Advertisers & media planners
Meanwhile Nokia has come on board Movies Now even before the channel’s launch, thus Movies Now has not been without advertisements at the onset. As an advertiser, Sandeep Tarkas, President (Customer Strategy), Future Group commented on the new entrant in the English movie space and said, “The English movie genre is a very small, but powerful genre, where the share of revenue to cost is high, thus making it lucrative. Most of the buying here is qualitative and not solely dependant on TRPs. Movies Now is an interesting option for audiences as it will deliver HD movie watching experience at home and if it is a visible difference, people will be willing to pay a premium for it.”

Media planners, too, seem quite interested. “They have got themselves an intelligent proposition to offer – Holloywood in HD. The genre will definitely be further fragmented as libraries are shared, but after sampling their content, the difference here is the experience,” remarked T Gangadhar, Managing Director, MEC India.

Divya Radhakrishnan, President, TME & Rediffusion Y&R Public Relations, said, “In HD television, normally the experience you seek is a superior quality of sound effects and visuals. With a number of high-end TV sets being bought, the USP for Movies Now is interesting. DTH signal quality is excellent and it will have to deliver in the final leg. The genre will be further fragmented, as there will be a brand split vis-a-vis platforms, where high-end products can take a quality call.”


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