"With digitisation, reach should have increased, but it didn't happen"

Arpit Mankar, Programming Head & Sunil Punjabi, Business Head, AXN say that while time spent on English entertainment channels has increased, the reach has dropped

e4m by Abhinav Trivedi
Updated: Dec 6, 2013 8:46 AM
"With digitisation, reach should have increased, but it didn't happen"

Arpit Mankar, Programming Head, and Sunil Punjabi, Business Head, AXN talk about the creative and business ends of their channel and in which direction is the English genre category going.
Excerpts:

Arpit Mankar, Programming head, AXN
Post digitisation, what has been your experience with the content strategy for English entertainment channels? Is there a shift?
What has happened post digitisation is that English entertainment is available as a separate EPG, unlike the past where English channels were randomly distributed. Therefore, a person who is serious about the channel will only watch the EPG. The time spent, therefore, has increased while reach has dropped.

Which are the premium categories of shows according to you in this genre?
Serials, thrillers and sitcoms have been big categories. End of the world has worked for us where there was ratings jump of 100%.

Some media planners opine that AXN lacks variety when as compared to Star World and FX? Do you agree with that?
I feel it’s the opposite. Star World is very narrow-focused with just one reality show, ‘Master Chef’. It is a misconception. We have a widest mix of strategy.

Do you think reality shows in English genre are as demanded as in Hindi genre?
Not really. Zee Café, FX, Star World have no reality shows. There is a dearth of reality shows in this genre. English genre does not play reality shows the way Hindi category would invite them. We have many reality shows, which are benchmarks in their own categories. This category is skewed. Other channels are focused on scripted content. We are offering reality shows which are demanded by the audience in this category. AXN in English category is the channel with the widest reach.

What is the biggest parameter you look for while sourcing a show?
The biggest one is that it has to thrill the audience which goes with our theme. It needs to give an adrenaline show. The other factor is how big the brand name of the show is, such as ‘Top Gear’.

How do you define your target group?
As per demography, it would be SEC-A &B, 15-44, and metros primarily, but non-metros have shown the biggest jump post digitization. They are well versed in English, global citizens, well read and travelled. They are more discerning. They question if the quality of the content is not up to the mark. They have a very high discerning rate.

What is the level of innovation in the category? Are you open to experiment with your theme?
Innovation is primarily confined to scheduling, promotion, etc. It is confined as the content is usually exported. As far as experimenting with the theme is concerned we are currently not open to it as we take it very seriously. But we are determined to not only consumption of action but rather broad variety of thrilling shows.

Sunil Punjabi, Business head, AXN
Talking about the business side, where do you see the genre going in the next few years?
We did a brand audit two years ago. A new consumer demand and the evolution of audience were the key findings. People wanted to see more US shows. They know the characters. In terms of information youngsters were much glued. That population is growing very fast. The trend is supported by social media. All the channels have grown in this category. We have grown four times. This is likely to continue. Base will have a snowball in next 3-5 years. Secondly, metros are just a part of it. Tier II and III towns are getting involved very fast. Social media is driving a lot of consumption. Assumptions made two years ago are being challenged today. Level of conversations regarding characters has gone considerably high and people already know about the content.

But don’t you think that in English entertainment genre reducing the time period between the formats in the US and the UK will give channels here an edge?
If you look at the theatrical release, the trend has changed after years of success in films. The trend has changed. The biggest difference between Theatrical and TV is that the extent of piracy is far more in TV than theatrical. That may become another deterrent. The US produces almost 500 hours of new content every year. A popular show like ‘Sherlock’ has 4-5 hours of content. One can’t survive only on that much content through the year.

Has digitisation benefited channels like yours?
No. At least ratings don’t show. But definitely a lot of sampling is happening on the ground. Reach should have increased, but it didn’t happen.

Has there been some reduction in carriage fees and increase in subscription revenues?
At a network level yes, but one can’t quantify it for one channel as such.

What is your view on the current ratings system?
I think we are a small fly in the larger discussion. Will BARC be able to address the issues of English entertainment? I think it’s a little premature to say that. First phase of implementation over BARC is still a time away. It will have a larger impact over Hindi speaking genre. The biggest concern is representation. Life outside metros is changing faster than here. That change is not reflected in the representation. Are Tier II and III reflected in the rating? No. Youth there is consuming content. It is not reflected. That needs to be looked at.

What is your take on the 10+2 ad cap?
Honestly, it is a little too harsh. I think 12+2 is far more amicable solutions. It is a fair discussion from a 30 minute perspective. Business is cyclical in nature. In print there is no inventory cap. Why not? In a fair manner, there needs to be a regulator which monitors the content but at the same time understands it. There needs to be fair balance between consumerism and commercialisation. It should help grow the industry and not curtail it.

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