Movies Now shakes up the English movie channel space

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MUMBAI: The English movie channel space has seen a shake-up with a new entrant challenging the status quo. While Star Movies is still in top spot, it is only just ahead of newcomer Movies Now.

Caught in the storm, all the English movie channels have shed audience share with the lone exception of Pix. Market leader Star Movies has seen its share drop to 30.15 per cent for the first half of 2011 compared to 41.9 per cent a year ago, according to TAM data (C&S15+,All-India).

Hot on its heels is Movies Now, the channel from the Times Television Network that launched late last year. It grabbed a market share of 26.7 per cent during the first half of the year (28.1% in 2nd quarter).

Marching in quick time, Movies Now, the first HD channel in this space, ousted HBO from its settled second spot. HBO’s share, which was 28.5 per cent from January- June 2010, fell to 20.6 per cent for the first half of this year.

Pix has stayed stable with a share of 13.6 per cent compared to 13.9 per cent a year ago. The channel from Multi Screen Media, however, has some catching up to do it if it has to live up to its immediate goal of being among the top three players in the genre.

The channels in the second rung have also been hit. Zee Studio’s share has slipped from 5.85 per cent in the first half of 2010 to 3.85 per cent this year. Similarly, WB’s share has declined from 4.5 per cent to 3.05 per cent during the period under review. World Movies’ share has dropped from 5 per cent to 1.5 per cent in the first half of this year.

The challenger brand piled up popular movies and showed them on the channel. Said Movies Now channel head Ajay Trigunayat, “Premieres are overrated. It is popular movies that work. We decided on titles two years before launching. We have a library of 450 films. We also felt that a HD channel would be the differentiator."

Movies Now surprised the market of what it could do with popular older films that have played out on other channels before. “The key to success lies in identifying the right content. We expect breakeven in a little under three years,” said Trigunayat.

Trigunayat’s theory that older films work the best is bourne out by the fact that most films in the top 10 are popular re-runs like ‘Titanic’ on Star Movies.

HBO South Asia country head Shruti Bajpai does not believe that blockbuster premieres have lost value.

“The issue is what does your brand stand for? Is it just about repeating titles ad nauseum? Our focus this year has been on premieres. We have also expanded our franchises. But this does not mean that we will simply become a library channel in order to get into a mindless ratings game. If we were in that game, then we would not have put exclusive content like Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy in primetime. Our Original series and movies play the role of a value add,” she said.

HBO has been gearing up for competition. After the Sony output deal ended, it stitched deals with 16 studios last year.

Said Bajpai, “As the number of players grow, it is more important for the category to expand. As for HBO, there’s no reason to feel threatened because of the sheer differentiation in terms of our content. We are the only channel with the capability to bring both the most popular blockbusters like Ironman 2 and Inception, cutting edge titles like Blind Side, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and ground-breaking original content like Temple Grandin.”

Pix has been able to fragment the market as it gained access to good titles after its parent Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) ended the output deal with HBO. The new arrangement, effective this January, gave Pix titles such as ‘The Social Network’.

Pix business head Sunder Aaron believes the channel has “paced up and aged down”. With a new library of films and reinvented look and feel, Pix “has a great connection with the youth as well as older viewers.”

Pix plays to the TG of 15-44 years, SEC AB, in six metros. Said Aaron, “In this TG, we are ahead of HBO during the period 24 April- 23 July 2011. The channel continues to strengthen. Our goal this year is to have a 30 per cent market share. Many popular as well as current titles in the library have further strengthened Pix’s positioning as a current Hollywood blockbuster channel.”

Late last year, Zee Studio underwent a makeover as it changed its logo, look and feel. Its rebranding aim: to cater to a larger demographic.

Said Zee Studio business head Anurag Bedi, “The new identity and the shows found favour with a larger viewer base. With a broad, confident and yet playful font, the rebranding connected to the modern and contemporary outlook of today’s audiences.”

Bedi claims that the rebranding was appreciated both by viewers and advertisers.“Rebranding is like refreshing your identity in the eyes of your audience. It symbolizes that we as broadcaster are still committed to provide them with quality entertainment. Moreover it gives the channel an opportunity to reposition itself as per the current audience perceptions and demands.”

Market leader Star Movies is keen to keep the views constantly engaged across various platforms. Said Star India senior VP, GM English Channels Saurabh Yagnik, “We have packaged content in the form of festivals (like ‘The Kung Fu Fighting’ and ‘Forever Bond’) to keep viewers engaged beyond television with on air, on ground and digital experiences.”

The focus of WB this year has been to expand the 9 pm movie. Recently, the channel also introduced a new movie block at 7 pm. Said Turner International India GM, entertainment networks, South Asia Monica Tata, “A key trend this year has been the extension of the prime band from 9 pm to 11 pm. Being a cricket heavy year with the cricket World Cup followed by the IPL, most channels have focussed on building the 11 pm slot. Also, India is largely a single TV household, where men get sole access to the remote post 10:30 pm. Thus, we have aggressively extended the WB viewing experience.”

The channel’s ‘Freedom at 11’ aims to offer at 11 pm “the best of the best in action, comedy, adventure and fantasy” throughout August, from Wednesday to Sunday.

What impact will the new players have on the genre? “In the short term, there will be a certain amount of fragmentation. However in the long run, the category will expand. Movies Now has already expanded the time that viewers spend on this genre,” said Trigunayat.

Bajpai concedes that from being just two key players in the
market, now there are four – HBO, Star Movies, Movies Now and Pix.

In this new age of fragmentation, English movie channels will have to manage content costs and expand the revenue pie.
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