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Thursday, Mar 28, 2002

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Hollywood comes home

Ratna Bhushan

Rising TRPs, growing audiences, the cream of advertisers. The English movie channel platter is brimming with the best from the West.

IF you haven't already zapped out Karisma Kapoor from your television screen in favour of Catherine Zeta Jones, there's every chance you will succumb very shortly.

For the English speaking, city-bred Indian, it's Temptation Hollywood on the small screen all the way. Take stock - there's Stuart Little, The Mummy and Cape Fear on HBO; Philadelphia, Armageddon, Jerry Maguire and Rocky on Star Movies; Dead Man Walking, Colors and Blame It On Rio on Zee MGM; Steel Magnolias on Hallmark and more.

Shruti Bajpai, Director (Marketing), HBO, isn't exaggerating when she says that the channel has had an `overwhelming performance' in the Indian market in the one-and-a-half years that it has been around. She points out to the `benchmarks' the channel has scaled - from a zero base to one hundred advertisers and sponsors; and from a reach of 10 million households last year to 15 million households at present.

Good old Star Movies, the leader among 24-hour English movie channels, currently reaches 25 million households. "The channel is working well for us - both from the TRP and advertising perspective," says L.S. Nayak, Executive Vice-President (Sales & Marketing), News Television (India).

Typically on an English movie channel, the advertisers' mix ranges from fast moving consumer goods to automobiles to consumer durables to services. According to an estimate from the Asia Media Week, Star Movies controls about three-fourths of the advertising done on English channels with HBO following a close second. On average, Star's ad spots range from Rs 1 lakh-1,50,000 per 30 seconds in-movie prime time, while outside-of-the-movie ad rates range from Rs 75,000 to Rs 1 lakh for a similar time frame.

Interestingly, all English movie channels have managed to occupy different slots. AXN from Sony Pictures positions itself as `the first truly global channel defined by action', HBO piggybacks on Hollywood blockbusters, Hallmark has a strong focus on classics, Zee MGM offers fare for the `dotcom generation' and Star Movies is a balanced mix of Hollywood fare.

According to Antenna, a media news monthly published by ad agency TBWA/Anthem, last year began with Star Movies, HBO, AXN and Zee MGM on equal footing in terms of channel share and reach. According to data analysis by Antenna, the SEC A segment of viewers prefers watching Zee MGM and HBO. Among SEC B & C viewers, Star Movies leads, followed by AXN and HBO. Zee MGM is rated the last with a considerable gap.

Another interesting statistic from Antenna is with regards to gender preferences. Men prefer Star Movies and HBO is their second choice. Women, too, rate Star Movies on top followed by AXN. Overall, men watch English channels more frequently than women.

The Antenna analysis surmises that unlike mainstream entertainment channels, audiences' loyalty to a movie channel is restricted by the quality of programming at any given time. Stickiness is purely determined by the movie being broadcast at a particular time. And unlike other entertainment channels, the audience has already judged the quality of the product before it is screened, which leads to channel loyalty being driven purely by the programme quality on the movie channel, according to the Antenna report.

While last year, entertainment took a backseat owing to 9/11 and other terrorist attacks which ensured that news dominated television screens, the Oscars and Lagaan seem to have made up for that this year.

A trend confirmed by Pratibha Vinayak, Senior Business Director, Carat India. "Yes, the Oscars present a good opportunity for English movie channels. The interest is specially higher this year because of Lagaan's nomination at the Oscars." Star Movies has had an `Oscar Fever' series comprising 24 movies through this month on the late night (11:30 p.m.) slot. Elaborates Nayak, "We have had run-ups to the Oscar night for five years now, and the interest level has been growing every year. However, this is the first time we have found a hook in terms of promotions and marketing thanks to Lagaan. The idea is to also drive viewers who typically would not watch an English movie channel."

HBO's countdown to the Big Night has had two mega blockbusters running every week night, prime time, all through March. That makes 32 movies across 16 weekdays. According to Bajpai, the Oscar run-up currently on is the biggest promotion for the channel. "It is a month-long activity across radio, print, theatres and the Internet. And for the first time, we are advertising on Fashion TV and Discovery Channel," she says. While she refuses to divulge the promotional spends on the Oscar month, she admits it is `significant'.

An indication that the couch potato has evolved is that only last year, the Oscar run-up on HBO, for example, aired blockbusters only late night. "We have bettered our act since last year. Feedback suggested viewers wanted movies on prime time," explains Bajpai.

While TRP ratings of the Oscar run-up will come only next month, viewer and advertiser interest indicate that it is going to be a coup for the channels. "It is tough to say if there will be a huge surge in TRPs, but we are on track," says Bajpai. She points out that HBO had only two sponsors for Oscar-winning films last year. This year, not only does it have double the number of sponsors for Oscar-winning movies, but two sponsors have signed up for Oscar nominees as well. And of course, this doesn't include advertisers.

Nayak is on record that March has been a good month for the channel, more so this year because of the interest generated in Lagaan.

According to Vinayak, while the Oscar line-up may not necessarily boost viewership by leaps and bounds, it will definitely pull in more audiences.

She adds that since these channels have the advantage of a library, it is only a matter of repackaging and rejuvenating films that have secured either an Oscar itself or a nomination in the past.

Apart from the Oscar run-up, Bajpai mentions The Mummy, Stuart Little and Godzilla as HBO's highest-rated films on Indian television in recent times. "What was interesting was that The Mummy figured in the Top 100 programmes of the season - something only mass channel shows can manage," she points out.

Adds a Delhi-based media planner, "While it is unfair to compare viewership of a Hindi blockbuster with a Hollywood one on a mass, national-level scale, it is true that English viewing audiences are growing in numbers."

The channels have lots more coming, because as Nayak says, it is key to keep the interest alive. HBO, for example, is planning promotions based on dances and musicals in the forthcoming months. Hallmark is planning to adopt a two-tier strategy of promoting its mother brand and creating event specific programming.

Others too have elaborate plans up their sleeve. Stay tuned.

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