Industry POV

2016 a testing year for English movie and entertainment channels

04 Jan 2017

MUMBAI: For the English movie and entertainment channels, 2016 has been a testing year. Several trends emerged even as BARC data continued to impact the genre. Tiering of audiences intensified with broadcasters making the push towards premium channels. Shows were aired closer to their US airdate and there was a focus on movie premieres. looks at some of the trends that happened in 2016 in these genres.

The BARC & bite effect

BARC data continued to hurt the English movie and entertainment genres. According to broadcasters and media buying agencies, the representation of the genres caused a negative impact on ad revenue growth. Things were starting to improve before demonetisation began to pinch again.

Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) president Rohit Gupta noted that the genres have enjoyed a 20% growth in ad revenue year-on-year (YoY) over the past several years. “We have enjoyed a good run. This year there was a hiccup and growth was in single digits. However, recovery started in October.”

“After BARC came in there was a shrinkage and the genre went through a rough patch. Channels air the latest episodes of Hollywood shows. Unfortunately, this is not being reflected in BARC,” he further explained.

In an earlier interaction, Madison Media group CEO Vikram Sakhuja had noted that the situation with English entertainment benefitted OTT in terms of some ad revenue shifting. Gupta also noted that media houses globally now feel that they are overexposed on digital and India is not an exception. On digital the ROI is not there. He, however, also said that digital and English entertainment movie channels ad revenues can both grow without necessarily cannibalising into one another.

Gupta further noted that English as a medium is strong and that can be gauged form Hollywood films crossing Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) at the box office.

SPNI executive VP, business head English clusters Saurabh Yagnik noted that English entertainment has suffered the most under BARC as the category is now just 15% of what it was under TAM. Media buyers have been led to think more about putting their money in the genre.

Offering a media buyer’s perspective, Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia chairman, CEO Ashish Bhasin noted that the English movies and entertainment genres haven’t de-grown in terms of revenue this year. “It is just that they haven’t grown much. They are niche and are used as a frequency build-up. For a low cost of money, a client can get a lot of spots. These genres work for a certain type of audience.” He added that only going by BARC does not work for these genres.

“You have to work beyond BARC. You have to see the kind of content that the channels deliver and how people relate to that content. BARC isn’t the best measure as the English base is small. BARC is now seeing how this viewership segment can be better captured,” he said. This explains why social media engagement is being looked at ever more closely by channels in these genres.

BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta noted that the genre is expanding its reach beyond traditional pockets. “A close look at the data shows that the genre is only growing. More and more people from the hinterland are consuming content in English, which is visible in the percentage contribution to the genre. However, to get a better picture about the genre, it is important that one looks at the genre for a longer period instead of week-on-week data as well as a bigger TG.”

For the first 42 weeks, the mega cities and big cities accounted for just 44% of English movie channels viewership. The balance comes from rural India and small towns. A similar situation prevails in English entertainment.

Similarly, BARC data shows that English GECs grew by 187% in Week 41 of 2016 versus Week 41 of 2015. English movies grew by 14% in Week 41 (2015) versus Week 41 (2016). For the first 42 weeks of the year, shows are watched the most on English GECs. For the first 42 weeks of the year, the top movies cover superhero movies, animation, horror and martial arts. In terms of the gender split, males watch English movies more while female watch English GECs more in the mega cities SEC A, B 4+.

Is it time for consolidation?

Bhasin feels that consolidation in the coming years is inevitable not just in the English space, which has seen more launches in the past couple of years, but in other genres as well.

“Globally, there are three to four players in each genre. That will happen here as well. In the long run, there will be no more than three to four successful players in each genre, and there will be consolidation. The top four players in each category will survive. Having 20 players in one genre is not sustainable. We have too many players in most categories,” he said.

That is probably the key reason why in previous years some channels like Big CBS shut down. Current players leveraged the situation by taking more rights.

But Yagnik noted that it is important to have product differentiation. “As long as you are able to create differentiation and as long as you can keep content segregated, you remain relevant to the viewer. But if you use your assets to just keep windowing content, it might not be that sustainable a proposition,” he added.

Adding premium channels

Adding a premium channel to the bouquet was a route through which some broadcasters who operate in English movies and entertainment sought to add value. This was a trend that started in 2015 when Star launched Star Movies Select HD and Times Network launched MN+. That trend gained momentum this year.

SPNI launched Sony Le PLEX HD, which was its first move into the premium English movie channel space following the lead of Star India and Times Network. Catering to the discerning viewer and being an HD feed channel, Sony Le Plex HD took the unique route of trying to build a community through social media and used director Zoya Akhtar. Building on the brand proposition of ’52 Weeks 52 Premieres’, the channel’s first big film was ‘Spotlight’.

Yagnik refers to channels like Sony Le Plex HD as an alternative platform for viewers to consume non-mainstream movies. HD has enabled this trend. The other trend of broadcasters launching a mirror HD feed of the SD offering also continued. HBO launched an HD feed. Times Network did an extensive campaign to push HD.

Focus on premieres

Yagnik noted that this year English movie channels focused a lot on premieres. “Premieres are what get talked about more. Library is what gets consumed more because of the sheer volume. Saying that you have great movies of the past is not good enough. When you say that you bring in the biggest movies of the present along with movies of the past, it builds the brand proposition,” he explained.

Therefore, Sony Le Plex HD launched with the brand promise of giving 52 premieres in 52 weeks. He also noted that focusing on the right content was an area of focus this year for the category. So, doing an output deal with NBCUniversal gave his channel access to the biggest blockbusters of the year.

Under Vivek Srivastava’s leadership, Times Network has grown the premieres for its English cluster. Now each of the three channels MN+, Romedy Now and Movies Now does a premiere once a month. “The premieres give us ratings and bring in ads,” Srivastava said. Times Network took the MGM library.

Airing shows closer to the US

Yagnik noted that this year there was an attempt by players to bring more shows closer to their US airdate. The aim is to cater better to a group of viewers he calls the influencers. They want to see shows on the same day; otherwise, they watch the shows online illegally.

This year AXN looked to take its content initiative ‘Fresh from the US’ to the next level. The weekend property airs episodes of shows close to their US airing, and is now a mix of new show and new seasons of returning shows.

When it did its brand refresh, Zee Café sought to strengthen its marquee property ‘Along With the US’, where shows are aired within few hours of the US premiere. Shows such as ‘Gotham S3’, ‘Big Bang Theory S10’, ‘Supergirl S2’, ‘Secret and Lies S2’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’ air Monday to Friday, 10 pm.

“We have always been showing the latest shows, along with the US. Earlier we used to air shows within a day of the US premiere, but now we have shortened the gap and bring it to our audience within few hours of the US premiere,” Zee English cluster business head Ali Zaidi said.

Yagnik further noted that bringing back older shows is also important as it caters to the adopters—those who want to know more and are looking to get more exposed to English content. For influencers, the old shows have nostalgic value. According to him, legacy shows help leverage viewership. Star World Premiere HD, which generally airs shows day and date with the US, started a property called ‘Miniseries of the Month’ under which it has aired HBO miniseries of the past like ‘Angels in America’ many years after they first premiered.

Catering to underserved audiences

There were fewer launches this year, but they focused on catering to audiences that channel owners felt were underserved. Sony Le Plex HD caters to what Yagnik describes as Hollywood natives. These are viewers who watch English movies beyond the blockbusters.

Yagnik noted that there has been a tiering of audiences due to the push towards premium. So, there is the mass audience who watch the likes of Pix, Movies Now and Star Movies. Then you have the second tier who appreciate good stories and ideas. They can go to the likes of Sony Le Plex HD, MN+ and Star Movies Select HD.

Time Network launched Movies Now 2 to cater better to the youth. The channel is being pushed as being rebellious and energetic. Its target group is 15–35 versus Movies Now’s TG of 15–50.

“Five years back, movie channels were like a thali meal. One channel offered everything. Now the industry has realised that if the channel’s positioning is right and is backed up by content, then it is a success,” explained Srivastava.

The OTT impact

English content availability and consumption got a boost through this medium. Star made HBO shows available on Hotstar through subscription. This move was key in positioning Hotstar as a premium destination. Netflix launched and made shows like ‘Narcos’ and ‘The Affair’ available. Amazon Prime has recently launched. Hooq boosted its content offerings.

Obviously, all this could be a big challenge to the English channels in the years to come with bandwidth costs expected to come down significantly. These companies are also investing in local content. This is a long-term game and progress for some of the OTT players has been slow so far. What works in favour of the English movies and entertainment channels is that ARPUs in India are low. Subscribers pay much less for TV channels compared to what they do in markets like the US and UK.

Yagnik, though, feels that OTT is an opportunity. “TV is here to stay and thrive. Possibly OTT will grow and help increase the overall consumption of content. Most networks have their own OTT service. They see a clear synergy where television consumption and digital consumption feed off each other, and the content consumption opportunity goes up drastically. Linear television affiliates are focusing on value-added services like on-demand, catch-up and linear streaming on any device. OTT is more beneficial as it provides additional opportunities for consumption,” Yagnik said at length.

Bhasin feels that OTT, which has seen some ad revenue growth this year, hasn’t come mainly at the cost of the English genres. “It has taken revenue from different genres like sports. For instance, if a match is going on in the day, then people will watch it in the office.” He also noted that English content online is going through the subscription revenue route.

A theatrical boost

Yagnik noted that in the first half of the year Hollywood outperformed Bollywood. “If the releases in theatres do well, you will see the rub-off happening. The whole pie and consumption will grow accordingly. It is a good thing,” he said.

At the same time, Srivastava noted that increasingly English movies that have not been released theatrically are being seen on television. The trend is only going to grow with premium channels like Sony Le Plex HD, MN+ and Star Movies Select HD growing their presence. Srivastava noted that the theatrical business has a different model and business pressure.

Getting a brand refresh

Channels in the English movies and entertainment spaces continued to refresh to try and go to the next level. SPNI’s AXN employed the R.E.D. philosophy, which focused on its key tenets of ‘Reality’, ‘Entertainment’ and ‘Drama’. The aim was to build stronger show and character associations. Its sibling Pix did a version 2.0 to build stronger brand recall and overcome the channel blindness problem that plagues the genre.

To compete better HBO also announced a brand refresh earlier in the year. The tagline now is ‘Experience Hollywood’.

Zee Café got a brand refresh with the tagline ‘All Eyes on New’. The content showcase is now a blend of drama, comedy, thrill and action. The positioning is inspired from the consumer insight that people today are constantly exploring and discovering. They are willing to carry change along with them to grow. They want to be bold and actively seek what is new and different.

Yagnik noted that the English category has many more players compared to Hindi, regional movie and entertainment channels.

“The channel is a brand and within that you have content. Each part, which I call an ingredient, is very visible to the audience. So, you need to work on having very compelling content, and you also need to create an environment on the channel that makes it look clutter-breaking and different. Each channel has to stand out in some way through content and how it communicates its position to the audience,” he said.