On February 14, English movie channel HBO unveiled a fresh new look with the premiere of the movie, Mad Max: Fury Road. The re-branding, a bid to re-introduce the brand to its consumers, had been on the cards for a long time, especially since Turner International India took over the operations of HBO last year. Talking about the challenges faced in implementing it, Rohit Bhandari, Senior Director & Network Head, HBO & WB, says that a key challenge was taking over the business and understanding the viewer preference in terms of content. Thus, a consumer study was undertaken to understand the consumer’s needs. A key insight picked up was that a major section of the audience watches English entertainment to learn the language and while this audience understands the language, they may not be conversant in it. This viewer is also aspirational and watching an English channel provides them an insight into a different world. However, the viewer prefers to have an Indian touch to the experience. Contentwise, the viewer showed a preference for Action - particularly martial arts, followed by Action-Comedy and Comedy. With this re-branding, HBO looks to address the take-aways from the research.
Bhandari reiterates the key highlights, saying, “The preference for Action is simple because the storylines are simple and not complicated to watch. The viewer is trying to learn English as a language and improve his proficiency of the language. He is aspirational and wants to see a different world.” Bhandari also adds that the aim is to provide a complete seamless movie viewing experience with back-to-back movie playouts and no filler content in between. What has also changed in the new HBO is the tone of communication with the viewer, which Bhandari says will now be more direct. As part of this initiative to engage with the viewer, HBO recently launched a mobile application to give viewers access to channel details and information such as channel schedules, a reminder feature, TV promos, preview of upcoming premieres and a Hollywood quiz. Says Bhandari, “We launched an app to increase the interactivity with the brand. Our research indicated that consumers felt HBO was an exclusive domain. The re-brand and the app are attempts to make it an inclusive domain, engage with the consumer and use that learning to improve their overall experience of watching HBO… The idea to introduce the app is that there is constant two-way communication.”
TAKING ON THE COMPETITION
Though the English movie genre is small (it accounted for 3% of total revenue contribution in 2015, according to the Pitch Madison Advertising Report 2016), it is a fast growing genre and a very competitive one at that. According to Bhandari, “One of the biggest challenges the genre faces is content. Earlier, there were just two or three players and the content was pretty much divided between them. Now, with some of the larger networks launching movie channels, the content spread has actually split up. There are clearly the top four and the bottom four and the game is all about who manages and gets the best content.” On its part, HBO currently has about 400 titles in its library and has first output deals with Warner Brothers and Paramount Pictures. It has lined up premiers of American Sniper, Wild Card, San Andreas, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Terminator Genisys, The Intern, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Pan and In the Heart of the Sea through 2016. The emphasis here is on upping the repeat pattern of the film to let the viewer catch the film as per his convenience. Bhandari says, “Finding the perfect balance between managing your current titles with your library titles to ensure that you meet your rating goals, that’s going to be a big challenge for this year.”
Bhandari says that due to HBO’s pedigree as a heritage and legacy channel, the first output will continue to be aired on HBO first with WB, the other English channel in the stable, taking on the role of a supporting brand. He adds, “The idea is to try and allow some of our key content to go from HBO to WB so that WB can also start hitting some spikes. That’s something we will definitely be experimenting with this year.”
A long-standing request from viewers for a HD channel will also be fulfilled with the launch of HBO HD in April, says Bhandari. As for how the year 2016 will be, he predicts, “It’s a year of rebuilding. It’s a year of consolidating where HBO is just punching its way upwards. That’s the way I see it.”
BY SIMRAN SABHERWAL