In the clutter of English movie channels, Movies Now has created a stronghold and believes that the category will only grow in the coming years.
Audiences in India, especially the ones seeking uppity international content in the form of English movies, have been spoilt for choice in 2011. The entry of Movies Now added significantly to the space, and the channel’s presence not only created a new and strong player but has brought traction to the category itself, indicating a growth graph for older channels such as Star Movies and Pix as well.
The big question is what did Movies Now do right? According to Ajay Trigunayat, Business Head, Movies Now, it was the singleminded approach of placing consumers at the centre of all conversations. He told IMPACT, “If there is the viewer connect missing, we won’t do it.”
The journey so far
Looking back at the road that the channel has taken so far, Trigunayat recalled, “We launched on December 19, 2010, and if I had to critically view this, our approach has been holistic.” The three key areas of initial focus for the channel were distribution, content and communication. For Movies Now, step one was identifying key gaps in the English movies sector and then working on each. Trigunayat cited the example of the channel’s distribution to substantiate his point. The popularly held belief was that if a channel got to be on DTH, it would become popular. “But when Movies Now began, we were not present on a single DTH platform. Eighty-eight per cent of viewership is still coming from analog, and while DTH is the wave of the future, it is not about the immediate future. We may see DTH to be very strong from 2013, perhaps,” he explained.
The case of programming was no different. In fact, Movies Now challenged some fundamental thought processes in that aspect. For instance, many from the industry thought new movies drove viewership. Movies Now, however, chose to be a library movie channel. “I guess we have proved that connecting with the viewer, and therefore really determining what he or she wants to watch, is what matters,” Trigunayat pointed out.
A growth story
It is almost seven months now since the channel’s launch. Movies Now has stayed on top of the ratings chart for a significant part of this period in the one million plus markets, according to TAM Media Research. Trigunayat said, “The target we began with was to change the status quo in the English movies genre, and we achieved that. We have been very clear that the channel is premium and the packaging has to support that. Now, we are seeing other channels following us. In the last two months, Pix has picked up similar movies. We find that competition is shadowing our distribution placement and our FPCs (fixed point charts). However, for us it is not too worrisome because we believe that just by copying competition, you become a ‘me too’, but when you do something different, it should become relevant to the consumer and in a manner which is impactful. We have been able to create that meaning for the consumer with our programming strategy.”
Perhaps one of the most noteworthy developments of the year was that the English movies genre per se saw growth. Movies Now’s following did not come as much from other channels as from new viewers. Trigunayat observed, “If you look at numbers, the category used to do about 43 GRPs (gross rating points). In the week that we launched, we clocked 77 GRPs, which is an 80 per cent increase in the category. But if you look at it today, the category delivers close to 69 GRPs, which is still approximately a 65 per cent growth and that has come in the face of two key properties – ICC Cricket World Cup and the Indian Premier League. Despite these strong cricket properties, our channel has managed to grow. The reach of the channel, started off at 10-12 per cent versus the competition’s 17 to 20 per cent, and that is a good start. We are at par with Star Movies today or a little ahead of them week-on-week for the last quarter.”
Building market blocks
When Movies Now had launched, the first markets of focus were the eight metros. “And then we built our reach into one million plus population towns in India. Our endeavour is to stay true to our advertisers and consumers,” said Trigunayat.
The channel’s strategy sees it develop all markets from the viewpoint of both advertisers and viewers, and that takes investment. For example, if a channel has to activate a market like Ahmedabad, that takes a few crores of rupees, and this is true for markets like Pune and Chennai too. “We expanded presence to one million plus markets after two months of launch, and it was a case of both push and pull,” Trigunayat said, adding, “While we make efforts to reach out to people and to the trade, there have been many distribution networks that contacted us to be available on their networks. The reach has been complemented by our push-and-pull strategy at the trade level in distribution.”
Also, Movies Now is clear that it doesn’t have a ‘programming strategy’. “We have an overall strategy. We put the viewer at the centre of all our efforts and cater to what the viewer wants. A lot of people say Content is King but for us Consumer is King. Perhaps that is why for every movie that runs on competition as well, on our channel it does approximately 40-60 per cent more viewership, sometimes even 100 per cent more. That’s where we need to have a holistic approach: it needs to be orchestrated! For example, the highest rated movie is an unknown movie called ‘Return to the 36 Chamber’ for the past 18 months. This is now followed by ‘The Karate Kid’ and ‘Speed’. But that is an indication that your approach just cannot be about programming, it is the whole package.”
A Prospering Category, But Challenges Ahead
Because of the kind of audiences that a genre like English movies can attract, Trigunayat sees this as a growth category per se. “If you see the future of the category, the 55 million viewers that it has are English-speaking audiences with luxurious lifestyles and the kind of TGs that large marketers target. If you look at our country, there are more English-speaking consumers in India than perhaps in all of Europe. The category reach was 45 million viewers before we launched and this is now at 55-56 million. The category is growing at a much better pace than it was.”
Some of the first advertisers on the channel were Nokia, Samsung, LG, Kellogg’s, Coca- Cola, Aircel and Airtel. “In recent times, we have signed a deal with Hindustan Unilever. We refuse to break our channel into subparts, where it may generate revenue for us but may not connect with the viewer. If there is viewer connect missing, we won’t do that activity. Our motive is to create lesser but meaningful properties, and this cannot be done overnight. If you look at our Sundays, which is generally split into four to five parts for any movie channel, we decided to do what a viewer actually wants, which is to show back-to-back good movies. We do things that are beneficial for the channel in the long run.”
But a challenge in front of the channel, and perhaps the genre itself, is the advertising monies. Trigunayat informed that while advertisers are paying the channel an effective rate of Rs 3,000 per 10 seconds, it is still low and the rate should be around Rs 7,500 per 10 seconds. “We deliver approximately 66 per cent more viewership than Star Movies, the closest competition, and 125 per cent more than HBO. The medium is such that there always seems to be some degree of cynicism and lack of belief. There are many clients who saw merit in investing early at invitational super cost-effective prices and bringing a much higher viewership. And right or wrong, that is a significant area where clients have been able to benefit. Due to the current dynamics, our cost-efficiency would be much better than what has ever been provided in the English movie category,” Trigunayat said.
The road forward
The strategy from here is to “keep up the good work”. The target for the channel now is to protect channel share. Trigunayat was candid in stating that at this stage in the channel’s life-cycle, the expectation of market share growth is more conservative. “We won’t grow as exponentially as we were growing so far, but we would see incremental growth. So, we are at around 34 per cent right now and it would be 40 per cent or so, as we move forward. The way we see it, however, the more important thing is for us to hold on to that 34 per cent, which is not easy,” Trigunayat observed.
The second thing that will keep the channel on its toes is the nature of the medium itself. “Television is a dynamic medium. Take the example of Hindi general entertainment channels – there are weeks when the gap between the top players is reduced dramatically and then there are weeks it increases again. It is the same with the music genre. In the kids genre, we are seeing Disney domination suddenly. And there have been significant changes there - Cartoon Network was knocked over by Hungama, then both these channels were beaten by Nickelodeon and then Disney is now on top of all of them. So the nature of the medium is at best, unpredictable,” Trigunayat concluded.