09

August, 2018

Writer

Streaming vs Television

TV Industry Insight

English Movie Channels in the World of Streaming Wars…

Trigger: Last week while watching a Bollywood movie ‘Mulk’ over the weekend, I happened to see a promo playing out in the multiplex of Star Movies, advertising the premiere’ & telecast of “War for the Planet of the Apes”. This set me thinking…What was the purpose of this promo? And who would want to watch this movie that released a year back in 2017? The audience or the fan base of this film (including me & my family – we are HUGE fans of this franchise :-)) that wants to watch the film has already seen it a year back and then probably again on some streaming platform…

Why would they be wanting to watch it again on Star Movies that too at a prescribed time & day? This set me thinking…As somebody who has worked on the English Movie genre in the country for a better part of his career, I thought this merits a closer look at how the business of English Movie Channels in the broadcast space might be faring purely from an audience point of view. That too, I am going to stick to analyzing this qualitatively and purely from a point of view of a fan of this content and also someone who sold this genre’ passionately. Stay with me…

Then: Circa 1997- Early 2000’s

Satellite television had become huge in India and had massive audiences tuning into the Hindi channels for their daily dose of entertainment. But there was still a small but significantly influential English speaking (perceived automatically as premium) audience which could be addressed only through the English movie channels (EMC’s), predominantly Star Movies & HBO. Between these two channels, all output deals with major studios were locked and the best of Hollywood was showcased on these two channels. Audiences who loved English Movies were locked onto these channels and they commanded probably the highest ER’s in the market on a CPRP metric. For the longest time, the rating/performance metric eluded this genre’ which was purely sold on perception. This was also the time when Hollywood movies rarely got a release in India and even if they did, they would release almost 1.2-2 years after the US theatrical release. Hence audiences used to crave the “premiere’ telecast on these channels since there was no other way to consume this content. And such ‘premiere’s’ not only delivered great perceived value and created a massive buzz in the trade but also generated huge revenue on the channels with ad-rates moving to 100,000-150,000/10 secs (massively huge price in the context of that time). Star Movies & HBO had a vice-like grip on both the platform end and on the audience end. The premieres of movies like Gladiator, Titanic etc. were massive revenue drivers for the respective channels. By mid-2000’s Zee & Sony started investing in this space and tried to build the market with the launch of PIX & the relaunch of Zee MGM (Zee Studio).

Circa 2005 to 2010

Hollywood started realizing the potential of the Indian market and slowly the gap between a movie releasing in the US and then in India started to drop significantly. To an extent that some movies started releasing in India simultaneously with the release in the US. With the boom in the multiplex space which added on a huge number of theatrical screens and dubbing of movies in the regional languages, the theatrical business of Hollywood blockbusters increased drastically by expanding the overall box office base. This led to more and more studios releasing their movies aggressively in India. This led to a very significant shift for audiences. Earlier the only pipe for consuming new English movies was through these EMC’s and hence there was a certain level of channel loyalty and appointment viewing that could be taken for granted. Over a period of time, this reduced drastically. With the multiplex boom and frequent and simultaneous releases of Hollywood blockbusters happening, the English movie fans were watching these movies on the big screen and hence their dependency on EMC’s for this content ‘to watch it first’ reduced drastically. This was quite visible in the ratings too. There was a clear audience shift and this was reflected in the ‘premiere’ or ‘big movie telecast’ ratings while what was also coming out strongly in the ratings was the audience’s love for ‘all-time popular’ titles. More often than not, an nth telecast of an ‘Independence day’ or a ‘Jurassic Park’ would deliver far higher ratings than big glossy premiere’s. At the same time thanks to the internet gaining larger footprints in the country and mobile internet becoming big, most of the younger audience was also consuming this content digitally (mostly through pirated streams). There was a BIG shift happening, ‘The Butterfly Effect’ was already in motion…

The Year 2010 – When ‘Movies Now’ changed the game.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince released in India first, much before the US release as did The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol and Quantum of Solace. This announced a major strategic shift in the way Hollywood viewed the Indian market. The market was now ready and ripe to take the input cost of releasing a major studio movie and not only in English but dubbed in regional languages like Telugu & Tamil besides the mass language Hindi. These productions started making a killing on the Indian box office and further reduced the dependency of the premium audience on EMC’s to consume latest Hollywood blockbusters.

At the same time, Movies Now changed the content acquisition game with its programming strategy. Using the audience insight that familiar titles trumped new movies when it came to watching on TV, in line with the strategic shift mentioned above, only popular titles played through the day taking its ratings through the roof. The fact that this channel took the number 1 position in the EMC genre’ from its launch week itself, trumping old warhorses like Star Movies & HBO who had massive first output studio deals backing them, proved that audiences were no longer looking at these platforms as their only source of watching ‘new’ releases.

Now & Tomorrow… Netflix Vs Amazon Prime – The New Cola Wars

The premium audience that was the forte of the EMC genre’ and for whom the trade was paying huge ER’s for, has moved on. There was a time, even till about3-4 years back, when the only way to target the upmarket, upwardly mobile, affluent audience was through the EMC genre and this genre’ would automatically be a part of any brand’s media plan. But now with the aggressive advent of Netflix & Amazon Prime where all content erstwhile available only the EMC genre’ is available across its width and depth, I am sure the genres have seen a sharp dip in ratings. Thanks to digital streaming platforms, audiences today can watch as many films & episodes of their shows at the place of their choice and at the time of their choice, one by one or in a continuous binge. Why would the audience then register a ‘time & date’ promo and cater to appointment viewing compulsions on TV? Premium, upmarket, influential and high net worth audience that was locked into the EMC genre’ has over the years moved onto the digital content platforms. The younger, hip, premium, cool audience is skipping TV completely and consuming this content on digital platforms. In my pov (I haven’t got quantified data on this but am reasonably sure that this is true) dwindling inventory utilization, a lesser number of brands active on the genre’ and lessening impact of this genre’ on media plans would imply a fall in ER’s leading to lessening revenues. I am reasonably confident that the same impact would be felt on the English Content channels like Star World, AXN, Zee Cafe’ etc. The old are slowly departing the EMC genre’, the young are skipping it altogether. From audience density point of view, the top is being skimmed off and nothing is getting added to the bottom in terms of new audiences, it will be really interesting to see how business plans in the EMC genre eventually play off in the context of the Indian broadcast industry. And with the advent of JIO adding millions of consumers onto the data wagon, will people even go to these channels seeking content? Not so sure.

Coming back to the trigger that started off my chain of thoughts, why exactly is Star Movies promoting the premiere of ‘War of the Planet of the Apes’ a year after its theatrical release? Point to ponder…

Would love to hear thoughts from professionals who are still a part of the EMC/ECC genre’ or those who have moved out of it.