AXN inducts ladies into its fan club

By , agencyfaqs! | In | February 15, 2002
AXN broadens its audience with new shows; but is it diluting its brand equity?

Try and imagine the AXN viewer. It's likely that an image of someone who likes action, and likes loads of it, floats before your mind's eye. And, most likely the image is that of a man.

Not anymore. AXN has been trying to get quite a few ladies into its fan club. The first tentative step in this direction was taken last April, when the channel had to choose between launching the Hindi version of Survivor and the English version of Ripley's Believe It or Not. It then chose the latter, and in retrospect, the wiser alternative.

After all, serials like Silk Stalkings, Charlie's Angels and VIP, and macho shows like Survivor, was not the best programming mixture if one wished to appeal to Indian women. With women comprising a major chunk of the viewership in India, this is not at all a good idea if the channel wanted media planners to sit up and take notice.

Since then, the channel has diligently followed up on this programming strategy. In May 2001, along with Ripley's Believe it or Not, it launched two other programmes under the reality band - Core Culture and Exploring the Unknown. And, right now, a lot of the channel's programming is best described as having a unisex appeal - movies that are not hardcore action-like, and at times with a slant to a female audience. After all, what are movies like Far and Away and Hook doing on a macho channel?

The strategy seems to be paying off. According to industry estimates on English-viewing audience, when AXN came into the country in 1998, it had an audience break up of roughly 70:30 in favour of male viewers. By mid 2001, this equation had changed to 56:44 (males vs females), quite close to the international AXN audience of 55:45 (males vs females). What is significant is that the audiences are entirely different. While viewers in the West are much more diverse in their preferences, with a multiplicity of channels to cater to a whole lot of tastes, Indian channels have a more similar kind of programming - movies, serials and entertainment.

According to the latest TAM figures, Who Dares Wins (Mondays, 9.00 pm to 10.00 pm) has helped the channel garner 20-to-25-per cent of the English viewing audience, while Ripley's Believe It or Not (Tuesdays, 9.00 pm to 10.00 pm) has English-viewing-audience share hover at an impressive 45-to-50-per cent. The serials launched this month, Fear Factor, which premiered on February 6, and will run on Wednesdays, 9.00 pm to 10.00 pm, Scariest Places on Earth, Thursdays, 9.00-pm-to-10.00-pm, and the David Baine Magic Show are hardly "macho" stuff.

Media analysts say that the AXN experience was a problem of definition. While in the West, action means anything from mountaineering to slugging it out in the World Wrestling Championships, in India, the definition of action is much more narrow - preferably hardcore movie action. So, when AXN managing director, Todd Miller, cast his bet on the "attitudinally 20 somethings" while launching Survivor, he was talking to a very different audience.

In the US, a Nielsen survey some time back had showed that 63 per cent of prime-time viewers preferred Survivor to Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. In India, while Kaun Banega Crorepati, rewrote television history, Survivor barely survived with a high of about 0.5 on market share against company expectations of "close to 1". And while Western audiences flocked to the vicarious thrill of reality television to get over the "narrative crisis" in television fiction, the Indian audience yawned, and, when it wanted action, flocked to see the recent Hindi flick in a nearby theatre. "When AXN came in, they wanted to show that action meant something more than straight forward action. While they created a viewer segment, from the advertising angle it did not really take off," points out Tapan Pal, president and CEO, Zenith Media.

Yet AXN had the early mover advantage. What changed things was the advent of channels such as HBO in 2000. Suddenly, there was a serious English audience in India, and a quality one at that. It was metropolitan and English-speaking with a lot of spending power. Competition to garner their attention became fierce. So if AXN moved out of the hardcore action slot, it was to appeal to a large number of men who were not so fond of action. AXN also reaped an advantage by starting off its prime time offering an hour or so earlier than the other English channels.

But the question is: Will such efforts dilute its brand equity? Says Rohit Bhandari, senior marketing manager, AXN, "We aim at those who are looking for a bit of relief at the end of an hard day - a way to escape the humdrum of everyday life." And, with a lot of women working just as hard or even harder than their male counterparts, and seeking relief, AXN has certainly got the idea right. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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