Anirban Roy Choudhury

"OTT platforms are our sizeable competitor": Times Network's Vivek Srivastava

In an interview with afaqs! Srivastava speaks about the impact of OTT on English movies and entertainment on TV.

The Indian family's TV set belonged to the countless dramas, soap operas and reality shows - game shows, singing, dancing competitions etc. that prevail. For males and younger audiences, entertainment, movie and kid's channels were the way out. Thanks to strict broadcast guidelines on sex and violence, the films or shows were chopped or only particular types of movies were aired. Then came the emergence of the OTT platform. It promised to be sexier, edgier, funnier and 'uncensored'. It offered Indians the content that the West was streaming and in return, it wanted a subscription fee.

So, what did it do to English content consumption on TV? Nothing, believes Vivek Srivastava, president - strategy and business head - EEC, Times Network. Times Network, a part of the Bennett Coleman group, operates a bouquet of English News, English Movies and Entertainment channels and a Bollywood lifestyle channel - Zoom.

The Srivastava-led bouquet includes Romedy Now and Romedy Now HD, MNX and MNX HD, Movies Now, Movies Now HD and MN+. Seven years ago, with the launch of Movies Now, Times Network (then known as Times Television Network) started its journey into the English entertainment business. Today, analysts peg it to be the leading network in the English Movies category which sees advertisers dishing out close to Rs 700 crore. In an interview with afaqs! Srivastava speaks about the journey so far and the impact of OTT.

Edited Excerpts

While you started with Movies Now, why did you expand and create a bouquet of channels?

We understood that the taste of the television audience, especially when it comes to English movies or entertainment, has evolved significantly. There are various factors that resulted in this evaluation. One is, of course, the consistent growth in adopting English as the medium of instruction and then the growth of Hollywood in India. In fact, Hollywood blockbusters now compete with Hindi films when it comes to box-office collections.

Social media has also played a vital role in evolving the taste of India's audience. Earlier, people would read about movies in the newspaper once a day; now it's all over social media all the time. Fans are far more aware of their stars as well as the content being created. After understanding the changing trend, we decided to launch a bouquet of channels. First, we launched Romedy Now and its success encouraged us, so we launched MN+ and positioned it as the gold class of Hollywood. In the HD-only category, it makes three times as much revenue as the next competitor. Two years back, we launched MNX, a new-age younger brand, almost an alter ego of Movies Now.

Did having a bouquet help you sell your pack in the new regulatory framework?

Collectively, the four bands represent a very potent offering to the advertiser and the consumer. That is why during the tariff order implementation, while we too witnessed some disruption, it was possibly the least in the marketplace.

What is the profile of the audience that you target or the ones who consume English Entertainment on TV?

Demographically speaking, we still talk to the urban 15-50-year-olds. Psycographically, all these brands are extremely different from each other. Movies Now is the blockbuster, Masala movies offering. Romedy Now is the rom-com destination, MN+ is a brand that offers an immersive viewing experience and that is why we have resisted the temptation of launching a standard definition version of the channel. MNX is slightly brand targeted toward the younger audience. By younger, we mean the ones who are young at heart. Sci-fi action, new-age humour, and edgy content perform better on MNX.

How important is the availability of content? Which studios do you have first output deals with?

We have four channels, possibly the biggest library of content for consumers in the country. We have long-term deals with four out of the top six studios. We put up a constant fight to ensure that the best content is made available for consumers. The key for us is to have a relevant and refreshed library every year. We know that we are in the business of repeat viewing and, therefore, the depth and width of the library are far more important than just doing television premieres. We have a first-out deal with MGM and apart from that, we have second output deals with NBC, Sony and other studios.

In that case, why is 'Television Premieres' considered marquee properties?

The audience aggregation comes from premieres and latest movies. Latest does not necessarily mean premieres, anything that has been released in the last two or three years, we define them as latest movies. The premieres and latest movies form the top of the pyramid that attracts viewers and then the bottom of the pyramid, which discovers cinema on the platform. For example, one comes to the channel to watch 'Fast and Furious' and while watching that discovers there is another movie slated to play called 'Fight Club' and so, sticks on the channel to watch it.

What is the consumer behaviour; do they accidentally land on the channel and get glued to a scene or is it your marketing efforts that get them to watch?

We are in the business of creating habits. I am trying to say - come at 9:00 PM and you will find the best movies playing at that part of the day. Then I am saying come to Movies Now for this kind of movie and MNX for that kind of movie; all of them are the best in their genres. We will only manage to create such habits if we constantly stay true to our promise. I mean even if someone is at home early and swapping through channels at 3:00 PM and lands on MNX or Movies Now or another channel, if he/she finds a good movie playing, only then will the perception go up. Then you try to cross-sell, so you say there is a festival running on the channel, why don't you tune in at 9:00 PM on Saturday and watch the movie.

Your target audience and the target audience of OTT platforms (Netflix, Amazon) is similar; did they impact you?

There were two phases - Phase one worked in sync for both OTT and TV. The Hollywood content there, while we have been showcasing it, I am not sure if we were marketing it enough as players. Therefore, OTT platforms coming into India and promoting their international content has helped the category to grow. Phase two, we have seen some migration happening at the top of the pyramid.

Then we have seen a lot of co-viewing too, so people who were watching Hollywood only on TV are now watching on both TV and OTT. Having said so, while we have seen a migration at the top, there is a huge set of new audiences which have come from the bottom of the pyramid. India is the second-largest English speaking population and only 10 per cent of the country speaks English. This effectively means that the whole bunch currently studying in English mediums are waiting to consume. The transition from regional languages (including Hindi) to English content consumption happens on TV and largely Hollywood movies. While there is a lot of romance with OTT right now, at times, I feel the romance is larger than the actual play.

So, you don't think they compete with English entertainment content on TV?

OTT platforms are our sizeable competitor. Our view is that they are not changing viewership habits as much as they are changing the business models. The price of content will go down as there are more buyers available in the market. It will certainly change the Hollywood business model in India. If you look at the viewership numbers of the last five years, it has actually gone up instead of dropping.

Who advertises on English Movies and why? Do you see new advertisers warming up?

Every year we see about 30 per cent new advertisers coming to the platform. English, often, is the lowest hanging fruit from the product adaptation standpoint. Therefore, if you are launching a new app, new platforms, new vehicles, the English television audience is the most evolved set and hence, the first port of call when it comes to advertising. Auto, e-commerce and consumer durables are big advertisers, but we also keep seeing new ones.