Alokananda Chakraborty

Innovation is the name of the game for Hindi movie channels

The Hindi movie space is seeing intense activity with the top three Hindi movie channels – MAX, ZEE Cinema and STAR Gold – fighting tooth and nail for viewership

For the average Indian, not much tops sitting in front of the television sipping a nice cup of tea and watching a good movie. In a nation where the collective pastime is watching movies (apart from cricket, that is), indulging in the business of entertaining people through cinema can be both fun and rewarding. And challenging as well. Now if you thought the references here were to moviemakers - the people who weave celluloid magic - well, it's not. We are alluding to the myriad movie channels - Hindi movie channels, to be more precise - in the country; channels that operate in an interesting genre, yet have much to do to keep viewer interest from flagging. Particularly in a scenario where there's an over-supply of movies on television.

Gone are the days when plain vanilla feature-length movies were the sole attraction for television viewers. Today, it is an entirely new experience that the viewer seeks, which means that the task at hand for movie channels is fairly overwhelming. As Rajat Jain, executive vice-president and business head, MAX, says, "The idea is to raise the bar of viewer delight by delivering a highly-differentiated offering. The Hindi movie genre is an arena of hyperactivity, where the viewer, at any given point, has almost ten to twelve options to choose from. With so much fragmentation, the point is you have to get the viewers."

And to get viewers in, MAX, STAR Gold and ZEE Cinema, the top three channels in the Hindi movie space, have adopted different strategies - although, at times, a duplication of ideas and concepts seems fairly commonplace. MAX, for instance, started the ‘single-break' movie initiative in the 1.00 pm slot on Sundays (the slot is popularly called Mera Movie) in January this year. In March, ZEE Cinema responded with a similar concept through Rok Sako Toh Rok Lo, in the 9.00 pm slot every second and fourth Sunday. World TV Premieres, claim executives at MAX, have been unique to the channel, with the initiative becoming a regular feature since the telecast of blockbuster Devdas in April 2003. A year down the line, ZEE Cinema has a similar initiative tilted Cinema Premiere in the 8.00 pm slot, telecast on any Saturday of the month. Prakash Ramchandani, head of marketing, ZEE Cinema, maintains that premieres are generic to the category. "We had the Ek Ka Teen Premiere going earlier," he says. "And now it is Cinema Premiere."

ZEE Cinema, incidentally, has shifted its movie slot timings from the customary 10.00 am-1.00 pm-5.00 pm-9.00 pm timeline to a 9.00 am-12.30 pm-5.00 pm-8.30 pm format. According to Yogesh Radhakrishnan, head of ZEE Cinema, this has been done in accordance with a research conducted among viewers. "Research showed us that viewers were looking for a change in timings," he says, adding, "This is obviously aimed at improving ratings as well as audiences."

In conjunction with the change in timeline, the channel has an on-air contest going (titled Break Dekho Inaam Jeeto) on Saturdays at 8.30 pm, aimed at increasing stickiness for the movie as well as the commercial break that follows. The channel has also planned a van campaign that will travel to key towns and rural areas, as well as a new look, slated for June this year. Radhakrishnan maintains that these initiatives notwithstanding, the key to acquiring numbers is a clever mix of content acquisition, scheduling and distribution. "I think we have surpassed other channels in terms of scheduling our movies. We do not merely fill in the blanks, but understand audience needs while slotting movies," he says.

MAX, meanwhile, has opted to have an integrated brand approach aimed at building a "generic empathy with the viewer". Jain adds, "Apart from increasing on-air viewer delight, the idea is to heighten the on-ground experience as well." Which is why earlier this year, the channel, in a novel tie-up with the postal department, had created two million postcards branded with its logo and a slug promoting the 5.00 pm slot. Besides, brand ambassadors Kapil Dev and Mandira Bedi, through initiatives such as Kapil Aapke Ghar and Mandira Aapke Ghar, have endeavoured to take the channel to loyal viewers from time-to-time. Supplemented with on-air initiatives such as Extraa Shots - a continuation of the channel's strategy since Extraa Innings during the World Cup last year, aimed at shoring up its central programme with little known facts, trivia and anecdotes - channel executives hope to enhance viewer experience even further. All this apart, showing uncut versions of films, and showcasing two big titles (or Maha Movies) a month are added attractions on the channel.

If a slot-by-slot and integrated approach characterize ZEE Cinema and MAX (respectively), STAR Gold, the third player in the ring, chooses to bank on dubbed Hollywood and martial arts movies to bring in the numbers. "We are not into big title acquisitions - it doesn't work for us," says Deepak Segal, senior vice-president, content and communication, STAR India. "We look to telecast popular Hindi titles that people are familiar with, and, at the same time, showcase action movies, which anyway have universal appeal."

For 2003, in the top six metros, MAX, ZEE Cinema and STAR Gold achieved channel shares of 42 per cent, 29 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively (base population: C&S 4+; source: TAM Media Research). Viewership of the Hindi movie genre, per se, stood at 4 per cent to general entertainment's 36 per cent, while the regional-language space cornered 40 per cent (base population: all 4+ individuals, all India surveyed). With the gap between general entertainment and Hindi movies still very wide, it is to be seen what more the players do to improve category growth, as well as individual channel shares. © 2004 agencyfaqs!