Anushree Bhattacharyya

HBO's original plans

With the completion of 10 years in India, HBO beefs up original programming

Home Box Office, popularly known as HBO, has completed 10 years in India. The channel is now gearing up for the future with an increase in original programmes, coupled with regular Hollywood blockbusters.

Shruti Bajpai, country manager, HBO South Asia, says, "The movie market in India is on a complete high. When we launched in India, there were two more movie channels but the business of English movie channels became serious after we forced the competition to sit up and notice the movie watching experience of the HBO audience.

HBO's original plans
"We have many firsts in our cap. For example, we were the first one to come up with thematic packaging like romantic Monday. We had also divided the weekend programming on the basis of genres. Apart from this, we also took up certain initiatives like applying English sub-titles as viewers in India do not understand the British or American accent very well. We have been constantly bringing new concepts and ideas for the viewers."

HBO is also known for its original programmes, branded HBO Originals. In 2010, the channel beefed up its line up, adding to the daily dose of Hollywood movies. Bajpai adds, "The year 2010 was significant because we really focused a lot on original programming and increased the number of original content. Series such as True Blood, No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Pacific were a big hit amongst the viewers. Going forward, in 2011, the focus on content will only increase as we will acquire good content from a variety of studious."

For Bajpai, internationally, HBO is not a television channel - rather a brand. One of the biggest reasons the brand has a high recall is because of original content. So, while HBO is keeping to its promise of Hollywood blockbusters, it's also focusing on getting fresh content.

In India, Turner International is HBO's distributor and ad sales representative. According to Bajpai, Turner has done a good job and the channel has been recording a healthy growth in ad sales revenue. She explains, "In terms of revenue, so far, October has been one of the best months. We now have a wide variety of advertisers on our channel, which was lacking a couple of years ago. Another reason that has helped in getting advertisers on board is the fact that we moved beyond the traditional 30 second spots and allowed the brands to engage with consumers by creating special programming blocks. For example, we created HP and the Hollywood Premiere League. In this case, there was trivia which advertisers sponsored.

Additionally, we were the first one to come up with brand integration spots with L'Oreal. For example, when it wanted to promote sensuousness in a woman, a whole festival was initiated. An advertiser does not advertise on niche channels because he has to reach out to the masses - rather, he comes to the platform to engage with the consumer."

Over the years, the English movie channel space has seen a lot of entrants. Unperturbed with increase in competition, Bajpai feels that at the end, only channels with unique offerings and a wide range of content will be able to beat the pressure. Bajpai says, "I don't think there is place for too many English movie channels as in case of movie watching, apart from blockbusters, what also matters is original content. A person can watch a movie only three or four times - beyond that, channels should have something different to watch. In our case, its content made by the channel, for the channel. In the end, channels with variety of content will survive."

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