Anindita Sarkar

Desperate move: Programming blocks on movie channels

The move to introduce programming blocks to a channel's content line-up is not new, but has found pace in the recent past. Will the strategy work?

As it forays into 2012, HBO has decided to revamp its content schedule with fresh new programming blocks. The attempt, according to the channel, is to offer customised viewership across age groups that include both the youth, as well as older audiences.

Desperate move: Programming blocks on movie channels
HBO will have the 'Thriller Thursday' block to showcase suspense, thriller, and crime mystery movies; its 'Action Saturday' block will air adventure-action movies in a double feature format wherein back-to-back movies will be played. It has also introduced the 'Family Weekend' block that, in turn, will house a sub-block. For example, to begin with, the first sub-block under the banner will be the upcoming 'Golden Ticket', which will showcase latest premieres. It will be a mix of blockbusters, animation, and sci-fi movies.

Additionally, to draw in further female viewership, HBO has introduced 'Girls Night In', defined by the channel as classy property for chic ladies. The 'Last Chance' block will showcase HBO blockbusters that were missed in 2011.

The move to introduce programming blocks to a channel's content line-up is not new. However, the desire to craft such blocks within the genre has found pace in the recent past. If PIX chooses to showcase its most popular titles under the block titled 'Awesome Saturdays', it has the 'Sunday Breakout' with two films back-to-back, with minimum number of breaks shown.

It has also introduced an action block to its Thursday line-up. Titled Outlaw, the block will run action movies under the banner for a month.

STAR Movies, on the other hand, owns the blocks 'Sunday Double Bill', which shows back-to-back blockbusters, 'Tea Time', the evening movies, 'Action @ 7', and Sunday First, which will showcase movie premieres every week.

Why the need for such blocks?

Desperate move: Programming blocks on movie channels
The need to introduce blocks to the content mix is two-fold. First, since every channel wants to air blockbusters to grab viewer attention, a genre-driven block with good titles makes it easier for the viewer to remember the schedule, and therefore, aids in appointment viewing. Second, such blocks create revenue opportunities for a channel in terms of 'block branding' and sponsorship. It is pertinent to note here that unlike many other genres, buying in an English movie channel genre is on the basis of titles, and/or time bands.

Interestingly, given the very low ratings of English movie channels, much of the selling is based on the qualitative profile of the audience rather than the size of ratings. Blocks provide to the media planner, and to the client, the comfort of selecting the movie genre that best fits with their target groups and brand personality qualitatively. "It gives both the airtime seller and media planner a plank to recommend English movie channels for upmarket brands, with a matching TG profile/brand proposition," notes Praveen Tripathi, CEO at Magic9 Media and Consumer Knowledge.

Is the strategy a success?

Desperate move: Programming blocks on movie channels
Many opine that until now, no block has been able to create a special identity for itself, except for the Friday night blockbusters. Take for example PIX, which claims to dominate the Friday 11 pm slot, with a 31 per cent share across the six metros in the (TAM) C&S 15-44 AB category.

According to various media pundits, it is primarily because the channels are not consistent enough with such blocks to build a habit amongst audiences.

Says Dinesh Rathore, general manager at Starcom Mediavest Group, "Many times, a channel creates a block, placed on a certain day of the week, maybe just for a month. And later, that block is replaced by another theme-based block. Therefore, the block created was so short-lived that it was not good enough to create a loyal consumer habit. Consequently, the strategy fails many times because the blocks were not nurtured through time to create a fundamental consumer appeal."

And, while the move is also made to create revenue streams with specific brands endorsing the blocks, it only leads to short-term benefits, and not long-term returns.

While Amogh Dusad, vice-president and head, programming, PIX, agrees to the above, he also voices a different take. According to him, many clients intend to buy those properties and blocks which a particular channel is promoting heavily at that given time, thus helping in the monetisation of the block. "This is because the advertisers know that their brands can get the maximum visibility during those aggressive promotions. Also, while there are blocks which are nourished for long-term benefits, there are those which are created for shorter periods primarily to put forward the channel imagery," he says.

Meanwhile, Tripathi notes that the universe of audience that watches English movies is so small that a subset of viewers, such as those watching a block is unlikely to create a measurable blip in TAM ratings. "English channels should fund an upmarket booster sample if they wish to provide some objective basis for buying (and selling) of these blocks, and of English movie channels, in general," he says.