TVs battle over Bollywood

Written by Sudipta Datta | Updated: Jul 6 2011, 08:31am hrs
Its been the year of Bollywood on television. Not only are top stars, from Shah Rukh Khan to Salman Khan to Hrithik Roshan and now Amitabh Bachchan with Kaun Banega Crorepati 5, on the small screen, movies also are vying for the best small screen seat. The top three playersSET Max, Star Gold and Zee Cinemaare buying satellite rights of films even before a films release.

In the ratings space too, theres a tussle going on between the top Hindi movie channels on television, with SET Max, the dominant player, now facing a serious challenge from Star Gold. So intense is the battle that Hemal Jhaveri, head, Star Gold, admits, aggressive programming and scheduling, besides focused marketing, will help us push the envelope in this genre. We are currently working on opportunities that are disruptive and will disclose this at an opportune time. The other dominant player, Zee Cinema, the first Hindi movie channel, is also strengthening its arsenal to take on the top two.

Broadcasters are now one of the biggest investors in the movie production business, says Jhaveri. With films now reaching television within weeks of release, the broadcaster is reaping the dividends. Since we are the last in the value chain to exploit the movie, the shorter the window, better for the broadcaster, adds Jhaveri. New movie premieres definitely help in building viewership for the channel. In fact, the reach of the movie premiere on TV is far greater than that of the theatres, he points out.

The quick move from the theatre to the small screen has got to be one of the better ideas that the industry has had, agrees Mohan Gopinath, business head, Zee Cinema. Especially in the case of movies these days, there is a huge amount of buzz that a film generates in the run up to its release. When you shorten the time span in the jump from the big screen to television, you manage to retain some of that buzz and thereby generate a higher interest in viewers. And we have noticed that these films usually do well on the small screen as well, he adds.

Thus, all the Hindi movie channels have been building up their library. So, if SET Max aired two of the film industrys biggest hits, 3 Idiots and Rajnikanths Robot, and has also screened last years sleeper hit Band Baaja Baraat, Star Gold has the rights of SRKs Ra.One, Zoya Akhtars Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, while Zee Cinema will screen Shaitan and Pyar Ka Punchnama and so forth.

A movie channel is a movie channel. What sets it apart is the movie library and the viewing experience, admits Jhaveri of Star Gold, which has been tweaking its schedules to reach a wider audience. We are the only channel with a five-movie-a-day schedule, along with the one-break slots in the evenings. In addition, weekdays are the new weekends on Star Gold as the channel has the best mix of movies on all days, he says. New entrant UTV Movies is trying out innovative and interesting stuff, both in programming and marketing to widen its reach. Film festivals, Facebook chat, new film liaises and new title acquisitions are all part of UTV Movies strategy to take on the market leaders.

In fact, the intense fight for the satellite rights of the top 15 movies of Bollywood has led to late entrants like UTV Movies spreading the net to regional movies. Says Sameer Ganapathy, business head, UTV Movies: Hindi films have traditionally done well and will continue to do well on TV. But we were amongst the first to recognise that regional movies dubbed in Hindi work and we have many such titles to take us through. Zee Cinema has also tried its hand at regional cinema dubbed in Hindi, especially popular Tamil films.

Zee Cinemas Gopinath says with Hindi being the most widely spoken language in the country, Hindi movies will always do well. In terms of expanding our portfolio to include regional films dubbed in Hindi, it is something that we did a few years back. For example, one of Rajnikanths biggest hits, Chandramukhi, has already been aired on the channel, even Aparachit, another hit film, has been with us for years now. These regional movies have always been received well by viewers, he adds.

But with everyone running after only a handful of the top new films, there are a lot of repeat screenings. Do repeats add value to a channel as well Jhaveri feels that movie viewing at home is very different from the theatre experience. On TV, we watch repeats of movies to relive the magic of the movieour favourite moments, songs and even dialogues, he points out. But all the channels agree that though repeat telecasts are common, the favourite movie must be aired without risking fatigue.

Repeat screenings do have value, says Gopinath. This is true especially of good films because they always have a long shelf life. At Zee Cinema we have a policy of not over exposing a film to our audience by numerous screenings over a relatively short period of time, he adds.

The channels wont be drawn into any talk of satellite prices, though there were whispers that Sony paid crores for the rights of 3 Idiots. A good movie library is the backbone of the movie channel business. Acquisitions are integral and important. However, these are made rationally by individual teamsbut its not as high as they are projected to be, says Jhaveri, diplomatically.

Explains Gopinath: The satellite prices are dependent on a host of factors be it starcast, banner, time of release, etc. Suffice to say that we at Zee Cinema have always been judicious in our acquisitions over the years.

With DTH growing rapidly, the players are also focusing on the digital space. Says Gopinath: As of now, we perceive the biggest growth in the country coming from DTH. We have been making a conscious effort of acquiring and showing newer movies through the years. While in the past, we have shown films that cater to this DTH audience (Peepli Live, Tanu Weds Manu, Ishqiya), our newly acquired movies like Shaitan, Pyaar Ka Punchnama and the rest are a complete mixed bag of films that will cater to both metros as well as the DTH audiences.