Old stories, new lessons

Published: December 9, 2014 1:43 AM

With new films unable to hold viewers’ interest movie channels are falling back upon old flicks. Regional cinema could hold the key to bringing back the audiences

ALMOST three generations of Indians have wept with Paro, defied royal decree with Anarkali and charmed the women in their life through the silver notes of Mohammad Rafi songs, sitting in dark theatres. Does this emotional connect with old cinema ensure that some movie channels are still in business? Let’s  look at the challenges movie channels are facing and how they can overcome them.

Trends in movie acquisition

Today, as far as movie acquisition for TV channels goes, it is difficult to get anything piecemeal. Technically, movies need to be bought in bulk unless they feature huge star power because pitching anything singly is expensive. Most of the films are bundled in a package deal. That clearly is the trend right now. On the pricing front, things really haven’t changed. Prices haven’t come down as expected, and especially from the channel’s point of view business has gone slow over the past 6-8 months. Budgets are limited and not growing either. The scenario could have been different had digitisation taken off as it was planned, and we could have seen the third and the fourth phase of digitisation, but that didn’t happen. Channels are circumspect about paying the kind of price that is being asked for, and as a result, over the past few months quite a few films were not picked up on announcement or even pre-release. Some of the big films were bought six months after they were released. Channels are much more price sensitive, which augurs well for the industry.

Another clear trend is to do with visibility of niche channels. Digitisation definitely has made it possible for a lot of these channels to be visible to a lot many more people. In fact, this has been the greatest benefit of digitisation. Thanks to it, at least for the first two phases, a lot of niche and smaller channels which essentially do not really show new films or content get some shelf space. Now most of them are easily available, and they definitely serve a need gap.

Strategy to sustain

The key strategy is to identity the viewer base. This viewer base is identified essentially by deep-diving into the data which is available from various markets and geographies. This data technically spells out the key viewer base of the channel along with important information such as who the defining target group is as well as which are the key time bands which make the channel fertile. Once this information is processed, acquisition of movies need to be made accordingly.

Film festivals, though not a new idea anymore, do contribute towards establishing the overall content imagery for the channel. A string of popular films scheduled together across certain key day parts and promoted accordingly does manage to reach out to a base of audience which is a loyal fan base of a particular actor or a producer / director. Festivals also become an important promotable for the channel and could also serve as a potent marketable tool if sold to the relevant sponsors / presenters. Film festivals are a thought, not a complete strategy but they are something that may be a good way of connecting with the viewer, going that extra mile to bring to them a viewing experience that they appreciate.

Regional cinema dubbed in Hindi

The core of the Indian cinema by and large remains the same. The treatment may differ based on the budgets available but the language of Indian cinema which is by-and-large mass entertainment remains the same across all states churning out films in large quantities. A clear case in point is the success of action oriented south Indian cinema which plays out in large numbers across all mainline Hindi movie channels. The appeal of south Indian cinema is universal and is also hugely acceptable to a viewer in the Hindi heartland. Similarly, Bengali and Marathi cinema also have a distinct texture to their kind of film making but could easily resonate with the rest of the country’s viewing audience simply because the core of Indian cinema is the same. Hollywood dubbed cinema will never be the staple diet for Indian audiences but when occasionally added to programming content, it adds spice and creates that spike in viewership.

Point of concern for movie channels

The biggest concern today is that newer films do not have longevity. It’s unfortunate that despite paying a king’s ransom for big films with big stars, they don’t survive the test of time. Films are being churned out more like projects without the cinematic expression being full-filled. Set templates are being recreated film after film with an eye only on the box office and hence spontaneity and the newness are slowly sliding away.

This is resulting in films looking like clones of each other and hence leading to a short life on television. Once the initial euphoria dies down and the first marketing push is over, the repeat viewing which should be sustainable for the kind of price that channels are paying just doesn’t happen for newer Hindi films.

By Neeraj Vyas

The author is senior executive VP and business head, MAX and MAX2 channels of Multi Screen Media

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