Face Off: We are bullish on TV; digital is purely for engagement says Rohit Bhandari, Turner International India

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Published: May 3, 2016 5:05:49 AM

It was on January 1 this year that Turner International India got complete control of HBO with the marketing and programming function coming under its ambit in addition to pre-existing distribution and ad sales duties.

It was on January 1 this year that Turner International India got complete control of HBO with the marketing and programming function coming under its ambit in addition to pre-existing distribution and ad sales duties. Three months later, the channel underwent a brand refresh and the network is poised for its HD foray, besides refreshing WB and working on its digital play. In conversation with BrandWagon’s Chandni Mathur, Rohit Bhandari of Turner International India talks about understanding both the brands and how they will operate within the bouquet. Excerpts:

With HBO moving into your bouquet completely and the recent rebranding, how have things changed for the network?

The fact that this is an eight channel movie market, of which we manage two, states that we have 25% market share, technically. The thought was to create

two distinct brands and at the same time, feed the stronger one which, in this case, is HBO.

What triggered the rebranding?

Over the years, with TAM and now BARC, we have learnt that the audience has kept shifting. A lot of people, especially from Class B towns, were watching English content because through the subtitles, they could learn and understand the language a lot better. From a content perspective we realised that viewers preferred a lot of action because there is less dialogue and more visual. Second, they liked comedy because humour always tends to attract people and third, was adventure.

Viewers further felt that HBO had a very black, greyish look which internationally is considered to be a very premium look but can sometimes border on snobbery. Second, they had reservations on the way we do promotions. Today, the package carries a bit more colour and our promos now carry a lot more visuals than text. We have also launched a Turner mobile app called Rushh that will service both the channels. The idea is to let this be the interface of engaging with consumers and bridging the gap between the TV experience and mobile.

How does Rushh fit into the overall scheme of things?

The app works as a pure information provider about upcoming movies, so that users can set a reminder. The idea is to occupy some mind space. Second, we want to take feedback as it will be directly linked to our social media pages. We are also looking to engage users through contests and promotions. 2016 is a big year for Warner Bros with several films, and we are working closely with the studio to see if we can extend the Hollywood experience from TV to app to real life. We are trying to create a hook for users downloading the app and engaging with us.

TV as a medium will have newer things coming in and threatening it, but at a larger level, the television and audience base is going to grow. We are pretty bullish on that. We are going to use the app and mobile screen purely for engagement.

What are the rebranding plans for WB?

WB for us is purely a library service because with digitisation, the market has expanded and there is a new set of audiences that have not seen some of the modern day classics like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Batman series because HBO has focussed on giving them the latest premieres and some library content.

We are currently working on a refresh for WB and it should be ready by mid-May. Purely by nature of being a library service, you will continue to see content you have seen in the past referred to as evergreen content as it brings in the viewership whenever you put it on air. We are finalising the look because consumers very strongly relate to the WB shield, so we are trying to see what we can do with the shield itself.

What are the plans for HBO HD? Will

it have a premium ad free model or a separate feed?

Our application is with the I&B Ministry and we are awaiting approvals. Our understanding is that in year one, it has to be a mirror service and it will be ad free in the initial phases, which means there will be a lot more features one will see because we have to fill in those 12 minutes of advertising time. But as it starts hitting a critical mass from a base point of view, we will start selective advertising.

You tried something different by bringing in HBO Hits and Defined. What do you think went wrong and what are the challenges in the genre?

Our focus will continue to be on HBO. Currently we haven’t decided what we are going to do with the license of HBO Defined. The company’s current focus is getting HD out at the earliest. Today, the biggest challenge in the business is content cost. Earlier, it used to be simple in terms of understanding what the deal was, but today the overall structuring of a content agreement has become that much more complex.

How is the genre performing from a business point of view?

On the back of the movement from TAM to BARC, the overall genre has dropped from a pure percentage point of view by a reasonable percent. But currently, English entertainment is a premium buy and talks very selectively to a certain audience between the age of 16-30, leaning more towards the male audience with around 70:30 being the skew. From an advertiser point of view, it talks to people who have that kind of a wallet. So mobile devices, services, cars and e-commerce are big on our channels. In fact, e-commerce has been a very big contributor to our overall revenues since the last two years.

How do you view the year ahead for your business?

I see 2016 being an extremely aggressive and competitive year purely because there is a lot of quality content which is going to hit the television screens. The Indian consumer will be spoilt for choice, but he will have to pay for that choice. This year is going to be critical for us from two points of view. One is the launch of HBO HD and second is the rebranding of both the brands. Eventually, the most important part for us is identifying and cleaning up our content pipe in terms of figuring out what we want to retain, let go and acquire. That will set the tone for the coming years.

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