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Win-win strategy: English movie channels lure viewers with movie blocks

More and more channels are now clubbing movies together by genre, actor or character to get more eyeballs and a bigger share of the revenue pie. If a channel can promote thematic movies properly, then half their battle is won. From the advertiser's perspective also there is a value addition – with one ad, they can promote their brand in the entire line-up

Sohini Sen | Mumbai | August 20, 2013

Movie viewing has changed over the years. From a once in a while affair it has slowly become a weekly thing for most youngsters with the advent of multiplexes. With increasing number of movie channels dedicated to showing Hollywood movies, it is now possible to watch blockbusters in the comfort of your home. But all is not rosy for the 24x7 movie channels. More channels means viewers have more options to choose from, and movie channels now must use innovative marketing techniques to lure audiences.

Movie blocks have been proven to be of great use to attract more viewers for any movie channel. A movie block or property is when a channel decides to club movies together – either back-to-back or through the month. These can be segmented on the basis of the genre they belong to (an action movie week, or horror movie month), on the characters who feature in them (Iron Man Trilogy, Bond series), on the actors who play the lead roles or directors of these films (a Di Caprio festival, a Tarantino marathon), etc.

Saurabh Yagnik

"There are eight or nine channels in this category. Viewers choose on the basis of titles. If they like the title then they stick to the channel, otherwise they switch to something else. It is, therefore, very important to become the channel of choice by showing them what we have within 30-60 seconds. We must create opportunities of invitation with some kind of proposition," said Saurabh Yagnik, EVP & Business Head, Sony Pix.

Pix has just come up with a new proposition keeping all this in mind. Named 'Pixathon', the property will show a variety of movies under different groups – from a Rocky Marathon showing all six Rocky movies, to all the Shrek movies for fans of the animated film series. The channel has already showcased Robert Downey Junior's popular franchise of Iron Man 1 and 2.

Sharlton Menezes, Marketing Head, Zee Niche channels, explaining the rationale of movie blocks, said, “Movie blocks vary from channel to channel. We usually create a weekly strip through a time band in a month, or once a week in case of marathons through a day, depending on the promotional strategy and titles used. In the past we’ve seen that a standalone title does not always give us the desired viewership but when put together in a block / property and promoted effectively, we have a spike in viewership in the time band. Viewers tend to be loyal to genres or actors; a block gives them an opportunity to tune in and catch a range of movies from a specific genre, or get titles from a director/actor they love. This results in viewers spending more time tuning in.”

Zee Studio will be showcasing the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy on Fridays and for viewers who miss it, there will be an whole-day marathon on August 30, along with ‘Unbreakables’, which will showcase the best action movie titles in their library at 10.30 PM. These will be month-specific, while their yearly blocks – Weekend Blast and Mega Noons on Sundays – will continue. Keeping in mind the mood of viewers, they showcased ‘English Vinglish’ on Independence Day, adding a local flavour to the channel.

Movies Now has a similar strategy. For August, the movie channel from the Times group has planned to show blockbusters such as ‘The Last Airbender’, ‘Karate Kid’, ‘X Men: First Class’ and the four ‘Ananconda’ movies. They will also be premiering Michael Jackson’s 'This is it' in August. However, the special movies planned for the month included the line-ups on Friendship Day (August 4) and Independence Day (August 15). The Friendship Day line-up saw some entertaining titles based on friendship and youth, such as ‘Hangover’, ‘Due Date’, ‘Saving Silverman’, ‘Harold & Kumar’ and the second instalments of ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’. On the other hand, August 15's line-up, called 'Men of Honour', showed stories on courage and honour. This included ‘Constantine’, ‘Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer’, ‘Die Another Day’ and ‘The Departed’.

Ajay Trigunayat

“While our regular property goes on month-on-month, we introduce specials on a quarterly, monthly or a single-day basis. This serves a dual benefit – increasing viewership by attracting more people and increasing revenues as more advertisers tie up for these properties,” said Ajay Trigunayat, CEO, English Entertainment Channels at Times Television Network.

To give an example, Movies Now promote six to seven regular properties in a month and around eight special properties. By being sponsors of such special properties, advertisers enable their brand to be showcased during primetime. Movies Now, which is India’s first High-Definition English Movie channel, does not run first-run movies. Instead, they choose movies from their library.

Movie premieres

Movie premieres is the forte of another big name in the industry: Star Movies. With first output deals with the biggest international studios – Universal Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, 20th Century Fox – Star Movies is able to ensure the largest library of movie premieres in India. Along with that, they have a very strong deal with Sony Pictures that consolidates to form a great library of blockbusters.

Kevin Vaz

"Star Movies is the only channel in India which premieres one movie every week for its viewers, making up to 60 new premieres in a year. With the latest addition of Star Movies Action in the Star English Cluster, Star Movies and Star Movies Action together formulate the biggest library of movies across genres. While Star Movies Action focuses on movies across the Action genre, Star Movies offers viewers a variety of genres, month-on-month, packaging them together into thematic movie month-long festivals Comedy, Animation, Action, Thriller, etc. Such thematic festivals and special offerings are a result of our consistent endeavour to introduce new concepts for the viewers,” said Kevin Vaz, Business Head - English channels, Star Jalsha and Jalsha Movies at Star India.

For August 2013, Star Movies has plans to premiere two new movies – ‘Battleship’ and ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’ – which will be shown on Saturdays at 9 PM. They also have a special 11 PM slot for the biggest stars in Hollywood which will showcase movies of Angelina Jolie (SALT), Megan Fox (Jennifer’s Body), Jim Carrey (Mr Poppers Penguins) and Justin Timberlake (In Time) among others. And in September, Star Movies has lined up ‘Prometheus’.

Special occasion thematic blocks

With movie blocks ruling primetime viewership, especially on days like Friendship Day and Independence Day, channels get a chance to get the perfect sponsors for their properties. HBO's 'Girl's Night In' (Monday evenings) was sponsored by Hindustan Unilever while 'Heroes' on WB (Wednesday nights) was sponsored by AXE, lending the movies the characteristics of the brand.

Dhawal Katkar

Dhawal Katkar, Senior Director & Network Head – English Entertainment, South Asia, Turner International India, commented, “Each block helps to target specific audiences based on their psychographics. For instance, an action block will attract men whereas a romantic-comedy block will attract women. Specifically themed blocks also increase sampling by both, attracting new consumers and acquiring consumers from competition. Brands are constantly looking at achieving a better connect with their consumers. Thus, movie blocks that attract an audience psychographic in sync with the brand’s values are more preferred and popular with advertisers.”

If the channel can promote the thematic movies properly, then half their battle is won. From the advertiser's perspective also there is a value addition. With one ad, they can promote their brand in the entire vertical line-up, thereby increasing the impact.

Star Movies plans to continue building on Hollywood Premieres, which establishes the brand as the ‘Biggest Hollywood Theatre’ on TV. In addition, they also have plans to build a base on the digital platforms since a large chunk of the audience resides there. Also on the anvil are plans to create more experiential properties like the extremely popular ‘ChilloutNites’, where they host 200 parties across four cities in one night during the movie premieres.

Franchise models

Pix uses social media to the maximum advantage. For every property – like the Shrek movies or the Iron Man Duology – they created a sharp promise for that day. To hook audiences the channel created hashtags on Twitter which started trending not just in India, but worldwide. For example, they created the taglines '2 Sexy', '2 hot' and '2 stylish' to promote the Iron Man 1 and 2 coming on TV for the first time in India. For the Shrek movies which came in July, the channel clubbed them with the issue of environment protection. They talk about how the biggest of NGOs are trying to save the Earth but there’s only one man who’s found a way and everyone’s calling him the Green Hero, aka Shrek.

"Hollywood is building on powerful franchise models. They know if they have made one blockbuster and promoted it correctly, the following movies have a better chance of getting promoted on their own. By showing these movies we hope to showcase our library as well as connect, engage and converse with our audience," pointed out Yagnik.

Digital promotion

Movies Now has a similar edge. It is easy to promote the properties online. The Times of India group publications are also used for this purpose. With over 30 lakh Facebook fans, online is a medium they take seriously as well, though they use the outdoor medium only for select properties like the Bond movies or the Star Wars franchise.

That online is big and growing as a marketing medium is evident. Menezes of Zee Studio explained, “Online forms a major part of our marketing campaigns. It is one our biggest promotional tools as it gives us a chance to reach our target audience directly. The fan base of the channel has increased exponentially and Zee Studio currently adds a thousand organic fans and four thousand ‘likes’ on a daily basis on Facebook. The channels’ online reach and new initiatives taken by each of the channels reflect their growing recognition. On a regular basis innovative viewer engagement is carried out via contests, trivia, pop quizzes, etc.”

However, it is not as easy as it may appear. Katkar from Turner International points out certain disadvantages of using movie blocks. He said, “Sometimes we face a restriction on the movies we can play in a particular block. For instance, there are countless good-rating action movies that can be scheduled into an action block, but there is a dearth of good movies in the romantic comedy genre in order to schedule blocks that will increase viewership from women. Again, for any channel, the performance matrix is always measured in ratings. Thus, although the overall block may rate well, if some movies within the block don’t rate well both in isolation or compared to competition, the relative share of the channel will definitely drop.”

On the whole, movie blocks have turned out to be a winner in almost all cases and for all channels. Happy viewing.

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