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“We have been Quite Aggressive on Acquisitions!”
Sunder Aaron, Business Head, Sony PIX tells 4PS B&M about The English Movie Genre Segment and his Future course of action for The Channel.
Issue Date - 05/05/2011
Sony PIX started off on a ubiquitous April 1, 2006 and went on to compete belligerently with Star Movies and HBO. PIX has had the historical advantage of being able to pull movies from the Columbia and MGM roster; a roster – of unconventional lineups – made it number 3 in its category. A research conducted by TAM Media Research in 2010 revealed that Sony PIX showcased more premiers than Star Movies, subsequently resulting in an 8% market share. The recently introduced High Definition (HD) format has given more dope to the segment dynamically altering the competitive landscape. However, till the time HD reaches a formidable number of viewers, there’s nothing much to fear. Sony had appointed Sunder Aaron as Business Head way back in 2006. Sunder had made quite a mark then for his AXN initiatives (‘The Man’s World Show’ being one). Through the years, Sunder has understood the landscape much better. And 4Ps B&M met up with Sunder to understand the hows, whats and wherefores of it all...

After having worked across various global economies, you’ve been looking after the business at Sony PIX for quite a long time. What is your outlook with regards to the Indian market?
India is an extremely dynamic market. It’s a challenging place for distributing revenues. Developed markets are seemingly different. You cut a deal with the operator who tells the number of subscribers they have and how many of them you’ll be able to reach to. That doesn’t happen in India.

What are your views on incorporating Indian content in English movie vhannels? Is such a development worth the effort?
We are the only English movie channel which has incorporated local original programming in India. We do have our own benchmarks for deciding the content. For instance, we showcased Cyrus and 15 Park Avenue. It works as an opportunity to raise standards.

With strong competition around, Sony PIX came in relatively late. You competed well, but still lag behind at fourth position. What is the strategy ahead?
We are right in the middle of a transformation. The basic idea behind Sony PIX was a more contemporary channel. So we went through a thorough analysis comparing our on air elements to competitions and then redesigning the channel to what it is now. Probably, the viewer might not be able to articulate the differences we made to the menu and the fonts, but it does make its way to the subconscious. We have been and will be aggressive on the acquisition of movie studios and properties. An extensive focus on BTL activities like concerts will also help us in the long term.

You primarily target viewers in the age group of 18-44 years. This encompasses segments with different tastes and preference for movies. Don’t you think it is a challenge to maintain balance while catering to such a diverse set of audience?
We are revamping our library with a view to push the average age to 15-20 years old. Sony PIX already has one of the most coveted line up movies including all time favourites like Jerry Maguire. Now, we are focussing on bringing movies like The Forbidden Kingdom. A channel should raise the bar as per the viewers standards and that is what we are attempting to do.

Frequent commercial breaks between the movie are a huge turn off for viewers. How do you decide the placement of ads?
Commercial breaks, for that matter, turn off viewers across channels and genres. But it remains to be a constraint. You definitely can’t have a channel without ads. This attitude of Indian channel subscribers arises from the fact that the kind of price we pay for television content is overwhelmingly cheap as compared to that in developed nations. Nevertheless, we have been successful in maintaining a healthy mix. You won’t see a commercial during the first 25 minutes of the movie. We have a stringent policy when it comes to the placement of ads. In fact, my ad sales team is not very happy with such measures. The logic is simple. If you can’t hold the viewer in the beginning, he is certainly going to skip the entire movie.

How have you managed to leverage the synergies derived from ‘Sony PIX Products’ to strengthen the programming of the channel?
Concepts created around programming always work and ‘PIX Products’ was no different. Let me give you an example. When the channel was launched, we had a roster of some genre oriented movies. Therefore, we decided to conceptualise certain properties around these genres. Today, properties like Super movie of the month are one of our most successful programming breakthroughs. Subsequently, we have launched new properties like ‘Hollywood top 10’, ‘1 Break movie’ and ‘Double Bill’. It always adds value to the channel’s positioning.

How has the concept of collaboration with movie studios and multiplexes picked up for Sony PIX?
There are a lot of channels that indulge in tie-ups, but only a handful succeed. The reason is simple. When you collaborate with partners in the value chain, it is imperative to use that partnership strategically. In the case of Sony PIX, we premier a major Bollywood blockbuster in association with multiplexes for our exclusive club of students. The ticket for such a premier costs merely Rs.30. Sony has partnered with a lot of big companies through which we collaborate for electronics, music, et al.

What is your take on the sustenance of rankings in this segment?
We are more of a library movie channel. Most of the prime time ratings come from these blockbuster movies. Interestingly, if we move towards south, blockbuster movies of the 1950s top the chart. We are the only genuine Indian English movie channel. For example, HBO is based out of Singapore, while Star Movies has its operations in Hong Kong. In India, our company is based out of Mumbai. We do a lot of efforts on marketing the channel locally.

Sanchit Verma           
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