TRAI TARIFF FALLOUT: Times Group leaves biggies Star, Zee & Sony far behind in English movies

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Chrome DM CEO Pankaj Krishna

Bennett, Coleman & Co, also known as Times Group, has emerged as the most successful provider in the English movie segment in the aftermath of new TRAI tariff order, upsetting the calculations of well established players like Star India and Zee Entertainment.

According to data for the last week of March from Chrome Data Analytics & Media, Times Group channels like Movies Now, MNX and Romedy Now are now available in twice as many homes as rival offerings from more established broadcasters like Star, Sony and Zee.

Chrome Data Analytics and Media is a market research firm that measures the penetration and availability of channels across 81 million homes across the country.

According to numbers for the top six cities of India, the top three slots in the English movie genre by availability are occupied by Times Group channels. Movies Now, the flagship, is available in 28.5% of the homes, followed by MNX at 28.1% and MNX at 25.6%. In fact, the top five do not involve even a single Hollywood channel from Star, Zee or Sony.

Both No.4 and No.5 slots are occupied by Turner International’s offerings. At number four is Warner Brothers, with a presence in 18.1% of homes, followed by HBO at 16.2%.

PRICING MISTAKE?

The numbers are surprising, given that smaller broadcasters like Times Group and Turner were supposed to be on a weak wicket and lose out to big player as they do not have ‘blockbuster channels’ to drive penetration.

Big groups like Star, Zee, Sony and to some extent, TV18, were expected to be much more successful in pushing their niche channels as they also own highly popular regional language channels like Star Plus, SET and Colors.

It was believed that these big broadcasters could simply ‘bundle’ or ‘tie’ their niche channels — such as English movies — with their popular regional offerings, and drive the penetration of niche offerings.

And the bigger groups cannot be faulted for not trying. They started off by offering only large bundles of channels priced in the Rs 50-150 per month.

On the other hand, smaller groups like Times Group, Discovery and Turner priced their packs in the Rs 10-20 range, as they did not have ‘driver channels’ to bank on.

Today, Times Group offers four HD Hollywood movie channels and four other offerings for just Rs 20 per month.

In comparison, Star and Zee did not give their English movie and entertainment channels in a separate package initially. These had to be purchased as part of bigger bundles costing Rs 50 or more.

Perhaps realizing the market dynamics, these groups have, in recent days, started unveiling more manageable and smaller packages under the new TRAI tariff scheme.

The first to offer affordable niche channel packs were Sony and Zee. Sony today offers three of its niche, English channels — Sony Pix HD, Sony BBC Earth HD and AXN HD — for just Rs 20 per month, excluding taxes.

Zee too offers four English HD channels, including two Hollywood channels and an entertainment channel, as well as a non-HD channel for Rs 35 per month.

Star India, the biggest broadcaster in the country, too has started yielding to market demand by unveiling cheaper and simpler packs.

The broadcaster has unveiled a new ‘English Mini HD’ package in recent days to offer five HD channels, including two based on Hollywood movies, two English entertainment and a lifestyle offering, for Rs 35 per month.

ENGLISH NEWS

Something similar can also be seen in the English news segment, which is also considered a ‘niche segment’ in the country.

The only major English news channel that is available free to air, Republic TV, is present in nearly 91% of all households in the top six metros, while CNN News18, the most popular English language, paid news channel, is only available in 56.5% of the channels.

This is also contrary to expectations, given that CNN News18 is part of India’s biggest family of news channels under the TV18 banner, and was expected to ride on the back of the news and infotainment-focused group’s wider offerings.

Republic TV, on the other hand, didn’t have any big bundle to ride on and was seen as a vulnerable player.

However, cable and DTH operators seem to have pushed Republic as a default option for English language news given that it is available for free, while they would have to shell out 50 paise per month per subscriber for delivering CNN News18.

Even a small, 50-paise charge seems to have been enough of a disincentive for cable and DTH operators in terms of offering CNN News18 in their most affordable packs.

The third most widely available channel, as measured by ‘opportunity to see’ or OTS, is India Today, priced at Rs 1.50 per month. It is available in 46.5% of the households.

NDTV 24×7, priced at Rs 3 per month, does not figure in the top five, nor does Times Now, the former No.1.

NICHE VS DRIVER CHANNELS

While the bundling + high priced strategy seems to have backfired as far as niche channels are concerned, there is some evidence to suggest that they have not affected the reach of the so-called driver channels.

For example, in the Hindi speaking market, Star Plus, which is priced at Rs 19 per month, or Rs 22.40 including taxes, is available in 78% of the homes, which is a very high level of presence for a channel that costs so much.

In comparison, the reach of Star Utsav, which costs only Rs 1 per month, is only 5 percentage points higher at 83.1%. It is the most popular non-DD channel.

Other notable highlights of the data is the relative success of the TV18 group in pushing its diversified bundles, compared to other big groups.

TV18 group’s Colors Infinity, for example, tops the English entertainment category with a presence of 34.1% in the top six metros. In comparison, Star World — the flagship English entertainment offering from India’s largest broadcaster — was detected only in 14.5% of the same households. Zee Cafe, from Zee Group, was found in only 11% of the homes.

The top three ranks in the ‘kids’ category too belonged to channels from the TV18 bundle — Nick, Nick Jr and Sonic. These three channels are bundled with most packs of TV18.

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