AXN HD in India is the obvious next step: Sunil Punjabi

Last Updated: Sat, Nov 24, 2012 18:51 hrs

The action-focused English entertainment channel, AXN, has completed 15 years of operation in India. The channel claims to have 60 per cent higher viewership and a 100 per cent higher reach than its nearest competitor in the market. Recently, Sony Pictures TV Networks, Asia, which runs the channel, appointed Sunil Punjabi as the first business head of the channel in India, signalling more focus on the Indian market. In an interview with Gaurav Laghate, Punjabi talked about the opportunities that the channel has. Edited excerpts.

AXN has completed 15 years in India. How different is the market today?
The last decade of the Indian market has seen a sea change in the industry. Multiple significant factors have taken effect. For instance, English content consumption has increased. There is a growing trend in English content consumption on multiple platforms. This is very encouraging considering India is one of the largest English speaking markets in Asia.

Also with a phenomenal growth in the TV hardware market, newer technologies and larger screens are being adopted. With larger screens and more choice, the need for quality content increases. We believe AXN content is ‘big screen, high resolution’ content.

Now, TAM (the TV viewership ratings agency) is also increasing reporting base. It will help capture larger audience and get a stronger direction for each of the stakeholders. And last but not the least, digitisation. Both CAS (conditional access system) and DTH (direct-to-home) has had impact on the current distribution system. With DAS (digital addressable systems), the space will see increasing consumer demand especially for English content.

The impact of all these changes for the AXN brand has and can only be positive.

How do you see the market evolving for Sony Pictures Television?
Digitisation will have impact at two levels. First, it will increase the pipes to reach our viewers. On another level, it will impact the disclosure of subscribers and clear the ambiguity on addressability.

In terms of business, how is the growth in India?
While the growth in India has been robust, we believe there is still a lot of opportunity. With DAS, we are assuming increase in subscription revenue by two means: 1. Increase in the disclosed households; 2. Increasing ARPU (average revenue per user). Hence today with DAS implementation, we are sitting on an inflection point where subscription revenues should jump going forward.

How do you see competition in the action genre? In the English entertainment genre, you face serious competition from the likes of Star World, Zee Cafe and Comedy Central...
AXN is the current market leader in the English general entertainment market. It has a 60 per cent higher viewership and a 100 per cent higher reach than its nearest competitor. As the clear market leader, we believe the AXN brand has high recognition and significant loyalty in India. It is a position we do not take for granted and will continue to innovate not just in our programme offerings, but also how we connect and engage with our viewers.

Many new English shows are premiering simultaneously in India. Do you think the trend will continue? How does cost and revenue work up?
Each channel has its own strategy and audience viewing preferences differ for different programme genres. At AXN, we take into consideration the total viewing experience we offer our audience and that does include reducing the window between the telecast of selected shows on our channel and its US broadcast. Friday evenings on AXN, for example, has now been branded as ‘Big Thrills Friday’ and helps our viewers to navigate to the latest content on the channel.

You also have beTV and Sony Entertainment in oversees markets. Any plans to launch those channels in India?
AXN is part of a bouquet of channels operated by Sony Pictures Television Networks, Asia. We will certainly look at launching other channels in India when the timing is right.

When are you going to launch AXN HD feed in India?
We believe the content on AXN is ideally suited for the large screen and high resolution. Hence, the launch of AXN HD in India is an obvious next step, which we hope to take in the near future as the services are already available in many other parts of Asia.

With an economic slowdown and the pay TV business across Asia hit, are consumers still willing to pay a good price if they see value?
Quality content will always be in demand and consumers will pay for good content. During economic slowdowns in the past, we have in fact seen an increase in consumption of pay TV services as it still offers one of the best value for money entertainment that the whole family can enjoy.

Do you see online viewing as a threat?
We are seeing the growth of content consumption beyond the TV across Asia and the same is true in India. Embracing digitisation and new technology is a core part of our future-growth strategy as it will enable us to deliver content beyond the TV to smart devices and enable us to more relevant and better connected with our audience. It is a strategy we have already started to put into place, in Malaysia for example, our Asian channel ONE is available on ASTRO on-the-go and we have also launched an Animax VOD service there.

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