The English movie channel genre will have a new aggressive player in MGM. After making the channel available on Dish TV, the largest direct-to-home operator in India, MGM Studios has inked a five-year distribution deal with Star Den. The aim is to make the channel widely available across cable TV networks, DTH and IPTV platforms.
MGM is looking at subscription revenues and will be advertising-free - at least for the time being. The channel is priced at Rs 6 for the cable TV market and Rs 3 for DTH.
In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto, MGM Networks executive VP Bruce Tuchman talks about the expansion plans for the channel in India and other markets.
Why did it take MGM so long to enter the Indian market?
We have participated in India before through our licensing deals with Zee and Sony. We learnt a lot from that. India is a growing market and offers huge opportunities. We decided to come with a 100 per cent ownership so that we could control our destiny.
Didn't you realise the opportunity a bit too late as channels have to now contend with carriage fees not just on cable but on DTH as well?
Some channels started operating in this market more than 10 years back. That may have been good. But it is also a great time now with digitalisation growing. India is also on a high-growth story.
Why did MGM choose Star Den for distribution?
We did our first deal with Dish TV independently. That will stay as it is. But getting meaningful and broader penetration would have been a real challenge if we were to do it ourselves. We decided on Star Den as they have a strong bouquet of channels. We have good Hollywood content and have a library of 4100 films. Star Den will represent us on cable TV, DTH and IPTV platforms.
Will carriage fee not hurt the business in a genre that is not growing too fast?
We do not plan to pay carriage. We have a brand and a track record that stands out. This puts us in a good position to occupy a lot of capacity without paying carriage.
Would you look at presence on analogue cable and still not pay carriage?
We are looking for as much distribution as possible. The subscription base is large and it will provide an attractive revenue base. Our business model here will be driven by subscription revenues.
'Our TG would be people who are interested in Hollywood movies and who have a connection with the MGM brand. We are not a channel that showcases blockbusters'
Will MGM carry advertising?
Not for now. Globally we have advertising on some feeds. However our dominant source of revenue is subscription. Models will evolve and adapt though. We don't know what we will do here in the future.
In a genre that already has established players like HBO and Star Movies, what value does MGM bring to the table?
We are the MGM brand. We have a deep connection with the glamour and aura of Hollywood. We do things like having celebrity testimonials, going behind the scenes of films, etc.
Besides, digitalisation offers room for many players. In India there are tens of millions of people who want to watch Hollywood films. In the US there are scores of film channels and not just five or six. Consumers want this kind of choice. It is key to have a brand that people stick to and trust.
Could you offer an overview of the programming strategy?
We will handpick titles from our huge library. We do a lot of stunting. We do thematic programming nights. In the evenings, we focus on genres like comedy, action. We also focus on key stars and we try to be flexible and creative with what we do.
Our channel caters to people who want to expose themselves to sophisticated and eclectic film choices. We are not looking to just get attention through new releases. While there is a value to that, people often watch that film and then forget about it. Our library is classic and modern. We have films from different eras.
Will your core target audience be more elderly skewed?
Our TG would be people who are interested in Hollywood movies and who have a connection with the MGM brand that is glamorous and well known. We are not a channel that showcases blockbusters that one soon forgets about. Our aim is to show films that define an era. Films that will be shown over the coming year include Woody Allen's classic Manhattan, Network, A Passage to India, Midnight Cowboy, The Pink Panther Strikes Again and Mystic Pizza.
Does MGM acquire movies from other studios to show on the channel?
The MGM library is so large that it can be programmed forever in a manner of speaking. We are doing The Hobbit. We also have Bond films and the Pink Panther franchise. New movies are being made here. We also have the Rocky films.
Would you look at a dubbed feed to expand penetration in India?
We are in English at the moment. If we expand deeply and there is consumer demand for it, I would not rule it out.
What kind of marketing activities are being planned?
We have just entered into a distribution arrangement with Star Den. We have to sit down and figure out how we are to promote the channel. It could be through television, print etc. We will also do events.
How has MGM gone about strengthening its worldwide TV distribution business?
We are growing well. We keep adding new countries. Three weeks back, we announced that we had a great summer across Central and Eastern Europe. Just to give you a frame of reference, in 2002 we had no branded channel presence in Europe. Now we are in over 30 European countries. In June we launched in Italy on Sky Italia.
In Asia we did not have a presence five years back. Now we are in most countries in Asia. We have three channels in South Korea. We are also present in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, among other countries. Our aim is to be as widespread as possible. We will keep an aggressive pace of development.
Outside the US, which are your key markets?
We have penetrated Western Europe nicely. Italy, Spain, Germany are key markets.
In the US, MGM has tied up with Comcast for an action-oriented VoD offering. How did this deal come about?
There is big demand in the US for on demand content. Comcast is a leader in this space. It was a god idea and launched with fanfare. In Germany, the MGM channel is being distributed on the mobile. We want to get our content delivered across all forms of distribution.
How has MGM stayed as an independent firm even after Sony took a 20 per cent stake in the company?
A couple of years back, people were asking whether MGM was independent. We have clarified that MGM is a vibrant and independent entity. We were also innovative in our approach. We came up with an innovative partnership with Tom Cruise. We brought him in as a partner owner of United Artists. We are co-producing The Hobbit.
We are also embracing new media. We are featured on itunes. We do not just have a legacy but are also vibrant and look to the future.