UTV Entertainment Television launched UTV World Movies, a channel featuring international movies with English subtitles. NDTV is expected to launch its world cinema channel, NDTV Lumiere, soon. For the first time, Indian viewers are being exposed to cinema from as many as 160 countries. The Indian viewer is crazy about movies. But is the craze limited only to Bollywood and a few Hollywood movies? Or is the Indian viewer equally eager to watch quality international cinema? It has been four months since the launch of UTV World Movies and the channel claims to have attained No. 3 position in the genre of English movie channels. However, its viewership is still considerably low.
Shantonu Aditya, chief executive officer, UTV Entertainment Television, says, "For the last three weeks, we have been No. 3 in the English movie channel genre in the five metros (Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad) among SEC A, age group 15+. We are way ahead of SET Pix." He refuses to acknowledge the figures for Chennai as SET Pix is a free to air channel there. Divya Radhakrishnan, senior vice-president, TME, disagrees that there is a substantial audience for such a niche proposition. She says, "There is hardly any viewership for Hollywood movies, so the viewership for international movies is almost non-existent." The target audience for these channels serves as a platform for extremely high-end brands. Aditya reveals that the channel has completely sold out its inventory. The channel finds its target audience in the SEC A1 and A+ categories. Radhakrishnan rationalises that in a daily schedule of at the most an hour of TV viewing, one does not expect the audience to watch an international movie. Nandini Dias, chief operating officer, Lodestar Universal, says, "When UTV presented the idea to us, we thought it was great." But she is quick to add that the concept might be a little ahead of its time. However, she is certain that the trend will catch on. "There are movies that people want to watch, but can't because of the language barrier," Dias says. She cites the example of movies such as Sivaji, which was a sensation across the country, but not watched by many because it was in Tamil. Hence, she says, beaming international cinema and packaging it such that the Indian viewer can understand it, is a novel idea, but ahead of its time. Chinese action movies (usually Bruce Lee movies) dubbed in Hindi have garnered high numbers. But these hold true for all movies with mass appeal, usually in the action and thriller genres. Dias reveals that an English movie dubbed in Hindi dramatically increases the rating by six-eight times. For instance, if an English movie rates 0.6, the Hindi dubbed version could rate in the range of 1.5-2. But does dubbing spoil the show sometimes? Media observers believe that dubbed movies tend to have a disconnect between the visual and audio cues. This has a lot to do with the genre of the film. "Dubbed content works for action or thriller movies because it appeals to a different audience belonging to SEC C, D and E," Aditya states. Ajit Varghese, managing director, Maxus India, believes that dubbing international movies is very expensive. "These channels are not money spinners after all," he says. Besides, dubbing a movie carries the risk of jarring its aesthetics and making it look ridiculous. The major challenge faced by the channels is attracting the target audience and ensuring tune-ins. Varghese says, "How does a viewer realise that a movie is good if it's a Chinese movie? One has to wait and watch the movie, unlike English movies, for which reviews are available." For such a niche channel, there is not much scope for marketing and promotions either. Radhakrishnan says that it will be a good idea to feature some Hollywood movies on such channels. This will provide a platform to promote non-English movies. Well, it looks like it will be a while before Indian movie aficionados take a liking to world cinema and get hooked on to it.