Film Hindi brings authentic movies in Arabic to TV, to broaden viewership among Arab cinephiles.
VETERAN TV professional, Mukund Cairae, CEO – MENAP of Zee Entertainment Enterprise LLC, has been with the company for eight years. He has played a key role in driving Zees’s footprint across the Asia Pacific region. He has been in his current role for three years, he heads a team of 65 in marketing, programming, ad sales, content sales and distribution. He is responsible for managing the Arab and South Asian business units, consisting of six channels. Under his leadership, the MENAP operations recorded its most profitable periods in 2011 and 2012, and gross advertising revenues increased by 77 per cent under his tenure. Here he gives Siobhan Adams a sneak preview of his new channel, which debuts this month specifically for Arab lovers of classic Indian cinema.
Congratulations on Film Hindi. What was the launch rationale? We launched a Bollywood channel for the Arab world about four years ago so we could see how the genre and audience had grown. There are a lot of Bollywood aficionados and we pretty much defined the genre.
This is our attempt to reach out to lovers of Indian films, and create a differentiation between Indian cinema and Bollywood. The latter being our flashy post-2005 offering and Indian Movies being cinema for true cinema lovers. So, the greatest films, the biggest hits, the most romantic stories and such, is what we bring.
Are you targeting an older audience with this? We are getting a lot of feedback saying “why are you dubbing Indian movies, we would like to see them in the original languages, maybe with subtitles”. We are reaching out to 20 to 45 year olds.
So, quite broad? Yes. And not necessarily an older audience. The name of the channel is supposed to denote the ‘real film’, Asil Hindi, Film Hindi. It is for an Arab audience that appreciates Indian cinema and who, over the past five years, has begun to understand what Indian cinema is all about. And it’s an attempt to widen the audience base of people who watch Indian cinema across multiple channels in the region.
Which particular segment do you hope to attract? Interestingly, the number watching TV under what is grouped movie channels has grown by 14 per cent during the past four years. This is not organic, but the population is growing and hence the base is growing. It’s for people who watch content from other genres and are tuning into movies.
So, 14 per cent growth is what we’re looking at, as we understand that the pie itself is growing. People who want to watch movies. Now, Zee Aflam has made its mark because there are a lot of other channels that are running Bollywood movies. So we said: “If there are channels why don’t we offer two offerings? One for Indian cinema and one for Bollywood?”
And this is a family orientated offering? Completely.
So you’ll target advertisers in this segment? Well 78 per cent of Pan Arab advertising money today goes to women and family, while only 22 per cent is male-centric. That is why we would like to reach out
There are 600 channels, but that’s not a TV market. That’s ‘somebody who decides I want to start a TV channel’ market.
to families by giving them this particular brand of entertainment.
Did you develop any special formats beyond TVCs, break bumps? There are approximately five or six properties that will be part of this particular channel that will appeal to a family audience.
As long as we are able to demonstrate, through data, that we have a healthy family audience, let’s say at say 7pm to 9pm, or 2pm to 4pm we are able to create advertisers there.
Break bumpers and integrated promos are pretty much what everybody does, and we do the same except that ‘stickiness’ is what we offer.
Will you elaborate? The time spent that we expect on this particular channel is going to be far higher than what we have experienced with Aflam, until now. Aflam has a very high reach, but this is going to be an offering that reaches out to the dedicated viewer, so the time spent with them is very much higher.
Can you quantify? Anything more than 17 minutes is considered average. We expect to take this up to 45 minutes.
That’s a very big increase. Yes, but Indian movies are a thousand emotions rolled into one film, so there’s a particular part that has romance, action, betrayal etc and that makes for a lot of engaged viewers, which is how we expect more ‘stickiness’.
You must have a huge movie archive? We have the largest pre-2000 library of Indian cinema [in the world], which is more than 3,000 movies.
Did you create viewing blocks, such as romance from 2pm to 5pm in the afternoon? Bang on.
So they are segmented blocks for advertisers? Absolutely. There are five blocks everyday. So it will be something like Hindi Asli; Amitabh Aflam; Black & White Classics; One Actor; Two movies; and Birth of a Superstar. There will be four original airings in the day at 12pm, 3pm, 6pm and 9pm.
So very segmented? Yes, and it will be supplemented content, such as the History of Indian Cinema, histories of the great Bollywood dynasties and how movie-making is so different now from then.
How do you cater to second- and third-screen usage and what do you think of it? It’s not very ‘sticky’. It is a lot more promiscuous when you are doing this. It’s more five-minute viewing and then move on. When you are looking at dedicated viewing, it’s essentially the TV screen.
According to Informa there were 94.5 million TV households in the Mena region by the end of 2012. Are you in all those? Since there is no addressability, these are households that have FTA decoders. So there is no way for any particular channel to say: “I am in every TV household in Libya, Egypt, Morocco…”
So the best thing that one can do in an FTA environment is to say: “I am going to be on a satellite that covers this entire region.” Film Hindi is going to be on Arab Sat and that covers about 93 per cent of this region, and that’s where we are.
It’s still a very cluttered market. Is it? There are 600 channels, but that’s not a TV market. That’s ‘somebody who decides I want to start a TV channel’ market. [People are] very clear on the genre of entertainment they want to watch.
A common misconception then? There are approximately 35 channels that earn revenues out of the 600-plus. My guesstimate is about 19 of them make money.
Where is Zee within your guesstimate? It actually depends on the product. With Aflam we are. With Alwan we should be [earning money] within six months. With Film Hindi it should be within two years from launch.
Turning to measurement – people meters are in the UAE, but still not in Saudi Arabia. They were supposed to start there this year.
They were supposed to start eight years ago. I believe it’s good PR for the people meter company in the UAE, that people are beginning to believe in the concept. And the trends are not very different.
Really? I’m surprised. The important part is the belief that data is going to be completely lopsided when people meters start. That the early methodology was not accurate and now we have something that we can get our teeth into. Trends are no different. Channels that were ranked one, two and three on earlier systems compared to one, two and three on people meters are no different.
In my opinion, the case long dissipated. It gives you a lot of viewership feedback and patterns. It can tell you what can of viewer watches what and possibly be able to figure from data when do they tune out. It would be disturbing to find out they tune out when the commercials start, it would kind of defeat the purpose.
Yes, but it might give you greater clarity. That’s my point. When you try to make a case for people meters for the advertisers to believe that, when we’ve always said: “this channel is number four.” If the people meter can prove it, then great, but now what? If the same number four is what was on the early methodology, does it make the case for people meters? I don’t know; it really doesn’t throw up any surprises.
Speaking of surprises, I hear over Ramadan viewing figures for channels retained their usual rankings, but the revenues have dropped. Why? Costs were up, but profitability was down as content was an issue due to what is happening in the region, especially Syria.
So Lebanon’s proximity to Syria and then Egypt’s production houses as well? Exactly. There was a scarcity of content, so the content costs got hyped up unnaturally. Even if your topline was equal to last year, your profitability took at hit because your middle line was inflated.
Let’s talk about the ZEE Cine Awards. Any details on the 2014 event? We are looking at three countries, Germany, Australia and the UAE. Pitches have been made to the tourism authorities and governments to see if we can have it in Q1. We are talking nearly 600 people flying in, including the who’s who of Indian cinema. I think the UAE is a very strong contender, because these awards aren’t only fixed on SE Asians in the region, it’s pretty much everybody.
Turning to the future, are you looking at Africa? From 1994 to 2004 our major thrust was Indian content for Indians globally. From 2004 we started saying “Indian content for locals” and therefore started projects for Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Here, ZEE Arabia was started for Arabs and there was a ZEE Russia. From 2006, we started saying “how about local content for locals?” By 2020 we expect our international operations, giving local content to locals, to be far higher than what is in India.
Analysts expect major growth from SubSaharan Africa. Yes. The Africa team based out of Johannesburg and Mauritius has developed a local drama series in English for Africans. Africa is a paid TV [market] more than FTA. So they are now looking to sign up those carriage deals with the large Paid TV operators to roll that out, I hope it does before the end of the year.
Indian movies are a multitude of emotions rolled into one film, says Cairae