Our priority is to build English entertainment in urban markets:Yagnik, AXN

English entertainment channel AXN has undergone a brand refresh with a new positioning and a new look that was unveiled yesterday during the telecast of new series ‘Billions’ at 11 pm. The new brand expression – Live R.E.D. – brings alive the channel’s diverse content offering – Reality, Entertainment, Drama.

The English entertainment space is geared to witness an action-packed year ahead as channels spruce up their content line-up – Star World is all set to air ‘Game of Thrones’ Seasons 1-6, there will be more content released in India close to their US release. AXN, too, has a strong line-up of shows for 2016 in the reality (The Voice, Top Gear, Fear Factor, etc.), entertainment (Minute To Win It), and drama (Sherlock, 24, Hannibal, Billions, etc.) genres.

In light of these developments, Adgully caught up with Saurabh Yagnik, Executive Vice-President and Business Head, English Entertainment Cluster, Sony Pictures Networks India, at the launch of the new brand positioning to know more about the channel’s revamp exercise as well as the plans ahead. Excerpts:


Adgully (AG): Do you think Indian audience ready for something like this?

Saurabh Yagnik (SY): I think one is whether there is a need and second is how you create a need. In my view, it is such a large English speaking population. The more I see today kids or even when we talk to ourselves, in some ways we have to break into one or two word in English even when we talking in our mother tongue. So there is a distinct set of audiences that has been created which is so conversant with English as a language that they will have to be catered to. We are catering to them with some international content and selectively some local content. So, it’s a mix of both. We are a young country and I think young people are very experimental. So there is scope.


AG: With BARC ratings coming in for the rural areas, do you think you would like to look at much wider audience?

SY: When you look at urban audiences itself, the consumption of English entertainment is highly under-indexed. So, if I have to choose a priority for this business, the priority for me is to grow consumption of this content with urban audiences much before I say that I have to cater to rural audiences. In terms of rural audience requirements, maybe one channel might not be able to cater to both. So we will have to create other alternatives. But clearly from our perspective, our priority right now is to build English entertainment in urban markets with premium audiences rather than saying that we are going mass. That’s not the intention.

For AXN, we have a great content line-up. It is about bringing alive and ensuring that the diversity of our content, the association of shows and characters with our channel and clarity in the minds of the consumer about what to expect from channel is very well articulated and understood. If you move on that, and that’s a huge big task, it will be a big achievement.


AG: What about in terms of getting more viewers on board?

SY: More important is how we do get people to consume this more. So rather than saying I want new people to be coming in, it’s about saying that whoever is coming in should spend more time on channel. So that is the bigger thing for us.


AG: How will you communicate AXN’s new brand proposition of ‘Reality, Entertainment, Drama’ to the audiences?

SY: It will be through multiple things. Consistency of communication with all these elements being brought alive on our channel, our network, and through other media like digital, print. Whatever campaigns that we do have to be very consistent to bring this alive. The channel packaging has been done through a global team.


AG: Could you tell about three things that you are going to work on?

SY: Pix version 2.0 is what we unveiled and we have to take that forward. That is an important task for us. The entire innovation and repackaging that we are doing around AXN, bringing that alive is something else that we have to do. We have a leading edge in our social media strategy that needs to go through the next level of disruption. The idea is that every time you have to do that something which then gives you that next leap. And our consistent effort is how do we build that next leap.


AG: Are there any new output deals that you have got into?

SY: We are in discussions with various partners, but nothing that I have to talk about right now. But our quest for content is an on-going process.


AG: What kind of incremental costs are you seeing?

SY: Typically, most deals once you contract provide for anyways about 5 per cent inflation. And add to that, there is a currency devaluation that keeps happening every year. So, I will not be surprised if on a normal basis content costs go up by 10 per cent in rupee terms. Over and above that, as new players come in and grab more content, there could be some irrational pricing happening because of that as well.


AG: When you look at content, do you look at titles that are more relatable to the Indian audience?

SY: We don’t get to pick selectively. We have to pick up largely volumes from studio and within that we like to mix and match. It’s not that we have a lot to mix, there are selective choices.


AG: What about original content?

SY: We keep exploring opportunities and as and when we have the right mix in terms of things that really bring alive the channel proposition and production qualities and at the same time has adequate advertiser interest, we will keep looking at it. It is an ongoing process, it’s not that we are saying that we are very actively pursuing only local programming.


AG: What would you consider as a broader challenge for you in 2016?

SY: The whole focus of the English portfolio of Sony Pictures Networks is about expanding the portfolio and growing it further. From a category perspective, driving up consumption, and that’s basically what we are focussing on.



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