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Help HBO signs deals with 15 studios; expects 15% ad growth in year
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After losing Sony Pictures from its arsenal, English movie channel HBO has stitched deals with 15 studios and movie companies.

As it pursues to maintain its 15 per cent ad growth this year, HBO has inked pacts with CBC Studios International, MGM, Lionsgate, Summit, Morgan Creek, Europa, New Image, Archstone Productions, WWE and Celebrity Contract. The channel's existing deals with Warner, Paramount and Universal will continue.

Says HBO South Asia country manager Shruti Bajpai said, “The number of premieres in 2011 will go up. Some of these deals are multi-year while others are for a year. We have balanced out the content we have got and have a mix of premieres and some library titles."

Taking an indirect dig at some of the recent channel launches, Bajpai said content is the key to any channel's popularity. "You can have a movie channel in high definition but if content is not there, nobody will watch it. Eventually, everybody will catch up with technology but the content part is crucial.”

Incidentally, Times Television Network recently launched its English movie channel Movies Now in HD format.

Bajpai said in 2011 HBO will have a sharper focus in terms of balancing content between premieres, blockbusters, franchises like Rocky, Bourne and Harry Potter, signature movies like Invictus, The lovely Bones and original series like Spartacus.

“We are positioning ourselves as a one stop destination for the English movie fan. Through our title mix, we will have something for everybody. The aim is to have viewers come here for what they want rather than go to two or three different channels. Having said that, fragmentation will certainly be a challenge. DTH, though, will expand our reach into the smaller cities and towns. We will be more aggressive in 2011.”

Bajpai declined to talk about the increase in content costs but said the business plan is solid with a 15 per cent ad revenue growth for this year. “It is a question of what appeals to viewers and offering a balanced mix. We have carefully studied this. We are not simply looking to add volume for the sake of it. You will see films like Shutter Island, Ironman 2, Up In The Air, The Hangover, It’s Complicated, Sherlock Holmes, The Backup Plan, The Last Airbender and The Blindside. The advantage for us is that there is a strong pull factor on the part of viewers. Having built the brand over a long period, we do not have to push it to operators.”

HBO Original Series will continue to play an important role. Spartacus, an action drama, airs in the first quarter of 2011. Another new show will be Boardwalk Empire which is set in Atlantic City during the prohibition era. The first episode was directed by Martin Scorsese and was the most expensive pilot episode to produce in television history. The show is about a period drama focusing on Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, a political figure who rose to prominence and controlled Atlantic City, New Jersey, during the Prohibition period of the 1920s and 1930s.

The series stars Steve Buschemi. Nucky interacts with several historical figures in both his personal and political life, including mobsters, politicians, government agents, and the common folk who look up to him. The federal government also takes an interest in the bootlegging and other illegal activities in the area, sending agents to investigate possible mob connections but also looking at Nucky's expensive and lavish lifestyle for a county political figure.

Shows like Hung, True Blood will return for new seasons.

The channel recently did a new look and feel to coincide with its 10 running years in India. Bajpai said old themes will return for next year along with new ones.

“Hollywood Premier League has worked for us. Other channels have copied it. The countdown clock which tells viewers the amount of time left for a movie to start airing has also been copied by others. The aim for us is to be ahead of the game.”

Bajpai declined to comment on whether HBO is looking at launching more channels in India. She, however, ruled out dubbing as she felt it did not make sense.

3G is an area that the channel has not looked at, but it has found success with social media through Facebook and Twitter. “We have a 180,000 fan base on Facebook. They discuss HBO and give us continuous feedback," said Bajpai.
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