Mumbai: If you are addicted to watching the latest American television series through illegal Internet downloads, your entertainment world is about to change. Star India Pvt. Ltd is launching a new English general entertainment channel, Star World Premiere HD, on Monday to cater to Indian audiences who like to keep up with the seasons being watched on US television.
A majority of the shows on this channel will be aired within 24-48 hours of their telecast in the US to close the time gap between the premiere there and their debut on Indian television.
Star World Premiere HD will air 26 new and returning shows, including Homeland (Season 3), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Sleepy Hollow, The Blacklist, Castle (Season 6), Revenge (Season 3) and Two and A Half Men (Season 11). The broadcaster’s other English general entertainment channel, Star World, will continue to run the earlier seasons.
For the new seasons, it has created a slot called “Just Arrived @ 10pm” that will run the shows Monday through Friday. Of the eight new shows launching in this time slot on the channel, all but one—Dexter (Season 8)—will be launching within 24 hours of its US premiere. The line-up includes How I Met Your Mother (Season 9), 2 Broke Girls (Season 3), Once Upon A Time (Season 3), Arrow (Season 2), The Crazy Ones (Season 1) and Welcome to the Family (Season 1).
For starters, the channel will be beamed only on the Tata Sky direct-to-home television platform for an additional Rs.60 per month.
The channel has been offered to all other platforms and it depends on them if and when they want to beam it, said Kevin Vaz, business head, English channels, Star India.
Viewers in India hooked to downloading the latest episodes of their favourite shows see some merit in the launch of the new channel.
“If I can record it on television, then I would prefer to do that,” said a 22-year-old Mumbai-based businessman, who did not want to be named because it is illegal to download pirated content. “But if it’s an episode with an important development, I would download it.”
He said he could not wait to see an episode of Game of Thrones, an HBO production, when he was bombarded on social networking sites with messages about the dramatic ninth episode of Season 3 aired in June. He was online within minutes of its US launch and had seen the episode within hours of its US debut.
It is this expanding audience that Star World Premiere is getting ready to tap. Other broadcasters are also looking to follow suit. AXN India, the channel owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., launched Hannibal within 24 hours of its international launch in the US in April 2013. Zee Café, the English general entertainment channel from Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, launched the Ellen DeGeneres Show (Season 11) in September within a day of its US launch.
This marks a big shift in the way broadcasters plan their content. For instance, up until a few years ago, Indian broadcasters had to wait six-nine months to get a chance to air the latest season of a popular show such as Friends.
Now, a number of English general entertainment channels such as AXN India, Star World, Zee Café and other networks are going the extra mile to air popular shows closer to their US premiere—from negotiating hard with US studios to having their employees work more shifts to edit scenes to suit Indian sensibilities and key in subtitles.
Star World launched a “Torrentz slot” in 2011, named after the website that allows users to search Torrent files to download content, to showcase the latest seasons of The Good Guys, The Walking Dead and Detroit 1-8-7.
To be sure, the number of viewers watching videos online is growing rapidly in India. According to data from ComScore, Inc., a digital market research and audience measurement agency, in May 2013, the total online video consumption in India had doubled in the past two years to 3.7 billion videos per month.
This dramatic growth was driven by a sizeable increase in the number of online video viewers, in addition to increasing consumption per viewer. The total online video audience in India grew 74% to 54 million viewers, with the average viewer watching 18% more videos and spending 28%more time viewing them.
“The viewer following these shows is a loyal and informed fan, so it’s not unusual to see fans following the discussion on new seasons online, on fan pages, debating what they like and don’t like, discussing what the stars wore, whether the publicity stunts worked, etc,” said Sunil Punjabi, business head, AXN Networks India Pvt. Ltd.
It’s not always easy to deliver fresh content. International studios are reluctant to part with their content early for fear of piracy. Then, in a country like India, the shows often have to be screened by the broadcaster for violence and sex, and anything else that could offend the censors. That’s a time-consuming process.
Another factor that adds to delays is the difference between viewing habits in India and the US, said Star India’s Vaz.
“Indian viewers prefer watching their shows from Monday to Friday, while in the US (and some other markets), the focus is more on weekend viewing. This means we often have to wait to assimilate that week’s worth of content before we can start airing the show in India,” he said, pointing, as an example, to MasterChef Australia.
All the new shows on Star World Premier will now run simultaneously as in the US on a weekly basis.
While the previous effort in 2011 with the “Torrentz slot” didn’t pull in substantial audiences, admits Vaz, it was “huge, from a buzz point of view”.
This time round, the business model is going to be “subscription-led with minimal ads”, and the strategy to attract sponsors based on the “premium” quality of audiences rather than the quantity. The company refused comment on the subscription fee, stating that it was yet to arrive at the figure.