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AXN’s viewership up 8% after advent of Netflix, Amazon Prime: Tushar Shah

Hospitality chain Marriott International Inc. and AXN have joined hands to curate a unique culinary show, ‘AXN Ultimate Cook-Off – The Marriott International Challenge’. The show will premiere on AXN on October 12, 2018. 

The show will be a face-off between four celebrated chefs from various brands within the Marriott portfolio. The contestants will display their skills through different culinary challenges and will be scored on their versatility, proficiency and creativity. The winning dish will make it to the menu of more than 100 Marriott International hotels across India. 

Additionally, Marriott International Inc will be the presenting sponsor for ‘Top Chef Season 14’, scheduled to air this month on AXN from Monday to Friday at 9 pm. 

Chef Toine Hoeksel, Senior Culinary Director, Asia Pacific, Marriott International Inc., who leads more than 30 brands under the Marriott family, visited India to judge the cook-off. Other judges included Chef Himanshu Taneja, Culinary Director, India, Marriott International and actor-cum-producer, Chitrangda Singh. 

Commenting on the new show, Tushar Shah, Business Head, English Cluster, Sony Pictures Networks India, “Innovation and differentiation is at the core of everything we do. AXN’s ‘Ultimate Cook-Off – The Marriott International Challenge’ is another such initiative, which is inspired by people’s love for food. The common passion for food between Marriott International, AXN and Chitrangda Singh is what makes this association so special.” 

Neeraj Govil, Area Vice President, South Asia, Marriott International, added here, “At Marriott International Inc., we aspire to be leaders in every aspect. Culinary experiences always have and will continue to drive focus for us. This association gives us yet another platform to showcase our cooking styles, abilities and innovations in the F&B domain, while offering diverse, culinary experiences of the highest standards and celebrating the progressive culinary talent of our Chefs across Marriott.” 

In an interaction with Adgully, Tushar Shah sheds more light on ‘AXN Ultimate Cook-Off – The Marriott International Challenge’, marketing plans, growth of the English Entertainment genre and more. Excerpts: 

What is the thought behind ‘AXN Ultimate Cook-Off - The Marriott Challenge’?
Food is such an integral part of people’s lives. But when I look around me, I don’t see much Indian cookery shows on any of these English entertainment channels. When our team explored and debated about the initiative, we thought that we perhaps are right to hit the spot. So, basically food was at the heart of everybody’s inspiration and that led us to choose this topic. 

Is this a start of your ‘Made In India’ programming?
Yes, this is a start, or at least an attempt at that start. This is the first one and you will be soon hearing about the next one as well. 

Is the show inspired by ‘Top Chef’?
No, not really. All of us are inspired by food shows, including ‘Top Chef’. Food was at the heart of all of it and as all of us in our team are big foodies, we decided to start off with this idea. Somewhere, top cookery shows like ‘Master Chef’ and ‘Top Chef’ lead to some level of inspiration. But us being foodies and especially Indians’ love for food was the real inspiration. 

Who are the advertisers on board for this show?
Right now, it is specific to Marriott because we have a partnership. We want to focus on this partnership and therefore, as far as this programme is concerned, there will be no other advertiser on board. 

What would be your marketing strategy for the show?
We will be going across all our platforms. We have 32 channels where the TG fits in specifically. All our channels will fire the programme – both on linear and digital platforms. Other partners in the news genre are being worked out. We might go for print as well to enhance and also some level of video. But it is all work in progress. 

What about competing shows on other channels, such as ‘Master Chef’, in the 9 pm time slot?
‘Master Chef’ is a totally different format. AXN has a loyal audience and therefore, the numbers will speak for themselves. I think all these shows complement each other and there is room for many more shows that people want to watch. We are very confident that this show will gain traction with the viewers. It is our first attempt at such a show and I am sure there are things that we will identify to improve upon. We are actually looking at enhancing this partnership beyond what we have just done. Because they have got some phenomenal number of properties in India and it is a great opportunity for both of us to partner. 

How do you view AXN’s growth? Being an urban-centric channel, has the aspirational viewer been converted into an AXN viewer now?
There are two kinds of viewers. One is a very serious viewer, who by nature wants to watch English shows, and then there are those who are aspirational. So, aspiration is the main target all the time. By this, you never fall short of people who have aspiration to watch something. That basket is always full. It moves from being aspirational to being purest at some point in time. There are enough who are not into the aspirational bracket already, but they come into the bracket over the time. We basically cater to both sets of audiences. 

What about viewers in the Tier 2 and 3 markets?
We are clearly focused on the top towns. 

How much has the English entertainment genre been impacted by the advent of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video?
If you really look at the data, for us I think the more people in the game, the better it is, as it creates a lot of conversations around the content. It actually helps us be known to the category, and in that category if you have shows that are interesting, people naturally will come to watch your channel. I remember, a few months back we did a study where we came to the conclusion that after the advent of all these platforms in India, our viewership has increased by 8 per cent. Also, the nature of both the platforms is different. One is a subscription driven platform, whereas the other is a whole distribution landscape in India. So, the number of viewers that you cater to on the existing platform that we have is far greater than any other platform. For us, television, especially in the English entertainment category, has a potential for growth. 

Are the English entertainment channels at par with English movie channels and Hindi GECs?
If you really look at numbers, they reflect that the English entertainment categories are a small part of the English movies category. But having said that, it does cater to a niche audience and that audience has been proven. That’s what matters, because they are strictly not comparable. The English movie audience could be very different from the GEC audience, which is also true for Hindi viewership. 

Going forward, what are the shows that AXN has lined up?
There are many more interesting shows in the pipeline. Apart from the ‘AXN Ultimate Cook-Off’, we will be announcing another show in a week or so. A healthy combination of reality, drama and entertainment is what we stand for.

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