Opinion

Q&A with Rewind Networks founder Avi Himatsinghani

Avi Himatsinghani Less than three years ago Avi Himatsinghani played a bold hand. He started his own TV station.

In this Q&A with Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks, the former Fox, Star, Discovery and Sony sales executive talks about why launching a TV station is not as crazy as it sounds, the challenges and opportunities of the Asian market, piracy, and why the industry needs to move fast on measurement.

You launched Rewind Networks, the company behind the retro TV channel HITS, less than three years ago. It’s not often that a new TV channel launches these days. What do you say to people who tell you you were crazy to launch a TV channel when all the growth in media in Asia seems to be in digital?

I love it when people think it’s a crazy idea. That’s the idea to pursue because others won’t think of it. The linear bundle and economic value of the pay-TV proposition remains very robust. In most markets, there is limited high-speed internet penetration, which hinders the mass scale distribution of video consumption services the way it happens on TV. My bet is on the continued growth of pay-TV services in the region.

That being said, digital is still part of our lives. From day one we embraced digital rights for all our hit shows that can be available on multiple devices as linear streaming of the channel as well as catch-up on demand.

Where do you see the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for you in the market?

We’re a relatively new brand playing in the space of the big boys. Building awareness and consumption remains top priority and is obviously challenging in a tough marketplace. However, with the clear cut proposition of HITS and the awesome selection of shows that we’ve curated, we’ve had phenomenal success in ratings and relative rankings amongst other general entertainment channels.

I see a great opportunity for HITS playing a long-term media partner role for brands targeting mass audiences in the region.

What’s the geographical spread of HITS now in Asia, and where are you planning on launching next?

We’re currently in six million homes across five countries – Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Hong Kong. HITS is available in the basic tier of leading pay-TV service providers in each of these markets. We have plans to launch in Thailand and Taiwan in the near term followed by Vietnam and other markets in Southeast Asia.

What are the top-rating shows on HITS, and does this vary a lot by market?

M*A*S*H on HITS

M*A*S*H on HITS

The great thing about HITS is that every single program was literally a hit in its day. We’ve been pleased with the performance of all our shows but there seems to be two standout categories:

1. Comedies (Cheers, MASH, Taxi, Diff’rent Strokes, Happy Days, The Golden Girls)
2. Procedurals (The X-Files, Murder, She Wrote, Criminal Minds, Law & Order)

A promo for Diff’rent Strokes on HITS:

Our belief is that good storytelling transcends time and cultures. The consistency of how all our shows have rated within our markets has proven that.

What’s your pitch to advertisers for HITS? Presumably the demographic skews a lot older, as the shows are re-runs of classic US series?

Our message to the marketing fraternity is “Try us! You won’t be disappointed!” We’re very flexible in the types of partnerships and creative ideas that traditional media networks wouldn’t be able to pursue. We’re a nimble and passionate group of people that are bringing some of the greatest stories to life. We want great brand stories to be part of this.

Advertisers and agencies can benefit from the halo effect of our iconic shows and mass multi-market reach for their brands. The fact that we connect with viewers that are paying for entertainment provides a natural filter targeting a more valuable demographic. And we’re bringing these shows for the first time in HD. Surprisingly we don’t skew as old as people would think. Our target is 25 – 65 years old and our sweet spot lies between 25 – 45 year olds. Think about it, it’s not easy to reach this demo with digital only campaigns. HITS can provide critical, mass-media, air cover and inexpensively too!

The idea behind HITS is popular shows from the past. As HITS becomes more popular, won’t the big networks launch similar ventures to squeeze you out?

HITS has a unique proposition that brings together more than three decades of the best TV shows. While the concept may be easy to copy there is little to no appetite amongst pay-TV platforms to create duplicate channels that further fragment and confuse audiences. We have the first-mover advantage and have established our presence on basic packages of all major platforms. Studios and content rights owners care deeply about how their shows reach audiences and with HITS’ curation and packaging, we’re a natural choice and home for the best TV shows. Our name says it all.

What are your views on piracy and the role of the pay-TV industry to combat it?

Piracy grows when the stuff people want isn’t available easily and at the right economics. The pay-TV eco-system has a huge responsibility and opportunity to provide this. Putting great must-have content in an easily accessible and timely manner is crucial is already being addressed. For example, most networks have already started day and date releases of US series. In addition, Digital, on-demand and TV Everywhere are now increasingly becoming part of the basic offering. The key challenge is actually to communicate and educate consumers that this is available and I don’t think much has been done yet. We need to convert the pirates back into legitimate viewers!

Measurement is an Achille’s Heel for pay-TV, an issue that was raised at the CASBAA Convention last year. What’s your view on the way the issue should be tackled for the benefit of pay-TV players and advertisers?

This is definitely a big issue and the industry needs to come to a consensus and move fast. Panel sizes at conventional measurement systems sometimes end up with low representation for pay-TV. The fragmented nature of pay-TV channels further exasperates this problem. Today pay-TV operators have digital set-top boxes and return path data that can provide a far clearer picture on a real-time basis. Major service providers like Nielsen and Kantar Media are already working with the pay-TV platforms on these initiatives. Making such metrics available to the media buying fraternity is absolutely critical and it is imperative for all of us in the eco-system to get together to help make it the currency of trade.

What are your hopes for HITS and Rewind Networks over the next 12 months?

We’re working aggressively to get HITS into all platforms across all our 13 markets and I hope to achieve that soon. We’ve also started discussions with some key advertisers and their agencies to come on board. I would love to see Rewind Networks and HITS as the media partner of choice for leading brands in the region.

You are based in Mediapolis, Singapore’s new district for the media industry. Even though it’s developing fast it still feels a bit empty and out of the way. Do you really think it can become the Soho of Singapore? If so, how?

Singapore is the major Asia hub for most of the international media companies. Media people are fun people and when you put a lot of us in one place anything can happen! We love being at Mediapolis, we could do with a few more F&B establishments, but rubbing shoulders with industry partners regularly is great!

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