Rewind Networks’ Avi Himatsinghani


On the heels of launching a new HITS Movies Presents block featuring classic films, Avi Himatsinghani, CEO of Rewind Networks, tells TV Asia about the challenges and opportunities in Asia’s pay-TV landscape.

TV ASIA: What trends do you see in the AsiaPac pay-TV sector at present?
HIMATSINGHANI: The world around us is changing rapidly and it was changing even when we launched. A lot of eyebrows were raised then—why launch a linear service when there were already signs in the West in 2012-13 that OTT and other forms of content distribution were the new way? Fundamentally it comes down to the kind of service offered. This is true not just for indies but also for the big networks. You will see massive M&A happening around the world in the coming 12 to 18 months, the repercussions of which will only be felt later. Meanwhile, some of the bigger networks will be making some calls on their own linear brands that are no longer relevant. Platforms know that their subscribers have evolved and what works well with them. Unless there is a clear proposition offered, platforms aren’t willing to carry those services. The size of a [portfolio] no longer determines what channels get carried. This is a very good sign as it creates a more level playing field and helps platforms put out more compelling services.

The lines between SVOD and linear are blurring. Pay TV will transform by embracing the OTT space and get more multiscreen with SVOD offerings alongside linear in terms of their approach. At the same time, the reverse is also happening and we see more of the Hulu U.S. model emerging. Linear still commands a very strong share, so we’re seeing more conversations develop where players that only had an SVOD service are now looking at SVOD plus linear.

From a HITS perspective, on the content side, we’ve launched a teaser block on our network called HITS Movies Presents. This block serves as a lead-up to the full-fledged HITS Movies channel. We are very different from other networks that drop movies into the schedule to drive up ratings but, overall, offer an unclear core proposition. With HITS Movies, we are going to showcase movies that you can’t easily find elsewhere. It’s a beautiful curation of handpicked movies from the 1960s to the 1990s.

TV ASIA: The pay-TV ecosystem is still growing, isn’t it?
HIMATSINGHANI: Each market has a different life cycle and a different state of evolution. Many of these emerging markets are highly populated, dense areas, and are not necessarily evolved in terms of broadband or mobile. Pay TV is still the bread and butter, bundling strong local fare alongside select international content that people can afford on a mass-scale basis. From our perspective, there are new markets to launch in, including Vietnam, as well as Laos and Cambodia. Even in evolved markets, there are new opportunities, including broadband providers looking at bundling their service with content. The ecosystem will evolve into a marketplace with several master aggregators, be it telcos, device players, traditional pay-TV operators going into the OTT space, or SVOD services offering linear propositions. So the runway for us is to tap into all of these opportunities and continue to grow.

TV ASIA: Tell us about how you use social media.
HIMATSINGHANI: The beauty of our brand is we don’t have any legacy issues. We have not exclusively associated ourselves with a particular studio brand name. In a non-OTT world [a studio brand name] meant an established seal of quality. But in this world, you never say, today I’m going to watch a studio X movie or a studio Y movie. Anytime you switch us on, you’re going to find a hit from the past. We’re not in the business of garnering likes on social media. We’re in the business of listening to our customers. This is the first time where consumers—because they know what the HITS proposition is—provide us with reams of recommendations. They trust our curation, but they also want to be involved in the process by being our programmers. Sandie Lee, Rewind’s channel head, and our team feel like DJs listening to requests. Shows like MacGyver, Three’s Company, Airwolf, Baywatch and Knight Rider were all suggested to us on our Facebook page. That’s unique to us and something we have not seen happen anywhere else.

We need to see ourselves as playlists. In the world of Spotify and Apple Music, there is a certain proposition you need to live up to. If your playlist is not strong enough, you’re not going to have followers.

People often ask: why are you launching another linear channel with HITS Movies? Because [these movies] don’t get consumed through on-demand that easily. Deep library competes for a share of time with first-run and exclusive blockbusters like Game of Thrones or Narcos. When a consumer is in an on-demand environment, they tend not to choose to consume deep library even if the movies are timeless hits.