Picking Marc Lourdes’s brain on viewer behaviour during the pandemic

We recently caught up with the Head of Astro’s Indian Business, Marc Lourdes, to get some insights on what are his viewers are watching during the pandemic.

Marc joined Astro in 2018 after spending many years abroad with CNN in Hong Kong. 

The following is the interview:

1. With the pandemic, have you seen any shifts in viewing trends among your audience?

During the pandemic we saw higher viewership among Astro customers especially in streaming content which is in line with global trends. For example 6.1 million titles were streamed On Demand by Indian audiences over the past year, more than tripling the previous year’s total. 

We are pleased to see this shift in viewing trend. Compared to numbers from the year before, we are seeing growing numbers of people streaming content On Demand on their Ultra/PVR boxes as well as on Astro GO. 

What’s interesting to note is that our customers are watching more local titles which broadcast at the same time as popular foreign programmes. This means more and more, people are beginning to look at local productions as ‘unmissable’ content, which is a great sign for the local creative content industry. 

2. What are the factors that contributed to that?

With more people staying home, they actually have time to discover and stream our 60,000 videos on demand. This is possible when customers upgrade to the Ultra Box, and connect their boxes to the internet to enjoy Cloud Recording, play from start and a unified seamless experience. As such we achieved a 161% y-o-y increase in On Demand titles being viewed.

People are also watching a fair amount of children’s content, and even among Indian audiences, tastes are quite broad across the board, with titles like ‘Upin dan Ipin’ and ‘Didi and Friends’ as popular as Indian kids titles like ‘Mottu Patlu’. 

3. What are your customers watching more of?

The pandemic had halted filming of new movies in India, yet we note that there is an increase in viewership of international content from India. In turn, we have seen our customers shift their viewership to older movies from India which have also done well. This is largely in part due to the limited number of new titles, and how we’ve packaged content for audiences. 

For example, last June we launched a pop-up channel, Rajini70 HD, offering fans of legendary superstar, Rajinikanth the opportunity to enjoy seventy of his movies in celebration of his 70th birthday. This shot up the channel share rankings and ended up as our #2 channel for that month. Interestingly, over 40% of the viewers of the channel were non-Indian, proving the enduring, cross-segment appeal of Rajinikanth.

We saw a similar, albeit smaller, pattern for the recent temporary channel, Kamal Haasan which offering customers a wider range of popular and well-loved Kamal Haasan films throughout January. This channel placed among our top 4 channels in January, which was a competitive month considering the Ponggal specials on all channels as well as the Thaipusam coverage on Vaanavil and Vinmeen. 

At the same time, viewership of local shows on Astro Vaanvil and Astro Vinmeen has seen a two-fold increase y-o-y, underpinned by premium quality local programmes. For example, Tamiletchumy achieved over 350,000 ratings – a previously never seen high for local content. 

4. How did Astro Ulagam perform?

Astro Ulagam is one of Malaysia’s top digital platforms for Indian entertainment. It has highlights of Indian top shows and news, celebrity gossip as well as community-related stories. Ulagam shows signs of strong year-on-year growth. From an average of 80,000 monthly unique views on the website in Nov 2018, today, Ulagam receives approximately 1 mil unique views per month. 

Interestingly, the bulk of our views are from outside Malaysia – including India, Singapore, the US, UK, Australia and South Africa, reflecting the global Indian diaspora.

This cross-border appeal has contributed to our growth and has made us more attractive to stars and actors as a potential destination for interviews, which was proven by the 33 interviews done with Kollywood celebs last year. 

Our social media platforms have boomed as well, reaching nearly 100k followers on Instagram, and approximately the same number on TikTok, which was only launched last year, as well as over 200k on YouTube, along with our 2 million followers on Facebook. 

All in all, we are looking to continue our growth on Ulagam via strong content and entertainment news coverage, but also by rolling out our own digital IPs similar to our successful Deepavali miniseries last year. 

5. What is your outlook on the sector/strategies?

We will continue to strengthen our 360-approach across TV, radio, digital and social platforms, providing clients with the widest and most suitable reach to Indian audiences. Post-pandemic recovery, we hope to also increase our on-ground engagement with our customers and clients. On the digital front, customers can also look forward to more new content and collaboration opportunities with Astro Ulagam.  

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