The ratings race is not the best one to be in, especially if a channel’s performance isn’t on the favourable side. SET India’s flagship channel, Sony Entertainment Television, has seen a tough 2007. None of its new content initiatives have given the channel the impetus it needed to compete closely with Zee TV that until a year back was lagging behind Sony. As is known, Zee TV now is very close to Star Plus, the leader in the Hindi general entertainment space.
When asked about the reason why Sony was not seeing the desired results for any of its initiatives, N P Singh, COO, SET India, said, “It is not that we are not seeing results. Some of our new initiatives like ‘Amber Dhara’, now ‘Kuchh is Tara’, have given encouraging numbers and a good initial feedback. In this domain, it really is a matter of time, especially when you have a market place as competitive as the one we see today. Players will move up and down. As a brand, we are known to bring innovative content, and at present, our focus is to stay true and deliver on our brand promise.”
Singh dispenses any suggestion that the game could have moved beyond content, other factors like distribution and marketing being constant. He said, “At the end of the day, content has to resonate.”
In March 2006, Sony had unveiled a new content strategy, where it decided to focus on non-fiction over the weekends and fiction on weekdays. Singh informed that this strategy was still being followed and that the appointment of Sanjay Upadhyay in programming was done with the sole focus of making the fiction content on the channel click with the viewers.
Singh said, “On non-fiction, we have been leading. Sanjay is expected to look after and tighten the Monday to Thursday block for Sony. We are not being reactive, but it is our responsibility to respond to changes in the market place. With that objective, we are focussed on high quality fiction and non-fiction content.”
On his part, Upadhyay is aware of the task at hand. When quested on his view on the situation, he said, “I cannot think of another channel that can give a range like ‘Kuch Is Tara’, ‘Amber Dhaara’ and ‘Salaam Zindgi’ in the way that Sony does. I agree that ratings are not pouring in, but our constant initiative is to keep working on the best for our viewers. We are knocking on their doors with the package we have, and we are sure that we will make way soon.”
Life otherwise also hasn’t been too easy on SET India. With various media reports that haven’t put the channel in favourable light, what is the kind of challenge that SET is facing? Singh replied, “The conjectures that media prints can be a concern, but it is our responsibility to keep all SET India employees informed on the real picture. We do that through our internal communication mechanism, and this has kept them motivated and on our side.”
However, the company has seen some talent drain in the year from its various channels like SAB and even Sony. Singh explained, “Talent today has become an industry issue. Our people are probably the first ones to get picked up when new channels come in, but we have taken initiatives that have helped us in retaining our talent. That said, change is the only constant in life, and how quickly you respond to the change is more important than worrying about it.”
When asked about the impact on advertising revenues in the year, Singh stated, “I will only make one comment on ad revenues – on an apple-to-apple basis, our ad revenues have grown by 30 per cent this year.”
Singh made the comment keeping in mind the group’s performance, and said, “All our channels have made a place for themselves. Max is the number one Hindi movie channel. Despite being a library service channel, and hence, not being able to show first runs. PIX is a clear number three player, and with the kind of growth strategies we have in place, it would compete very closely with the top two players in the next year. SAB is doing well in its youth TG. Our shows such as ‘Jersey No 10’ have worked with the viewers, and we have expectations from the new four half-hour weeklies that we have just launched. The myriad challenges that we are facing have kept us going, and we are working towards the right track.”
Data shows that 9X in its second week has already inched dangerously close to Sony. On December 17, 2007, ZeeNext would officially begin competing in this space. The year 2008 would begin with NDTV Imagine fighting for its share of eyeballs, and Viacom-18 would follow this. The luxury of time that players once had to settle in, or make things right, appears to no longer exist.