NP Singh was recently appointed the CEO of MSM Group. As he takes charge of his role, Singh has quite a few issues to tackle – be it the distribution dispute with MSOs or falling viewership numbers of flagship channel Sony Entertainment TV or fully leveraging the benefits of digitisation.
In conversation with exchange4media, Singh speaks about these issues as well as content strategy, television ratings scenario, his vision for 2014 and more…
How would you plan to tackle the distribution issues that have been affecting Sony? MSOs have been vocal about Sony demanding more subscription fees and paying less carriage fee. What is your view?
While digitisation has happened in 38 towns and three metros, on ground a lot has to change. The relationship between MSOs and LCOs remains the same as before digitisation. Set top boxes have been installed, but the information given to MSOs has been very limited. We have been trying for consumers to complete the CAFs and give that data to MSOs. We have been running public service adds on channels. But the process has been slow. A lot of things have to change for real benefits of digitisation to contribute to the value chain.
Do you think it is time to pass on the buck to the consumer through increased ARPUs?
It is not about passing the buck to anyone. The reality is that the ARPUs are really low. ARPUs have got to grow for everyone to benefit through the value chain. Huge amounts of investment have been made by the content providers, broadcasters and MSOs. There has to be some returns for the investment. You will accept that the ARPUs are the lowest in the world. But that is not going to change by my saying so. We have to work along with the value chain to get the ARPUs moving up, and also give some value addition to the subscribers.
Your flagship channel Sony has not been doing well. Is there any plan to change the content strategy, especially in the fiction genre?
I am looking at our fiction strategy very closely and that would involve revamping some of our shows and also bringing other new shows in the channel. A lot of shows are under development. Ratings of some new shows which have been launched are encouraging. We will bring in content which appeals to a large section of our viewers.
Will you be a part of day to day programming?
I will be very closely engaged with the team to turn the ship around. We have been known to bring a lot of variety for our viewers, and we will bring that variety again through our content. We will not shy away from that fact that some of our innovations did not work, because people said they were ahead of their time. Somebody has to take that initiative, and Sony has already taken that initiative in past and will continue doing so.
Where do you see BARC today? You were the first one to withdraw subscriptions from TAM. Where do you see the television ratings scenario in today’s times?
BARC, as we speak, is in the making. Till the time it is operational, we realised that there needs to be a currency and till that time we will continue using TAM as a currency, because that is a currency which everybody universally accepts today. When BARC comes up with their currency, we as broadcasters will support it and start adopting that currency when it gets established.
When asked earlier, you had said that the credibility and perception of Sony will be used as the measurement mechanism. Did you resort back to TAM because of pressure from the advertisers or do you still believe in the power of perception?
Credibility and perception are extremely important for a channel. They work for all broadcasters. Advertisers and agencies are smart enough to understand what is working where, even in the absence of ratings. Ratings is a measure that is tangible as it is quantitative, hence one can look at it and decide whether or not the content is working in the ballpark they believe through their perception. Without doubt ratings are important, but I still strongly believe that perception is also extremely important. Perception of your shows and channels. A lot of genres are actually sold on perception.
What are your expectations from the TV industry in 2014?
The year 2013 was a very interesting year from many perspectives. We saw a lot of action on multiple fronts. I don’t think that 2014 will be a year of stability yet, one can expect a lot of action on the distribution side of the business. One will see a lot action from the regulator as well on a few fronts. One will see some turmoil and some up and downs, but we are geared for that. It is something that we as an industry are geared for that and we know what is coming. As a company too we are prepared to take on the “environmental challenges” if required.
What is your immediate priority as CEO of MSM Group?
My first priority is the turnaround of flagship channel Sony. For the last one year the channel has not been performing well and I am very focused and ensuring that the channel turns around. Other channels in the network are doing very well. They are either leaders or are close number two. Whether it is Sab, Max, Mix or Sony Pix, AXN, Sony Six – they are robust in their genres. So. the flagship channel turnaround is my immediate priority.
You were bidding for the sponsorship of the Indian Cricket team. Is there any plan to get the IPL sponsorship back? What are your plans in the sports genre?
We have been making a lot of investments in new sports. We have acquired the broadcast rights for NBA, UFC, TNA wrestling, and Australian Open. We have also acquired the rights for the India-New Zealand cricket series this month. We are also in conversation to acquire FIFA 2018 rights. So, some big initiatives have been planned. We have the rights to Euro 2016. We will continue to acquire good quality sport as youth is willing to experiment a lot of new sports.
Aren’t you contradicting yourself by saying youth is experimental with new sports, but you are also investing in cricket tournaments?
Not really. We have to maintain a balance. We have not created the channel just for the youth. It is a full blown youth channel, which we are positioning as a sports entertainment channel, so it has to be entertaining to the youth as well as the older viewers, which is why one has to acquire relevant cricket properties and new sports which are also becoming very popular with the youth in India, such as football. Therefore, we have gone after European FIFA qualifiers till 2018 and Euro 2016. So, we have a lot of live football on our channel as well.