Multi Screen Media (MSM) recently celebrated the completion of 20 years in the country. NP Singh, CEO, MSM, spoke to exchange4media on the journey of many firsts in the industry, while sharing his plans for the future of the network. He spoke on the new strategy in place to get Sony TV’s viewership on top, female audience, Sony Pal and more. Excerpts:
What are the plans of MSM for the future especially for the flagship channel?
A lot of good and fun stuff has happened in the last 20 years. It has also been full of challenges. We have had multiple successes of our flagship channel (Sony TV) in addition to the other channels. The flagship is currently going through a difficult phase and continues to be my number one priority in addition to growing the network and with that in mind we have put in place a new management team. Danish Khan has joined as the business head of that channel (Sony TV) and he has put in place a new team under him in content, communication, on-air promotions, research and strategy, marketing, etc. I am very confident in the next few months. With the new launches we will see the ship turning around. In the last couple of years, we have started to focus not just on consolidation of existing channels, but also on expanding our bouquet, which is why you have seen a flurry of announcements recently. We have done a joint venture with the BBC to bring in BBC Earth into the market which is a factual entertainment genre that we are getting in. The day before, we announced our partnership with ESPN. The might of a global brand which is respected in India as well as with the credibility of our own sports portfolio it will be great for the fans in India.
You had put in place a strategy last year and looked to get the core audience back to viewing Sony TV. However, that has not happened. What is the reason and what is the strategy now?
Some elements of the strategy that we were perusing at that time had not worked. I had realized that the strategy that we were trying to follow was a more inclusive strategy and some elements of that did not work. It was important for us to reorient ourselves back to the core positioning of the channel, which is what we are now trying to do with the brand new team. I am calling it a brand new team, but a lot of them have had experience with us in the past and they understand the brand, DNA and viewers of the channel very well. They are sharply focused on the new positioning of the channel and the new content being developed right now, which you will see in the next two months or so is in line with core positioning of the channel. I am more confident that it will work now. In the next 6 months, you will see a fairly big surge in the viewership of the channel. That is on the back of the development slate that we have on both—fiction and non-fiction side, the movies that we have and plus the events that are in the pipeline.
Sony TV has mostly had an urban audience. With BARC expected to roll out rural ratings soon, are there plans to go rural in the content positioning too?
As far as Sony TV is concerned, it has always had a little bit of an urban skew and moving away from that will not make sense for us. So to that extent, it is a challenge. We will continue to try and retain our little bit of urban skew and at the same time try to give content to the viewers which is also accessible for LC1 towns. One such example is Hanuman which has got universal appeal. None of the shows that we do will be inaccessible to any part of the audience.
Will the reliance on movies decline as the shows pick on Sony TV?
It has been 20 years that we started to offer variety on our general entertainment channel and that worked really well. It started by saying the first ever blockbuster movie was premiered on Sony TV and I don’t see any reason for us to move away from that strategy. When you talk about bringing variety for the viewer, the viewer is looking for the daily strips, thrillers, comedies, crime programming, reality shows, non-fiction shows, TV and Bollywood events and movies. And we have always provided them with that. I see no reason why we should movie away from that strategy. We just have to up our ante on it.
What are the plans on Sony Pal?
We launched a third GEC which was Sony Pal last year. It did not work as well as we had wanted it to work and very quickly I had changed the strategy on that and the ratings doubled with that and it’s doing reasonable well for us. We do what we believe is good for our viewers and our network and we do things that others follow. As far as Sony Pal is concerned it has archive content from our existing library both of Sony TV and Sab TV, and our movies. In a few months time, as we see viewer traction growing as we have seen in the last few months, we will start to bring in original content on Sony Pal. I have a broad outline of what I want to do with Sony Pal over the next six months time. I will continue to say that we are the only Network with three mainstream GEC channels.
What is the reason for MSM to enter the factual entertainment space?
Couple of years ago when I looked at the entire portfolio, I realized that it was one genre that was missing on my portfolio and there is a lot of consumption on that genre on digital as well as linear television. What I also realized is 60-70 per cent of the content of existing players is being supplied by one company and that is the BBC. So when they wanted to bring BBC Earth to the market and I said this is the one to work with. That is why we decided to get into a joint venture with BBC to launch Sony BBC Earth in this market. So when it launches you will see the best quality factual entertainment content and the best of the makers as your partner we don’t need to worry about creating local content, they will help us do that. We will have that content available on our digital platform as well. It is the beginning of a very strong relationship and as we progress you will see more action on it.
When is the launch of BBC Earth and Sony ESPN expected?
At this stage it is very difficult to say anything on that. I can tell you one Max HD which we did not talk about, we are ready to launch it. Once I get the license I will launch it. When we launch it you will see that it is very unique and very interesting from what you are seeing currently in the market. Sab TV will also go high definition in a few months time. When BBC Earth and Sony ESPN will get operationalised will be contingent upon the approvals and sometimes you can’t set a deadline for that case.