It was in January this year when Multi Screen Media (MSM) elevated N.P. Singh, its long-time chief operating officer, to the post of chief executive officer (CEO). He took over from Man Jit Singh, MSM’s non-executive chairman who served as MSM’s CEO for a five-year period. Today, N.P. Singh’s immediate mandate is to get MSM’s flagship Hindi general entertainment channel, Sony Entertainment Television, back among the top three channels in that genre. Singh has already started to work on the channel’s line-up of fiction shows, a category that has been Sony’s Achilles heel for a while now. In an interview with Anindita Sarkar, Singh talks about what Sony is doing to fix this weak link:
Sony Entertainment is one of the earliest entrants in the Hindi GEC segment, it has some marquee properties and yet it hasn’t been able to take the number one position. What has been pulling Sony back?
There was a nine-week period in 2012 when ratings were not published. If you review the ratings of that period, you will notice that in two of those nine weeks Sony was number one. However, since the ratings were not being published during that period, we did not talk about that at all. But having said that, I do want to see Sony to be the Hindi GEC leader consistently.
One of the key reasons why we do not have strong viewership at this stage is because our fiction content has not been doing well. There was a time not too long ago when our shows such as Bade Achche Lagte Hai, Kya Hua Tera Vaada, Kuch Toh Log Kahenge, Dekha Ek Khwaab and Parwarrish were all doing well almost simultaneously. Consequently, the channel was a very close number two. We have always had some very strong marquee properties on the non-fiction front. With fiction performing, I am confident that Sony will walk back into the top three GEC bracket very soon. We have a lot of new shows that are currently under development — fiction as well as non-fiction. Also, there are quite a few big names who will be associated with these shows. So in the next six months you will start to see a major shift in viewership for Sony.
We saw quite a few launches from the Sony stable in the recent past and then quite a few got axed too. Has there been a gap when it comes to ground-level research on concepts and ideas?
We have always believed in research and have always taken all our concepts and ideas to the market before their launch. We have had issues with some of our shows from an execution perspective. As a result, we did not see too many successes. But having said that, wherever there was a perfect match between the concept and its execution, we have had success. For example, Maharana Pratap.
Did the inclusion of the LC1 markets impact Sony’s viewership?
When the mapping universe for Hindi speaking markets expanded in January 2013, LC1 markets started contributing 25 per cent to the total viewership of channels, as it was reported. Sony as a brand resonates better with the million-plus audience — the larger towns — so there was a negative impact on the total viewership of Sony.
However, we are now moving towards making the channel more inclusive without changing its core positioning. We are picking up concepts and ideas that will appeal to a larger cross-section of viewers. Take Ek Nayi Pehchaan, for instance. It is the story of a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law bonding and empowering each other, which is aspirational for every family, be it from big towns or small towns. Meanwhile, we are still trying to appeal to the woman in the 15-34 age group, SEC ABC, who does not believe in accepting life as it is but plays an active role in making it better for herself, her family and her children.
What are your expansion plans for the regional television space?
We are not in a desperate rush at this stage to get into the regional markets. We will evaluate all possibilities — organic and inorganic — and then make our choices. We have a very small presence in West Bengal through Sony Aath. That market has seen a lot of competition, but within that the channel has been performing at a consistent level. In the new fiscal, we will be looking at more original productions on that channel.
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