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We have got into a very aggressive growth mode: NP Singh, MSM

As MSM completes 20 years, its CEO lists the focus areas, course correction of flagship channel Sony Entertainment Television, building the sports properties and more

Aanchal Kohli | Mumbai | October 12, 2015

NP-Singh-new NP Singh

Multi Screen Media (MSM), a subsidiary of Sony Corporation, has completed 20 years. The Sony Entertainment network of television channels comprises Sony Entertainment Television (SET), Max, Max 2, SAB TV, Pix, AXN, Mix, Six, Sony Kix, and digital entertainment channel Sony Liv.

Commenting on the journey so far, NP Singh, ?Chief Executive Officer, MSM, said, “It’s been a very exciting journey for us and for me as well. I have been a part of this organisation for the 16 years and have witnessed the growth of our company from a single channel to now multiple channels. It started off with one vision and now we have got into a very aggressive growth mode. There are still challenges, but at this stage I am focused on aggressive growth of the network and at the same time consolidation of our existing channels and course correction of our flagship channel.”

Firsts in genre

In these 20 years, MSM has seen several firsts. Listing some of them, Singh said, “The network has pioneered a lot of new concepts, thoughts and ideas for the industry to follow. The first ever big scale live event was done by us, it was the Lata Mangeshkar Live concert, this was followed by a concert with Asha Bhosle. We were the first ones to bring in big Bollywood movies to TV and ‘Sholay’ was the first one, followed by ‘Border’, where the ratings touched the 30-TRP mark.”

Daily soap, ‘Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka’, which was aired on Sony, ran for 1,000 episodes. The show performed well against ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ as well.

The first crime thriller was ‘CID’, which has been running on Sony for the last 18 years.

MSM started the very first television awards show, the Filmfare Awards, which is still going strong.

Sony Max was the first Hindi channel to air Hindi movies along with cricket. In fact, the first wrap around show for cricket was created by MSM, called ‘Extra Innings’, which has been the highest rated wrap around show.

In the sports genre, the network introduced Hindi commentary for the first time on television for the 2007 World Cup on SAB TV. Commenting on the cricket properties, Singh said, “Our objective when we started broadcasting cricket was to take the sport closer to the female audiences. We took the Champions Trophy and World Cup to the female audiences and in just one year (in 2003), on the back of ‘Extra Innings’ and our initiatives around the World Cup, the female viewership grew 31 per cent.”

The network also experimented with finite shows with YRF, which included shows like ‘Mahi Way’ and ‘Shaadi.com’, among others. However, these didn’t perform well. According to Singh, these shows were ahead of their time and hence didn’t work well.

SAB TV has been going strong with its family-centric humour.

Sony Entertainment Television: The hits and misses

MSM’s flagship channel has been witnessing an unpredictable and fluctuating graph for some time now. Singh commented, “We’ve had multiple successes on our flagship in addition to the other channels. The flagship is currently going through a difficult phase and continues to be my number one priority in the growing network. With that in mind, we have put in place a new management team.”

As is known, the network has hired Danish Khan as Business Head, who had put in place a new team under him in content, communications, on-air promotions, research and strategy. Singh informed that the channel will be launching new properties over the next few months.

 Speaking more on the SET’s content, he said, “Some elements of our strategy that we were pursuing did not work and I realised that the strategy that we were trying to follow, which was more inclusive, did not work. Hence, it was important for us to re-orient ourselves back to the core positioning of the channel, which is what we are now trying to do with the new team, which understands the brand, the DNA and viewers of the channel.”

 Singh added that in the next six months, viewers will get to see a fairly big surge in terms of fiction and non-fiction content. The channel has always resonated well with women in the 15-34 age group. However, because of some of the content not working out, the channel has seen a growth in its male TG in the last two years instead.

While Singh considered this as a plus, he added that at the same time it was important to have a fine balance between the female and male TG. Right now, the channel has strong viewers, but it is also trying to attract females to return to the channel.

Singh explained, “SET always had a little urban skew and moving away from that would not have made sense for us. So, to that extent it’s a challenge. We will continue to try to retain some of our urban skew, but at the same time we intend to give content to the viewers which is also accessible for small LC1 towns or the rural viewers. One such example is ‘Hanuman’, which has universal appeal and you will see this kind of content in the early primetime. Thus, setting up shows in New York is not what I am looking at.”

Going digital with Sony Liv

Singh further said, “The objective and the focus now is to consolidate our existing businesses, get into new areas, expand and diversify our portfolio and also explore opportunities in the digital platform as that is something which is growing very rapidly. We want to be a major part of that action, which is why we started taking baby steps towards it two years ago with Sony Liv and in the last one year we have really ramped it up.”

MSM recently launched its first original series in the OTT market, titled ‘Love Bytes’. The series has already aired at 11 episodes and garnered 1.5 million video views for 10 episodes. “Because of ‘Love Bytes’, the total video consumption of Sony Liv has grown 300 per cent since the launch. Looking at such an interesting response, there are more shows in the pipeline. A lot of action will be seen on Sony Liv and we are also aggregating third party content as well,” Singh informed.

Last week, MSM announced one of the key steps in terms of strengthening the sports genre by entering into a collaboration with ESPN on the digital side of the business. “We want to co-create a co-branded multisport app which will be localised. We will also have access to ESPN’s expertise on ESPNCricinfo,” he added.

New focus areas

Apart from the ESPN-MSM deal, the network also announced the launch of BBC Earth channel in a joint venture with the BBC. With BBC Earth, the network intends to explore new areas with factual entertainment. Singh said, “In the last couple of years we have started to focus a lot on not just consolidation of existing channels, but also on expanding our bouquet, which is why you have seen a flurry of announcements recently.”

Commenting on the deal with ESPN, he said, “With ESPN, which is a global brand and a much respected one in India, and the credibility of our own sports portfolio, we will be able to serve the fans in a much better way. The collective measure is expected to offer some of the most exciting offerings for sports fans in the market.”

Bullish on sports genre

The network has acquired a lot of new sports content outside of cricket. Their football portfolio has now become very robust. While they have just wrapped up the COPA America series, the network is gearing up for EURO 2016 and then the FIFA World Cup 2018.

The network has also lined up the qualifiers for FIFA 2018, the European qualifiers and then the FA Cup, Italian Seria and La Liga. “We also have the FIFA India U17 World Cup in India and the Rugby World Cup as well. We have made our football portfolio very strong, and in addition to that we have focused on a lot of international sports coming into India, which was the philosophy when we launched Six,” Singh elaborated.

The network also airs the UFC, which has seen a growth in viewership in the last three years, and the NBA, which split between two broadcasters and is aired on Sony. The NBA has also seen a growth spurt in its viewership. “We also have the NFL, which is Superbowl; we have the ATP tours, the Australian Open, and a nice calendar for tennis with the Grand Slam. We are leading the way with our many properties,” Singh added.

The network is always on the lookout for long term content deals and has recently announced an output deal with NBC Universal. This gives them access to the latest Hollywood releases, in addition to the Sony Pictures slate and other studio deals with Paramount, Lionsgate and more.

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