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Interview: NP Singh, CEO, Multi Screen Media, on challenges and the way ahead

“Sony in the near term has to be in the top three GECs of the country, that is my priority number one”

Sohini Sen | Mumbai | January 13, 2014
N P Singh N P Singh

There has been a change of guard recently at Multi-Screen Media (MSM), formerly known as SET India (Sony Entertainment Television), among the largest television networks in the country. An old SET hand, NP Singh became CEO of the network at the beginning of the New Year as Man Jit Singh moved on after five years to take up his new role as President of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE). caught up with NP to discuss what plans he has for the Sony network. Excerpts:

Congratulations on taking over as CEO of MSM in place of Man Jit Singh. Tell us what you see as the high points as well as the areas of concerns as you step into your new role.

The biggest challenge, which is also my number one priority, is the performance of our flagship channel, Sony. We have to turn that channel around. I will be focusing a lot on getting the right content and making it more accessible to a larger cross-section of viewership. How do you plan to do that? Our weekend shows are very, very strong. My immediate focus will be on the weekday fiction. I am looking at the overall fiction strategy for the channel. Post that, we will revamp the entire weekday primetime. Talking about individual brands, Sony has had a tough time last year post inclusion of LC1 markets in TAM universe. Was there a case of lack of preparedness or did the channel think its programming was capable of driving the new markets? There were two-three things that happened. In 2012 we were clearly the number 2 channel. At the end of 2012, for 9 weeks, we didn't have ratings data. And if you remember, that was the period when digitisation was taking place in three of the metros. There was a lot of fluster that time. As a result of which the ratings got impacted. Some of our shows’ ratings were going down but since the data was not published, we came to know of it much later. Once we realised it, we focused on containing that drop. Again, while we were in the middle of it, there was a universe change and LC1 towns started to get a higher representation in ratings. That had an impact on the ratings of the channel. In addition to that, some of our fiction shows did not work as well as we had thought they would. That also had a negative impact. Having said that, some of our shows have done extremely well. 'Maharana Pratap', which we launched last year, is doing very well. ‘Indian Idol’ was reinvented and 'Indian Idol Junior' was well received. We have relaunched 'Boogie Woogie' which is doing well for us. The two new shows we launched a couple of weeks ago have found some encouraging response. There are these strengths, but there are some concern areas and I am trying to address those concern areas. What is your target for Sony then? Sony in the near term has to be in the top three general entertainment channels (GEC), that is my priority number one. And from there on we will go up to be the number two and so forth. ‘Indian Idol’ has been a crowd-puller. So has ‘KBC’. Do you think international format shows have a success mantra for India? Do you have plans for more such shows? We have been pioneers in getting top-class international formats into this market and made them hugely successful. I believe that if there is any format in the world which will have a strong appeal with Indian audiences, we will get it for our viewers and adapt it for their taste. Plus, we will continue to develop local formats as well. Though nothing new has been planned now, we are bringing back 'Entertainment ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega' which has been a successful show for us. In fiction, we are going to get a lot of new shows, including one which has Amitabh Bachchan in the lead. And another which has Jaya Bachchan in the lead. Looking at the aggressive plans of rival sports broadcasters, what will be the strategy for Sony Six? Firstly, we positioned Six as a sports entertainment channel. Everything we do with sports will be peppered with a lot of entertainment. The same held true for our World Cup broadcast and now with IPL. In addition, we are focusing on getting top quality international sports events to come to India. So UFC, the number one mixed martial arts property, is with us, NBA is with us, etc. The youth is following a lot of these new sports and our attempt is to get the best of these sports on Six.

Along with that, we will also be looking at sports that have not been so popular here but growing now – like European football. We have the rights to the Euro 2016, the European Qualifiers leading up to 2016 and Qualifiers leading up to FIFA 2018. In tennis we have acquired the rights to the Australian Open and in cricket we have the New Zealand-India series (for one series at the moment) and the IPL. We are trying to maintain a balance between traditional sports and the new emerging sports worldwide.

In the regional space you have made your presence felt with Sony Aat. Do you have any plans for further regional forays? We are a national player and we would like to have a stronger presence in the regional markets as well. At this stage we are exploring some opportunities and evaluating some others. Very soon we will be making our choices and talking about those. As a President of IBF, Man Jit Singh played a significant role on various occasions including the confrontation among industry bodies on the existing rating system. What will be your approach on issues pertaining to industry related issues? I am also a board member of the IBF and have been involved with IBF matters for the last one and a half years now. That will continue. And Man Jit will continue to be the President of IBF. We will continue to work together with our other colleagues in the industry to address all the industry issues together.


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