Last week Multi Screen Media (earlier
Sony Entertainment), Sony Pictures
Television’s India business, completed
20 years of operations in India. The
company, which launched with one
channel, Sony Entertainment
Television, has grown into a network
of 11 television channels, one digital
venture (Sony Liv) and a motion
pictures business (MSM Motion
One of the big four companies in the
media and entertainment space, MSM
has seen a lot of ups and downs in its
Even if its flagship channel SET is on a
course correction mode, the company
is on an aggressive growth path, says
MSM CEO NP Singh , who has been part
of MSM for the last 16 years.
Recently, it has announced a joint
venture with The BBC, to launch BBC
Earth, a factual entertainment
channel in India, as well as
collaborated with one of the world’s
biggest sports brand ESPN to launch
MSM is also bullish on high-definition
and will soon be launching HD feeds
for Max and SAB to grow its HD
bouquet, which currently houses SET
HD, AXN HD, Pix HD and Sony Six HD.
In an interaction, Singh said he is
focused on ‘aggressive growth for the
network’ and at the same time
‘consolidation of existing channels’
and ‘course correction of flagship
Q. 20 years seem like a very long
time. How has the journey been?
It has been a very exciting journey
for us and particularly for me as I
have spent around 16 years in the
company. We have seen the growth of
our company from a single channel to
now multiple channels, and we are
getting into a very aggressive growth
There are still challenges, but at this
stage, I am focused on aggressive
growth of the network, as well as
consolidation of our existing channels
and course correction of our flagship
Q. How will you describe aggressive
growth with consolidation of existing
The objective really is now to
consolidate our existing businesses,
get into new areas of businesses,
expand and diversify our portfolio,
and explore opportunities on the
digital platform as that is something
that is growing very rapidly.
We have made some changes in the
management team of our flagship
channel and you will hear about the
changes in content and programming
as well on the channel.
And, in the last couple of years we
have started to focus a lot not just
on consolidation of existing channels,
but also on expanding our bouquet,
which is why you have seen a flurry of
We have done a joint venture with The
BBC to bring in BBC Earth into the
market and a partnership with ESPN.
Therefore, thanks to the might of a
global brand, along with the
credibility of our own sports
portfolio, we will be able to serve the
fans in India. The collective might will
cook up a great offering for sports
fans in the market.
Q. Don’t you think regional play is
missing from your bouquet as apart
from Aath, you do not have any
Yes, that is one missing piece and we
are looking at regional expansion as
well, but we are also focused on the
profitability of the network. All
decisions have to make a business
Q. So will it be acquisition or organic
There is nothing available for
acquisition that makes business
sense. So it will have to be organic.
But, as I said, we are sharply focused
on the bottom-line and will take the
decision by studying the markets
We do not want to let go of
profitability for expansion. All our
existing channels are profitable.
Q. How did the idea of JV with The BBC
A couple of years back, when I was
looking at our entire portfolio, I
realised that ‘factual entertainment’
is one big genre that is missing and
there is a lot of consumption of that
genre on digital as well as linear
What I also realised is that a lot of
content is being supplied by one
company, the BBC. And that’s when
they wanted to bring BBC Earth to the
Indian market and I said this is the
one to work with.
That’s when I decided to get into a
joint venture with the BBC to launch
Sony BBC Earth in this market. The
channel has the best quality factual
entertainment content. And when you
have best of the makers as your
partners, you don’t have to worry
about creating local content… they
will help us do that.
Q. So when and how are you rolling
out the channel?
We are waiting for the FIPB approval.
Once we get that, we will complete
other formalities like forming of
company, and applying for the licence.
While that is happening, the team is
being put in place. The existing team
has started to work with the BBC
team to curate the content so that we
are in a state of readiness when we
get the licence.
Saurabh Yagnik is going to head the
JV in addition to his role of business
head of Pix and AXN.
At the launch, we will have that
content available on linear TV in
standard as well as high definition as
well as on our digital platform. We
will first launch in English and Hindi
and later offer other languages as
Q. But why did you decide to go for a
It is beginning of a very strong
relationship. As things progress, you
will see more action. It is also the
credibility of the brand that appeals
to us. And when you bring in BBC Earth
as a brand, which is co-branded with
Sony, it will have a very strong appeal
to the viewer.
To answer your question, yes Sony
itself could do it, but when you have
an established and entrenched player
like BBC, who is willing to come as
your partner, their brand comes along
with it, their expertise on the
editorial side, content, global
experience, all comes along with it.
All that put’s together with our own
experience will actually work very
well for both the partners, and that
is why it’s a joint venture.
Q. You agree that your flagship
channel SET is going through a tough
phase right now. While a whole new
team is in place under Danish Khan,
what kind of time-frame you are
looking at for things to look upwards?
Yes, the flagship channel is currently
going through a difficult phase and it
continues to be my No. 1 priority in
the growing network.
With that in mind, we have put in place
a new management team. As you
know, Danish Khan has joined as
business head and has put in place a
new team in content, communications,
on-air promotions, research and
strategy. I am very confident that in
the next few months with the new
launches we will see the ship turning
Q. But what went wrong with SET and
how are you looking at changing it?
The strategy that we were trying to
follow, which was more inclusive did
not work and it was important for us
to re-orient ourselves back to the
core positioning of the channel.
That is what we are now trying to do
with the new team who understand
the brand, DNA and viewer of the
channel. They are very sharply
focused on the positioning of the
channel and the new content that is
being developed right now, which you
will see in the next two months or so.
The way I look at it right now, I think
in the next six months, you will see a
fairly big surge in the viewership of
the channel and that I am saying on
the back of the slate that we have
both on the fiction and non-fiction
side and the movies and events that
are in the pipeline and there is a
whole lot of new stuff coming up in
Q. SET has been more skewed towards
male and urban audiences. Do you
think that has somehow affected the
The channel has always resonated
with 15–34 year female audiences,
but because some of our content did
not work for them in the last two
years, we have seen the male TG grow
on our channel.
Right now, we have a strong male bias
on the channel and are trying females
also to come back on the channel and
the overall viewership will therefore
SET always had a little urban skew
and moving away from that will not
make 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 try
and give content to the viewers which
is also accessible for small 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.
Q. SET is currently heavily dependent
on film premieres and multiple airings
even as other networks’ reliance on
movies on GECs is coming down. Will
you be reducing the film airings once
the channel gains viewership?
It’s been 20 years since we started
offering variety on our GEC and that
worked really well. I don’t see any
reason for us to move away from that
strategy. We just have to up our ante
on our fiction content and that is
what we are trying to do.
Q. You are the only network which
has three mainline GECs in your
portfolio. Even if Pal has not
performed the way it was envisaged,
what is the combined strategy?
We have currently two first-rung
GECs—SET and SAB, and SAB is very
distinctly positioned from anything
else in the market. We have been the
only network to achieve so much
success with the second GEC that we
Yes, we are also the only network to
launch a third GEC called Pal last year
and it did not work as well as we
wanted it to work. But very quickly
we changed the strategy on that and
the ratings doubled.
Currently, Pal is airing archived
content from our existing library of
SET and SAB and our movies. In a few
months as we see viewer traction
growing, which we have seen in the
last few months, we will start
bringing in original content back again
on Pal. I have a broad outline of what
I want to do with Pal over the next
six months time, let it take shape and
I will share that with you. It’s a very
interesting thing that I am working
Q. How do you see the collaboration
with ESPN panning out?
Our collaboration with ESPN will give
us opportunity of presenting to
viewers international level content.
For example, when we were trying to
do a wrap-around show with FIFA, it
didn’t work because talent was a
Once we operationalise the venture,
you will see a lot of stuff. It’s a
two-pronged collaboration—one is on
TV where we are co-branding a
channel and also in due course of time
we will create programming with ESPN
Cricket locally here for our channels
On the other side, we are going to
create a localised multi sport app,
which will again be cobranded between
Sony and ESPN and it will have both
editorial and videos.
Q. You said digital is a strong focus
area for you. What are the plans
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. But in the last one
year we have really ramped up.
Also, one of the key elements of the
MSM-ESPN collaboration will be the
collaboration on the digital side of the
business. We want to co-create a co-
branded multisport app that will be
localised. We will also have access to
ESPN’s expertise on ESPNCricinfo.
Last year, we launched Liv Sports as
we wanted to see how both operate
independently. Now we have decided to
merge them, which will happen in the
next couple of months. Rather than
having two platforms, we will have
Very recently, we launched our first
original series, ‘Love Bytes’. We are
perhaps the first one to launch an
original series in the OTT market.
‘Love Bytes’ is now at 11 episodes, at
the end of 10 episodes we already got
1.5 million video views and our total
video consumption, because of the
original series, has grown 300 per
cent since the launch of that show.
There are more shows in development
currently so you will see lots of
action on Sony Liv. We are
aggregating third-party content as
Q. But do you think the digital model
could be subscription lead in India?
Currently, we have all our content
available on ad-supported VoD, but we
will start putting some of our
marquee content behind the pay wall.
We actually did it with FIFA 2014,
which was a subscriber model. We
believe that marquee content should
be subscription-led or it could be a
At this stage, many models are being
experimented with, but we are
following an AVoD strategy presently.
I cannot say that we will continue
with this forever. We are ready with a
subscription led model; we just have
to be patient.