Sony to take Star head on with major acquisitions

NEW DELHI: Sony Entertainment Television India (SET) is all set to take the fight into the den of No. 1 Star Plus, with big ticket programming, movies and innovative marketing strategies.

"By next year, we would be very close to competition and giving them a run for their money," a confident SET India CEO Kunal Dasgupta said here today without naming Star Plus, which is the No. 1 Hindi entertainment channel by a long way.

In this regard, SET India is going on an acquisition spree of big ticket programming, which includes Hindi blockbuster movies too. "We have acquired the rights for Saathiya and are in close contention for getting the rights of the season's biggest hit, Koi ....Mil Gaya,," Dasgupta said. 

The Rakesh Roshan-directed Koi ....Mil Gaya --- a film where Spielberg's ET meets Tom Hanks' Forrest Gump --- once again established the charisma of son Hrithik Roshan in the Hindi film world and has been declared a big success in a hit-starved industry. 

However, Dasgupta was not forthcoming on the money spent on new programming and film acquisitions. Still, industry insiders said a huge amount of money is being spent. For example, the set of Sony's Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin itself costs around Rs 13 million. 

Apart from movies, there are some new serials and shows too that SET would unveil over a period of time like a weekend soap from the Balaji Telefilms stable. The new shows are likely to be put on air by November. However, Dasgupta ruled out any kitchen-politics serials saying, "Our research shows that people don't like such serials and shows any more and are looking for something new and innovative." 

Sony, the flagship entertainment channel in the SET stable, has also claimed a 36 per cent growth in prime time viewing in the second quarter of this year beginning 31 March. According to SET India executive vice-president Sunil Lulla, Sony has also outperformed in core audience in SEC ABC category.

Though part of this strategy owes its genesis to the conditional access system, which looks like it will turn out to be stillborn with the Central government balking on the issue under political pressure. "All these big programming had been lined up because of the announced introduction of CAS from 1 September in a bid too woo viewers to the channel," Dasgupta admitted, adding that this was why their next big show, Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin is debuting on 1 September, coinciding with the CAS rollout.

Dasgupta said that every channel had been preparing for CAS and the aftermath, even though there were uncertainties surrounding it, and now that it has been called off in Delhi and looks a non-starter in Mumbai, the CAS-related programmes would anyway have to be aired.

"We had held back a lot of new programmes for airing after the CAS rollout," Dasgupta said frankly, adding his personal view was that CAS did not look like it was happening till the next general elections in the country late next year. The SET India CEO would like to add some more channels to the Sony bouquet like a kid's channel. But music doesn't seem to be high on the priority list as also news channels. Asked on NDTV, Dasgupta felt that within six months' time, NDTV would have to decide whether to remain free to air news channels or turn pay.

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