Television

'We want to be the No. 1 channel in two years' : Sony Entertainment Television business head Ajit Thakur

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Struggling to jump into the top Hindi GEC league, it was a year back when Sony Entertainment Television decided to undergo a complete overhaul. New programmes were introduced and a new association was inked with the biggest film production house, Yash Raj Films, to produce soaps that were different both in narration and production value. While not all could fetch the requisite numbers for Sony, they did help the channel cover quite a distance - from a 80 GRP mark to a peak of 180 GRPs.

Now as Sony enters into its next phase of growth, it is betting big on the decade-old KBC, helmed by Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan. Sony believes that the property, infused with fresh innovations,will do more than just getting the numbers: it will help the channel change its fortunes.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com‘s Anindita Sarkar, Sony Entertainment Television business head Ajit Thakur speaks about the channel‘s programming plans at large.

Excerpts:

 



How challenging has been the last one year for you at Sony?

Sony is a great brand but in the last couple of years it had not lived up to its potential. Now as I look back one year from the time I joined, we have achieved a lot and the credit goes to the brand. It has always been so strong that every time we do something that is targeted at our audience right, we always get results.



 

So what has been the focus for Sony?

The focus in the last one year has been on three things. The first one of these has been research. Audience taste in this country is shifting every 1-2 years and, therefore, we were very clear that everything that we do has to be supported by rigorous consumer testing and extensive research to enhance our consumer focus. And research is not just to track but also to forecast the future trends.

The second focus for the channel has been to strengthen as pioneers in new programming. We got in a wide variety of shows ranging from the Yash Raj banner which were very diverse in terms of content and production value to something like Crime Patrol. We also made Aahat into a daily and Indian Idol, which had been traditionally a weekend property, was shifted to weekdays to give audiences a new experience. Also, no other channel has a daily thriller like CID.

The third very important and conscious thing that we are concentrating on is to produce content that entertains the entire family - and is not just exclusive to women or men or kids. Also, the content should do more than just entertainment.



 

But even after so many launches in the past one year, the channel is still perceived to be synonymous with CID while also deriving ratings from Indian Idol. Why so?

Yes, CID is our flagship property and has been doing very well for us. So, if we have a strong property, why not build on it? We have extended the property to CID gallantry awards and we are thinking of CID comics towards the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the growth has not come just from one property. We are slowly and steadily expanding on our properties. Now we have Indian Idol, then we will have KBC and we will be building one property at a time.

Our other shows - Aahat, Crime Patrol and Boogie Woogie - are also fairing well for the channel. Baat Hamari Pakki Hai is picking up. And if you see, none of our shows is similar to the other. 

 

But you still weak on fiction as compared to the rest of the competitors…

Look, it has been a very conscious part of our strategy to give audience differentiated content. So, if you see, our programmes are very different from what is happening on all the other four channels. The fact is that from last June to this June we have seen an almost 100 per cent growth. Also, our primetime GRPs have grown from 40-75 GRPs. Meanwhile, in DTH households, we are the number two channel already. And DTH is a controlled environment where everything is in place and it is no more a Bombay-Delhi phenomenon. This shows that our content has future potential.

 



Does that mean you do not want a successful soap on the channel?

We do want to do a successful daily soap and build more on fiction but it has to be unifying and should be carrying a message. Also, we will not look at dragging a soap just for the sake of TRPs. We will look at finite properties that will help build the brand Sony and stand for it. We are expected to bring variety and target younger people. India has a lot more people below the age of 35 and Sony has a very high skew towards this audience segment. 



 

‘Now that it is time to enter the second phase of our growth, we want to kickstart it with KBC ‘



 

Then why is it that even after bringing in young and differentiated content with the YRF shows and some other new ones too, it did not do much well for the channel?

When we launched YRF, Seven and Mahi Way did fairly well. But all of them were not up to the expectations that the market wanted. However, when we went for it we actually knew that the content is ahead of its time in comparison to current television in terms of narrative as well as treatment. So we were the early adopters and the ratings did not come in the first season. But we have learnt that they will work if we be at it for some time and bring back new seasons.

Also, another learning for us is that we shouldn‘t launch multiple properties together. Which is why this time we will bring back the shows one by one so that the audiences grow on them.

 



When do you plan to bring back the new YRF shows?

We will be launching two new shows from the YRF stable by the end of this year and the new seasons of two more properties will be launched next year. Apart from these, we will also be launching two other fiction properties by the year-end. 



 

Why did you decide to bring back KBC despite it being an old property?

The difference between reality shows and game shows are that reality shows are often very edgy and not suitable for the whole family. And since we are targeting the entire family, we knew it was time to bring back a game show on the channel.

When we did our testing for KBC, everyone said that they would watch the show because it has knowledge, entertainment and Mr Bachchan. So they encapsulated the show for us very well and that has a huge implication for us. We are sure that apart from numbers, the show is going to generate huge eyeballs for the channel.

Also, now that it is time to enter the second phase of our growth, we wanted to kickstart it with KBC. 



 

What is your scheduling strategy? Which time bands do you concentrate on?

Because a lot of our focus is on research, our scheduling strategy is pretty much about what is happening in the household. So we start our early primetime with soaps that are for the regular family and then as we go through the day, we move into non-fiction that is Indian Idol. Towards the end of the day, there is Crime Patrol, Aahat and CID as there is more of older audiences and men coming into the channel.

Also, we are trying to keep as much of content on the channel to keep the family together. Earlier, it was just the weekends that would look at keeping everybody together - but now it‘s weekdays too.

And the third thing is that while a lot of the channels are doing afternoons, we have opened up the late primetime at 11 pm as an original time band.



 

What are your movie plans?

We are actually looking at doing less and less of movies. About a year back, we were doing 4-5 movies a week. But now we are doing only two movies a week. And within this, we are looking at interesting titles. We have about eight programmes on the channel and we will repeat that during off primetime. We are also looking more at events.  

 

What are the challenges and opportunities for Sony in this cluttered market?

We want to maintain a steady growth curve upwards. We want to take optimal decisions in terms of investments and programming and don‘t want to take away the positioning of the channel. Our daily worry is what is the next new innovative programming that we need to bring in and what is the next new insight we need to catch from the consumers.

The challenge for us will be to continue retaining our present viewers while getting in new audiences. We will also have to continue to build on our youth base - more from the smaller towns.

 



So is there a GRP or position you have in mind?

We want to be the number one channel in two years.

 

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