"We will be looking into more original productions that are local and relevant to Indian audiences" : Sony Pictures Television SVP, GM, Networks Asia Ricky Ow

Sony Pictures Television is on a major expansion course in Asia. It has widened its portfolio with the launch of a new channel, ONE. AXN HD has also launched in several markets.

The key strategy is to up localisation in language, on-air presentation and local original production so as to make the channels more relevant.

In an interview with‘s Ashwin Pinto, Sony Pictures Television SVP, GM, Networks Asia Ricky Ow elaborates on the company‘s brand positioning, growth, challenges and expansion plans.


How would you describe the performance of SPE Networks Asia over the past couple of years?

The past few years have been rather busy ones for us at SPT Networks Asia. Not only have we maintained AXN as the No. 1 English general entertainment channel (GEC) in our key markets in the face of increased competition, we have also launched AXN HD services in several markets.

In addition, we have expanded our portfolio by entering the Asian GE content space with the launch of our new channel, One. In a nutshell it has been a good couple of years with strong growth and expansion.

What are the priorities and key strategies for it going forward?

The key priorities for us moving forward are expanding our Asian content offerings and gaining a wider share of the audience by increasing localisation in language, on-air presentation and/or local original production to increase relevance of our channels.

To what extent was the company affected by the economic downturn?

The impact was not as great as we initially feared because pay-TV in general is relatively resistant to economic downturns. This is because during such periods, consumers actually spend more time at home and watch more pay TV.

While there was some loss in ad sales momentum, it was nothing too drastic. We have always had a strong culture of prudence and the downturn actually provided us a great opportunity to further build our brand and engage our audiences by revisiting some of the basics in how we connect with them.

Are things back to normal now or are some Asian markets still feeling the impact?

Things went back to normal very quickly in Asia. Many economies are experiencing good growth and there is a strong momentum at this point in time.

How has SPE Networks Asia grown the number of feeds over the past couple of years?

We now operate five linear pay TV channel brands (AXN Asia, Animax Asia, SET, AXN Beyond and One) and a total of 17 feeds.

"There is the opportunity to grow our business in India, but we are unable to comment on whether we are launching new channels in this marketplace right now"

Could you talk about the growing importance of HD for SPE?

HD is obviously the new standard for broadcast TV. We have seen huge penetration of HD TV sets in many markets, some more than others. This will be the de facto standard in a few years time.

AXN is a channel brand that is very relevant to early technology adopters and we have already launched AXN HD in Korea and several Southeast Asian markets. We have plans to bring it to India as well.

When he was in India, Sir Howard Stringer mentioned the importance of 3D for Sony. What role will this technology play in your broadcast business in the coming two to three years?

3D is key to the SPT business globally and there is already an HD content channel launched in the US named 3net. We will explore how we can bring that channel to Asia.

The last time we spoke you had mentioned revenue leakage from piracy being a concern. Is the growing digitisation in India addressing this problem?

Leakage has been and continues to be a concern in many Asian markets. Digitisation and the efforts of industry bodies will help to address the problem. But it will take time and there seems to be no simple solution.

There are synergies that exist between the broadcast business and other business verticals of Sony in India and across Asia. Could you talk about how this area is being exploited?

One great example of this is Sony Style. It is a lifestyle and gadget magazine programme that is not only highly entertaining, but also showcases the great breadth and depth of Sony offerings to consumers ranging from movies, TV, games, music and electronic gadgets.

We are seeing more players enter the English GEC space in India after a long time when there have been just three players. What impact will this have?

We believe that competition can lead to two outcomes. The first is the rising cost of English GE programming, which is something that everyone has to watch out for. In addition, there will be improvement and increased excitement for English GE content. Increased competition is not necessarily a zero-sum game.

With greater competition and more choices, the overall English GE viewership can expand and everyone wins.

From a programming perspective is AXN‘s template going to stay the same or are you looking to innovate?

The AXN formula is a winning one and we do not see the need to change it. However, it is necessary to continuously innovate within the channel brand parameters to bring AXN closer to viewers in India.

An example comes in the form of AXN‘s Minute to Win It for India, which serves to localise the entertainment experience on the channel and make the content more relevant for Indian audiences.

Other English channels have introduced subtitling. Is AXN also doing this?

AXN currently airs programmes with English subtitles for the benefit of viewers who might face difficulty deciphering words spoken with different accents in shows.

With CBS having launched channels in India, how will this affect deals you do with them? Will new seasons still be available?

We are unable to disclose or discuss any contractual terms agreed with CBS. But viewers can rest assured that top shows such as the CSI franchise will continue to broadcast first and exclusively on AXN in Asia.

On the localisation front, how has the response been to Minute To Win It India‘?

In India, AXN‘s Minute to Win It is in its debut season and has had a relatively slow start. The show is gaining audiences and is doing well on the whole. There is definitely room for improvement and we have high expectations of the show.

We are glad that Indian viewers have readily come forward to offer their honest feedback on Minute to Win It, without our having to ask. This points to real excitement and following for the show and format. We will be taking some of the suggestions to make Minute to Win It even better next season.

What is next on the local front?

We will be looking into more original productions that are local and relevant to Indian audiences and ones that can differentiate our channels from the competition..

You devised a social media strategy to push this show. How effective is social media in communicating AXN‘s brand message?

Social media is especially useful not just in ‘pushing‘ AXN‘s brand messaging but more so in engaging viewers and receiving their feedback. It has been an excellent experience getting a feel of the passion of viewers who have offered their opinions of the show. Going forward, we will definitely leverage social media more.

Social media means that brands lose control to an extent in terms of how information filters down and is disseminated to the consumer. That makes some companies insecure. How does SPE Networks Asia view this medium?

I believe the reactions of consumers cannot be controlled no matter which medium of information is shared through. We believe in facing up to audiences‘ tastes, preferences and reactions, as we are serving them after all.

If responses received are negative, then we know we have to improve. Vice versa, if feedback is positive and we can continue in the direction which we know is right. We are never afraid of negative reactions and welcome all feedback.

Only when viewers engage with our channel brand do we understand them better and social media has enabled us to do this like never before and we will continue using it.

How is AXN perceived as a brand by viewers and advertisers? Has the perception changed over the past few years?

The perception of AXN as Asia‘s home of Action and Adventure has remained strong and the channel continues to be a premium brand in the marketplace with an extensive reach across the region.

However, the definitions of ‘Action‘ and ‘Adventure‘ have probably evolved over the years. As audiences have grown increasingly sophisticated and mature in their choice of content, ‘Action‘ and ‘Adventure‘ may no longer be the same hard-boiled, head-on action in AXN programmes of yesteryear.

Instead, we find viewers embracing values such as courage, determination and irreverence embodied by key characters of popular AXN shows such as the CSI franchise, NCIS: LA, Leverage and Justified. This is also true when you consider the great support and following for local heroes from across the region who embark on the race of their lives in AXN‘s original production, The Amazing Race Asia.

What work has been done in the new media area by SPE Networks Asia in other Asian markets like Taiwan and Korea and what have the learnings been?

Online content from AXN‘s The Amazing Race Asia has been available to consumers across Asia and we have even launched the first episode of the most recent season online prior to its premiere broadcast. We are very encouraged that it has not cannibalized viewership but has instead grown the base of fans in the region.

For SPT Networks Asia, we operate the Animax Mobile 3G streaming service as well as online catch-up TV for selected channels and programmes in various markets. We have found that these work for the youth who tend to be more active online and on mobile.

Is SPE Networks Asia going to launch more channels in India like AXN Beyond with digitisation growing?

There is the opportunity to grow our business in India, but we are unable to comment on that right now.

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