'India is the biggest market in which SPT Networks, Asia operates' : Sony Pictures Television Networks Asia executive VP, GM Ricky Ow

AXN Network has recently created a new position to focus in its biggest growth market. Sunil Punjabi has been appointed as the business head and will be handling AXN and Animax in India.

Punjabi will lead the team in developing the go-to-market strategy for new channels as well as oversee the development, acquisition and production of a content mix for SPT’s networks in India. He is also charged with driving marketing strategies to grow the channel brands and to pursue further distribution opportunities.

In an interview with‘s Ashwin Pinto, Sony Pictures Television Networks Asia executive VP, GM Ricky Ow talks about the growth prospects, particularly as India enters the digitisation era.


Q. Has India become more of a priority market for SPT Networks Asia in the wake of an economic slowdown which has affected other Asian markets more like Japan and Singapore?

While we are not able to discuss matters relating to revenue, India is the biggest market in which SPT Networks, Asia (AXN, Animax) operates. So India has always been a high priority market for us as evidenced from the fact that we have always had a dedicated service for India that has enabled us to programme, schedule and promote differently from the rest of Asia and be more relevant to our Indian viewers. The fact that India is still expected to see an economic growth, between 5.5. – 6.5 per cent this year only serves to reinforce the importance of the market.

Q. So is India gaining importance in terms of business for SPT?

Our key focus this year is to really understand the evolving Indian consumer. We’ve been doing business in India for 15 years now and there have been some dramatic changes in India … be it the rise of consumerism or media consumption behaviour.

This year we’ve invested in research and made a big effort to understand the change in the Indian viewers in the context of the rapid changes in the Indian pay TV landscape with digitisation and the huge increase in new players entering the market.

Q. What does the research show so far as AXN is concerned?

The AXN brand is still extremely strong among consumers. With increasing competition in the English General Entertainment television space, we believe the key to success is to really understand what the viewers want. Listening carefully to what the viewers have told us, we’ve found that they prefer an AXN that sticks closely to the original high energy, thrilling entertainment formula.

Consequently, we have kept this in mind as we programme, schedule and promote the channel, which has helped us maintain AXN’s position as the No.1 English GeneralEntertainment channel in India despite the tremendous competition.

Q. Is that why AXN Network has created a new position and appointed a business head to run the India operations?

Yes, we have appointed Sunil Punjabi to lead the Indian operations for AXN and Animax in India. We and our partner Multi Screen Media believe that our business in India deserves more resources and have, thus, expanded the team to capitalise on growth opportunities in India.

‘We and our partner Multi Screen Media believe that our business in India deserves more resources and have, thus, expanded the team to capitalise on growth opportunities in India‘

Q. In India we are seeing more players entering the English entertainment space due to anticipation of digitisation. How will this impact viewership?

India is a huge market with the biggest English speaking population in the whole of Asia. AXN being the number one English GE channel in Asia and India for the last 15 years has not been an easy task. There has always been competition and the future may bring even more competition but it is certainly not a stranger to us.

Digitisation will offer the consumers more choices not only in the number of channels but also in the quality of their viewing experience which was not possible with the current analogue system. We are already seeing some of the impact of digitisation in some of the semi-digitised metros like Mumbai and Delhi where viewers are spending more time with the genres of their choice as well as heading straight to their favourite channels rather than having to surf through channels to get to their final destination.

In a fully digitised world channel brand recognition and what they stand for will become paramount. Fortunately the AXN brand is still very much loved in India and we have become synonymous with the action genre which continues to be extremely popular in India.

Q. Are you strengthening your localisation strategy?

Asia and India-specific production initiatives like ‘Amazing Race Asia‘, ‘Cyril Family Vacation‘ and ‘India’s Minute to Win It‘ are an important part of our localisation strategy that helps us to not only differentiate ourselves from other channels but also build a stronger connection with our viewers.

So we’re not relying on acquisition alone for tent pole programming. Our original productions enable us to have better control of our own fate, the relationship we have with our viewers and key stakeholders and partners.

Q. Are content costs escalating with more demand for content and how do you judge whether or not a property is worth an increase in price?

The English space in India has been very hot in the last 18 months and that will in general drive up prices. That being said, we continue to offer some of the best entertainment shows that viewers want, including the ‘CSI‘ franchise, ‘NCIS LA‘, ‘Supernatural‘, ‘The Voice‘, ‘So You Think You Can Dance‘, ‘The Amazing Race‘, while also producing our own shows like ‘The Firm‘ and our next upcoming major production, ‘Hannibal‘.

Q. AXN Beyond was re-branded as beTV across Asia. What prompted this move?

While AXN is doing well across region, outside India we also have two other successful brands -- beTV and SonyEntertainment Television (in English). SET offers wickedly juicy entertainment that appeals to the modern female.

beTV was previously AXN Beyond. A very well focused channel dedicated to fans of sci-fi, paranormal and horror programming.

We made the strategic decision to rebrand AXN Beyond because we wanted to build a mainstream Englishentertainment channel that appeals to a wider audience. One that can be a complementary and companion channel to AXN and allowing us to offer a more complete portfolio of English entertainment channels. beTV thus offers easy viewing and engaging entertainment, a place for viewers to chill and unwind much like their favourite hang-out café or hang-out joint.

Q. Are you launching this channel in India or are you waiting for digitisation to take concrete shape?

We are always looking for opportunity to launch these brands in India and it is not appropriate for me to talk about this yet.

Q. How is SPT Networks Asia leveraging HD and 3D and how do you see them enhancing the TV viewing experience?

AXN is already available in HD in every market except Taiwan and India. Eventually we will be shifting our service to HD for these two important markets as well.

Our distribution in India is much wider than the top 10 key cities, so the plan to roll out HD is a massive effort for us. In the US, Sony Corporation together with Discovery Communications and Imax Corporation has launched the world’s first and only 3D channel – 3net.

For us, the key for launching HD and 3D is finding the right timing and formula that works for us.

Q. Has the pay TV business across Asia been hit by the slowdown or are consumers still willing to pay a good price if they see value?

From our experience, we have found that the consumer is actually more willing to pay for pay TV services in challenging times. It offers affordable entertainment at home for the whole family instead of spending a lot more money when a family goes outside the home for entertainment.

We have also continued to see growth in our advertising business as pay TV is one of the more cost effective advertising mediums for marketers. AXN not only provides a quality environment that enhances advertisers’ brand image but also appeals to and reaches a very desired audience – the SEC A and SEC AB. Our audience is less affected by the economic crisis and continues to have considerable spending power, which is why it is important for marketers to continue investing with us.

Q. In the US, new media is seeing people spending more time watching shows online rather than on the TV channels. Is this a challenge you are starting to face in India and Asia?

While we are seeing an increase of online viewing, both illegal and legal, we also expect to see an increase in both time spent viewing and reach of pay TV as pay TV penetration continues to grow in many markets across Asia including India.

The good news for advertisers is that pay TV, in spite of the wide choice available, is still less fragmented than the Internet and offers a well targeted, distinct brand environment for marketers to select. Pay TV brands command loyalty amongst viewer who have been relying on pay TV brands for the past 15 to 20 years and we believe they will continue to do so especially as shared family

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