"We hope to have a news and music channel in the bouquet by December": Shantonu Aditya SET India distribution head & president,Discovery-SET India JV

Shantonu Aditya, Sony Entertainment Television India's head of distribution as well as president of the Discovery-SET India joint venture company, is the man at the centre of it all as his network attempts to derive maximum benefit out of the cricket properties Sony has acquired at a steep cost.

A management graduate from XLRI Jamshedpur, Aditya is not exactly an old hand at the distribution business. After stints with UB group ( McDowell &Co ) in sales and marketing in Delhi, an extended period with luggage major Blow Plast in various capacities and Norwegian multinational Norsk Hydro, Aditya joined Sony in 2001. He brings in a lot of that corporate mindset in his approach to the distribution business.

Aditya speaks to's Thomas Abraham on what lies ahead for the network.

This year has been a happening year for Sony Entertainment. First it bagged ICC cricket telecast rights. Then was the addition of the Discovery channels to the bouquet. How do you see Sony positioned by the end of this fiscal on the distribution front?

This should be a great year for the SET-Discovery JV. As far as revenues go, from three per cent of total revenues two years ago to 25 to 30 per cent this year, is what we are expecting.


"The principal weakness of the One Alliance is that the bouquet is incomplete"

Aside from the cricket of course, what is driving this increase in distribution revenues?

First thing is that we have a crack sales team in place. The formation of the Discovery:SET JV made a huge difference.

This business is all about relationships and information. You have to know exactly the details of all operators, what is their actual connectivity, how much they're paying to which channel and how much they're collecting from the ground. So we have a pretty comprehensive database with us now.

"This business is all about relationships and information. You have to know exactly the details of all operators, what is their actual connectivity, how much they're paying to which channel and how much they're collecting from the ground"


How have you managed the database?

We have built it up over the last one year by doing a virtual census, checking each headend and collecting data.

Another thing that worked for us is that we have been able to identify the guys who have potential and reward them accordingly. We have also been hiring from across the industry and not just the distribution business. FMCG companies, for instance. Such guys bring in fresh ideas in terms of how they manage distribution.

We've invested a lot in training programmes as well. In the last one year we have had two rounds of training for the entire sales force. And next month we have another coming up.

As mentioned, the JV helped a lot as there was a good cultural fit between Sony and Discovery. Therefore, the integration process was very smooth. It also helped as we got a lot of experienced guys from Discovery. It needs noting that Discovery has been a pay channel for over four years now.

In a nutshell, we want to be the Number 1 network not only in terms of subscriber numbers and revenues but also customer care and relationship management.


"We want to be the Number 1 network not only in terms of subscriber numbers and revenues but also customer care and relationship management"

What subscriber numbers are you targeting?

We expect to cross six million paid subscribers by March.

Where are you currently?

By month-end, we will have about five million subscribers.

You say you want to be the Number 1 network in both subscriber numbers as well as revenues, but Star India already claims 6.3 million as its paid subscriber base and says it is targeting crossing 8 million by June of next year.

I do not want to comment on the figures Star is quoting, but what I am referring to are active paying subscriber numbers.

In the recent past, what has been your most significant marketing success?

That is without doubt getting Kapil Dev as our brand ambassador. Taking Kapil Dev around to various centres was a huge success as an on ground promotional activity. Through the 15 cities that Kapil visited, the response exceeded all our expectations. And continuing the effort, we're taking operators in batches to Sri Lanka. The first batch is already there.


You have talked about the strengths that the One Alliance has, have you identified where the weaknesses lie?

The principal weakness is that the bouquet is incomplete. We need a news and music channel, not necessarily as a revenue generator but to complete the bouquet.

When is that happening?

We hope to have it in place by December.

What about an English movie channel and a kids channel?

That would be good but it is not a critical issue. For movies, we have AXN and there is the Disney Hour band twice a day on Sony Entertainment, which we believe suffices for the immediate term.

You have just resolved a spat with Hathway-Win MSO in Delhi and Ludhiana. The MSO's main line of argument was that if Sony acts tough there is still Doordarshan for the India matches. Hasn't the lack of exclusivity diminished your bargaining strength?

For us, that's not a big issue. The market has supported us and that can be seen from the fact that we are available now across the country.

On the issue of declared connectivity, the MSOs complain that they are being squeezed at both ends - broadcaster as well as franchisee. Their claim is that they themselves have to deal with declarations from their franchisees that can be as low as 30 per cent.

Let's take Hathway on that score. In the Delhi area they have 900,000 paid subscribers. Even if we were to accept that what they get of this is only a third, is there any broadcaster that has a connectivity of anywhere remotely close to 300,000?

How have you managed in the south where you've been pretty weak all along?

Historically in the south AXN and Sony have been strong. The problem has been MAX. But this time we have really made inroads. Over 1,500 boxes have gone into south India which marks 50 per cent of all fresh seedings. But the challenge has been Tamil Nadu actually. Of the fresh seedings in south India, a significant number has gone into Tamil Nadu, so we have made big strides.

The One Alliance Network also has a major role to play of course. It helps that each channel is helping the other and this is possible because there is almost zero overlap among them as far as content is concerned.

CAS has gone into the cold storage for the present, but why was there such concerted lobbying from the broadcasters against it?

When you examine CAS as it is envisaged in the current form, the subscriber management systems (SMS) still remain with the cable ops. We have proposed that let there be a separate body that maintains and controls this so there is complete transparency and we get our fair share of revenues.

The other issue is the box itself. The analog box that is proposed, is too prone to piracy. What we would favour is a digital interactive receiver. This also offers a lot in terms of value adds.

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