Television

"We are hoping to put Sony back, if not as a No. 1, at least a closer second to Star" : Kunal Dasgupta : Sony Entertainment Television CE

http://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/drupal7.indiantelevision.co.in/files/styles/smartcrop_800x800/public/images/tv-images/2014/08/20/a_24.jpg?itok=g3wTiYa_

Kunal Dasgupta has just completed eight years as chief executive of Sony Entertainment Television India, which makes him the longest serving professional CEO in the television media business in India. A good time as any for an overview from the man who confesses that he's burnt himself out eight times in the last eight years only to come back rejuvenated each time. That, he says is because he enjoys what he does and does not treat it like a 9-to-5 job. It’s not a job. It’s what he breathes all the time, says Dasgupta.

In conversation with indiantelevision.com's Thomas Abraham, a reflective Dasgupta looks back on the rollercoaster eight years that he has had at the helm of SET. He also looks ahead and offers a picture of how he expects Sony to be positioned in the next few years.



Excerpts:

You’ve now completed eight years as CEO of SET India. That makes you the longest serving professional CEO in the television media business in India. Looking back, what were the highpoints of your stint at the helm?

Each stage in these eight years has been different. In the beginning it was a start-up. It needed aggressive growth. It needed a brand in the market place to establish itself. The initial period was very operational.

Subsequent to that, there was a mixture of strategies as environments started changing so we had to get into the distribution business as well. And then expand by launching more channels. That was a stage of implementing a new strategy, with fresh investments being made.

Now is the stage of consolidation, where one has to see how to consolidate the business further over the next few years.

In all this there have been different highpoints. In the start-up phase, the high point was when we got successes with our programming and became known through our business, on the advertising side.

Subsequently, we started having additional channels. Then we created a distribution chemistry. Subsequent to that we strengthened the business by going global.

And now finally, after the World Cup, we are in a well established state and it needs consistent working on the business.

In all this Sony (SET), which was the main channel, lost out, because of poorer programming than in earlier years. And that needs to be addressed immediately. That is one area of major activity, which will happen in the next 12 months. We are hoping to put Sony back, if not as a Number One at least a closer second to Star than what it is today.

"In the start-up phase, the high point was when we got successes with our programming and became known through our business, on the advertising side."

Going forward what are the major goals you have as far as network is concerned over the next three years?

The immediate goal as I said is to put Sony back on track. Over the next two or three years, I can see with CAS rolling out, and with DTH happening and with broadband convergence delivery going to start rolling out by telecoms, we will have more distribution opportunities.

Basically now I think we are on a path where we have consolidated the business and we have to continue to grow in the market and never lose focus on the programming side of the business.

What are the positives that you see on the programming side?

The positive is that on the weekend we are ruling, with (Balaji’s) Kya Haadsa Kya Haqeeqat, our movies and our events. Kya Haadsa is actually the Number 1 programme on the weekends.

On the weekdays unfortunately, we are not doing well. So we have to really make it there. On weekdays currently there is only (again Balaji’s) Kkusum consistently, which outside of Star is the highest rated programme.

You’ve said SET needs to strengthen its programming. Anything new in the pipeline?

We are launching some new shows

"Basically now I think we are on a path where we have consolidated the business and we have to continue to grow in the market and never lose focus on the programming side of the business."

When?

September 1 we launch one, October 1 we launch one and November 1 we launch one.

Sahara seems to be almost out of the legal woods as far as Karishma is concerned so you will be having competition on the programming front waiting? Earlier you’d said that around mid-year you’d be ready with a big show. Is one of these new shows you’d mentioned the big one you were looking at, if so which one?

It is the show launching in September.

But that will launch with the CAS rollout. Isn’t that a risky proposition? One would have assumed that the dust of CAS should settle before any big-ticket initiatives are made.

I don’t think so. It is the right time. CAS will only impact a very limited market initially and we’re looking at an all-India picture. September 1 we’ll launch as I said.

"The cricket won’t be given to anybody just like that. You’ll have to buy the channels for a year to get the cricket. Or pay a hefty premium for a month."

What’s the genre of the new show?

It’s a drama, fiction. It’s called Betty La Fea.

Betty La Fea is one programme that Sunil Lulla had mentioned would be coming up as part of the new offerings on SET. Is that your big-ticket item for 2003?

That’s just one of the big-ticket items. There are a number of big ticket shows that will be coming up between October and December as well.

And what about MAX? Post the World Cup high MAX was claiming the top spot as far as movie channels were concerned. But now Zee Cinema seems to have again gone ahead?

No it’s not gone ahead. We have all the data. MAX is definitely ahead. MAX is the movie channel of choice. It’s got 172 GRPs (gross rating points). No other channel (in its genre) has got that.

In which time slot is MAX the strongest?

In the prime time 9 o’clock slot.

You do have the big blockbuster titles in your kitty but does that take care of the daily bread and butter programming?

Look at the list of our 9 o’clock titles. All are blockbuster movies of the last ten years. Nobody has got the volume of strong movies that we have. Star and Zee are constantly trying to tell the producers that when it gets over on MAX they’ll buy it. We’ve got the best library in terms of quality.

"My only one worry is that in the ultimate chain the box should work in the homes the way it is working in laboratory conditions. There is a lot of co-ax wiring in the last mile."

The Star Network (and that includes ESPN Star Sports) has managed revenues of around Rs 15,000 million in their fiscal just ended? How does Sony compare, especially considering you had the Champions Trophy and World Cup as drivers for both distribution and ad sales.

At least 50 per cent of Star’s revenues relate to only the main channel (Star Plus). Another 30-35 per cent comes from distribution. All the other channels put together is about 20 per cent. We don’t have news so one of the revenue earning capacities is not there. Neither do we have a music channel.

So basically, if you look at our revenues considering what we have, it's okay.

What was the revenue growth in percentage terms over 2002?

Nearly 90 per cent.

"They’ll still pay. Times have changed. People see international quality and they want it. And they’re willing to pay for it"

Last year you’d done Rs 445 crores if I’m not mistaken so that would make it around Rs 850 crores, correct?

Close to that. I’m not saying any figures.

And what of cricket? How much has the World Cup really delivered in the last year. Even if cricket gave you Rs 300 core in ad sales (clubbing the Champions and World Cup together), that works out to roughly $60 million. Considering the ICC rights acquisition cost was in the $250 million range, that’s still a big amount remaining to be recovered? And you have just one World Cup and two Champions Trophy’s as your big ticket tourneys in which to manage it. How are you going to make up the balance?

Distribution revenues will bridge the gap.

But how can you be so confident about distribution revenues making up the balance? Especially if we consider that because the main matches are available on Doordarshan as well, you cannot offer exclusivity?

If you look at the ratings from the last World Cup, nobody wants to watch DD (where MAX is available).

Agreed, but it was still a question of choice since both were available? If you have to pay a premium mark-up, won’t the equation be quite different?

They’ll still pay. Times have changed. People see international quality and they want it. And they’re willing to pay for it.

I agree that in real number terms it will be lesser but it will be much more in terms of distribution revenues than was achieved in the last World Cup, which was in the pre-CAS days.

Let’s take a simple example. In Zone One in Mumbai, there are 350,000 homes. The expectation of cable operators is that 300,000 boxes will be picked up. Which means that in just that area, where I used to get a declaration of 30,000, now I will get a declaration of 3 lakh (300,000). 

That is assuming that they all opt for the channel. Isn’t the whole idea of CAS that people will pick and choose?

But I am saying that anybody who takes a box will take cricket.

But the cricket is only coming next year.

The cricket won’t be given to anybody just like that. You’ll have to buy the channels for a year to get the cricket. Or pay a hefty premium for a month.

I believe people will choose to buy the channels for a year.

You mentioned CAS so let us talk about that. The general ball park on the revenue hit that the pay channels will take is about 20 per cent. Do you agree with that?

It could be higher also, or it could be lower. You just can’t put a figure like that. There is some hit of course, but I would prefer to wait for the rollout to see how it goes.

You’re saying there will be a hit, and if in one month south Mumbai picks up two-and-half-lakh (250,000) boxes, there is obviously no hit. That is why I am not subscribing to that theory right now.

All this talk of a hit in revenues is just one more excuse for executives to tell their bosses, that because of CAS, you’ll have lower sales. That’s what I’ve told my people.

In business we get all kinds of environmental problems. It is our job to manage that.

"I think the 37 pay channels are strong enough to push. Depending on the success of CAS, I feel even some of the current free-to-air channels will also go pay."

Even accepting that, isn’t it a worry that the CAS rollout is happening so close to the Diwali festival season, which is the peak season as far as ad sales is concerned?

Yes, but how many homes is it affecting? Out of 44 million homes, its not even affecting one million homes.  And what if 500,000 pick up boxes. That’s why I say it is better to wait and see how it all rolls out.

All this while the pay broadcasters (at least Star and Sony) have been quite open about their opposition to the CAS rollout plan put forward by the government. Now you’re both saying, CAS rollout will happen as per the current schedule set forth. What has brought about this change of thinking?

We had only one major issue. That there are not enough boxes. Now we have been convinced with the smaller zone size and the rollout that’s happening, there will be enough boxes.  The real issue was that the infrastructure was not in place. The infrastructure is now getting in place and on September 1 sufficient boxes will be there to cater to focussed distribution.

We have nothing against CAS. We all want CAS. If you look at the standing committee submission we’ve made, if you look at every submission we’ve made, it’s always been the insufficiency of boxes.

"Focus on strengths of people, do things you like and avoid things you dislike"

But it was not just the issue of boxes that you objected to. There were also reservations about subscriber management systems (SMS), need for a regulatory authority on the lines of the TRAI to keep cable ops in check, etc.

All that is subsidiary to it. First is the boxes. Then comes the rest of it.

So what about the SMS that is now in place?

The SMS with Hindujas (INCableNet), Hathway and Siti Cable is world class. I can’t say the same about some others though.

Are the channel prices that you’ve announced the final ones for the post-CAS regime or is there still a possibility of any further modifications to it?

Prices are final. There may be a discounting for early birds up to 50-60 per cent. That’s a market-driven thing, which we will announce in each market as the boxes are going in.

What about the revenue share margins?

It varies from channel to channel, between 10-15 per cent up to as high as 90 per cent.

Overall, you now sound very positive about CAS?

I won’t be negative about CAS. My only one worry is that in the ultimate chain the box should work in the homes the way it is working in laboratory conditions. There is a lot of co-ax wiring in the last mile.

But those are technical problems that will get sorted out as the CAS rollout proceeds.

I see only a technical problem. I don’t see a marketing problem or a business problem?

You don’t see a problem of offtake? Of desire to buy?

I think the 37 pay channels are strong enough to push. Depending on the success of CAS, I feel even some of the current free-to-air channels will also go pay.

On a more personal note, you come across as someone with almost manic energy. How do you keep up such a high-octane lifestyle? It would seem the classic recipe for exhaustion.

Yah, I know. I’ve burnt myself out eight times over eight years. It will continue. One has to. Because this is a very dynamic business.

Which still begs the question, other than burnout isn't there another way for you to wind down?

Actually the thing is, I believe you should be engaged in what you do. If you’re engaged in what you do you find ways to keep yourself getting excited. The important thing is you have to enjoy what you do and not treat it like a 9-to-5 job. It’s not a job. It’s what I enjoy doing. It’s what I breathe all the time. 

I know what my strengths are and I know what my weaknesses are. I try to focus on my strengths and ignore my weaknesses. Most people waste their time trying to correct their weaknesses. I don’t waste my time trying to correct my weaknesses because I know it’s a very difficult thing. It’s better to focus on my strengths, where it is going to yield results. 

That is a fundamental philosophy that I have. If you focus on your strengths you are focussing on positive energy, not trying to negatively overcome something you are not good at.

I think managing people is something like that. Managing their strengths and ignoring their weaknesses. Taking the best out of their strengths.

The important thing is, focus on strengths of people, do things which you like and avoid things which you dislike.

Aside from the professional, what is it that you are looking forward to over the next few years?

I have my interests, which are more related to watching movies, spending time with friends. That’s it. That’s enough for me for de-stressing, as you call it. 

And one has to keep track of one’s fitness and health and that’s it.

Latest Reads

http://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/drupal7.indiantelevision.co.in/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2018/01/22/bajaj.jpg?itok=z_mfKL62
Discovery bags nine sponsors for Battle Ops

Battle Ops, Discovery Communications India’s (DCIN) integrated television and digital offering, has received a resounding response from the advertiser community. The show, which will premiere on Discovery Channel and Veer on 26th January, has already sold out with nine sponsors on board.

Television TV Channels Specialised and Niche
http://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/drupal7.indiantelevision.co.in/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2018/01/22/madhvan_0.jpg?itok=GrROQRmt
Splash and assemblage entertainment begin production on norm of the north sequel

Assemblage Entertainment, the feature-film focused CGI animation studio has begun production on the sequel of 2016 theatrical feature film Norm of the North, along with Splash Entertainment, Lionsgate and Dream Factory In many first-of-its times, it is unprecedented that an independent animated...

Television Production House Film Production
http://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/drupal7.indiantelevision.co.in/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2018/01/22/vijendra_0.jpg?itok=ZPuHFHFV
Vijendra Singh, Indian Boxing Champion associates with Pokerbaazi

PokerBaazi.com, one of India’s pioneer online poker platforms has signed Vijender Singh as its new brand ambassador. Prior to roping in Indian professional boxer, Indian film star, actor, and model, Sunny Leone was the face of the brand. By roping in boxing champion Vijeder Singh as its brand...

Television TV Channels Sports
http://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/drupal7.indiantelevision.co.in/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2018/01/22/bff.jpg?itok=W52X-fZ5
COLORS INFINITY serves an intoxicating concoction of bollywood Besties, Gossip, Games

Make Saturday nights your date night with some of your favorite Bollywood best-friends, as COLORS INFINITY brings to you the latest season of the popular homegrown chat show Jeep presents BFFs with Vogue powered by Motorola and beauty partner Nykaa.com, starting Saturday January 20, 2018 at 8pm on...

Television TV Channels English Entertainment
http://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/drupal7.indiantelevision.co.in/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2018/01/22/indian.jpg?itok=6zQ-0BOt
Experience first-hand India's historic Military Operation in a gripping new documentary

On 18 September 2016, four Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists attacked an Indian Army Garrison in the town of Uri, Jammu and Kashmir. 19 Indian soldiers were martyred in the Fidayeen attack. Eleven days later

Television Production House Fiction
http://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/drupal7.indiantelevision.co.in/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2018/01/22/trophy.jpg?itok=khbRFiK2
578 players to go under the hammer for IPL auction

The much-anticipated VIVO IPL 2018 player auction list is out with 578 players up for grabs. This big pool of cricketers, which comprises 360 Indians, will go under the hammer in Bengaluru on 27 and 28 January, 2018.

Television TV Channels Sports
http://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/drupal7.indiantelevision.co.in/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2018/01/22/BARC%20India-Image_1.jpg?itok=VW_FNs3c
BARC panel tampering: first arrests made

The Cyber Crime Police in Bengaluru, acting on a complaint filed by the Broadcast Research Council of India (BARC), has arrested five people allegedly for trying to tamper with the television viewership data generated and reported by BARC every week.

Television TV Channels Viewership
http://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/drupal7.indiantelevision.co.in/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2018/01/22/ferzad.jpg?itok=VswwXfNe
Cautious investments serve MTV Beats well

MUMBAI: When digital media made it easy for people to listen to songs anywhere anytime, it sounded like the death knell for music channels on TV. Years later, however, they continue to survive.

Television TV Channels Music and Youth
http://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/drupal7.indiantelevision.co.in/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2018/01/19/cc.jpg?itok=vyxpkA3V
Comedy Central sets pace for ultimate celebration with over 100 hours of non-stop FRIENDS ultra marathon for its 6th birthday

Birthdays and New Years are great occasions to make resolutions for participating in marathons. However, this is one marathon which calls for hanging up your running shoes and grabbing the best spot in front of the telly with a bowl of munchies to keep you going because, for the first time ever in...

Television TV Channels English Entertainment

Latest News

Load More

Sign up for our Newsletter

subscribe for latest stories