Television

'With cricket action coming up, Sony has initiatives lined up in the digital space' : Kaushal Modi - Sony Entertainment Television India head licensing & telephony

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After establishing its digital platform 2525 with a slew of activities in 2004, Sony India's 2005 plan was to take it to the next level to turn it into a substantial revenue generating model. To drive the strategies, it needed an experienced hand in this space to head the division. The search ended in Kaushal Modi, who was then a key player in arch rival Star India's digital strategies. Thus, in February 2005, Modi switched to Sony India in the capacity of head, licensing and telephony.

Going into the second half 2006, Sony's game plan now mainly revolves around the game of cricket and Modi is banking on the bonanza to contribute significantly to the growth of his digital activities. "With cricket action coming up, Sony has got lots of initiatives lined up in this space. The action will start ticking from October 2006 onwards. We are still working on our plans," he says.

On the licensing front, Modi is exploring new markets and under his leadership, Sony has even entered the arena of format sales. "Sony used to sell its shows in the international markets and was never into selling formats. This year, for the first time, we have tried exploring this space with soaps 'Kaisa Yeh Pyaar Hai' and 'Yeh Meri Life Hai' and the experiment has generated an encouraging response," says Modi. And he is betting big on new content platforms such as Video on Demand (VoD) and IPTV to drive the growth in this sphere.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Bijoy A K, Modi explains the market scenario, the strategies and the game plan for the year.

Excerpts:

This year's MipTV witnessed the trend of TV producers investing in buying formats as against just broadcasters doing so. Would it make a negative impact on the syndication strategies of broadcasters?

Yes. Earlier, broadcasters used to drive these activities at MipTV. But, now, the scenario has undergone a change. There are many international format companies, which are very keen on the Indian market. While bigger companies such as Endemol and Fremantle do have direct access to the Indian market through their offices in the country, some of their smaller counterparts -- who don't have direct access to India -- depend on markets such as MipTV and Mipcom. This is the international scenario right now.

Coming to the second part of your question, this trend doesn't make a difference to our business strategies. We are content aggregators and not content creators. The format owners are never in a position to squeeze money out of their clients. It is up to the broadcaster (buyer) to pick up a format or not.

Sony has taken its two shows - Kaisa Yeh Pyaar Hai and Yeh Meri Life Hai, which are not game shows - to MipTV in Cannes this year for the purpose of syndication and formatting. How was the experience? Have you struck deals with international companies?

Earlier, Sony used to sell its shows in the international markets and was never into selling formats. Now, this year, we have kicked off our format syndication activities. We tried exploring this space with soaps Kaisa Yeh Pyaar Hai and Yeh Meri Life Hai and the experiment has generated an encouraging response. We haven't signed any buyer yet, but there are enquiries from various foreign broadcasters. Some of the Asian and European (Germany and Poland) have expressed interest in the format. They want to recreate the content, giving it a local treatment. The talks are still going on.

Please comment on the demand for our homegrown properties abroad? Do you keep the international market also in mind, while developing original formats?

The advent of new technologies is changing the face of the international content syndication market. In the international market, new content platforms including Video on Demand (VOD) and IPTV have been boosting this business segment. The new technology helps the content aggregator to target niche consumer segments, however small in size they are.

For example, if you have 5000 Indians living in a certain area in Japan and you want to target them with your content, you can do that with the help of these new technologies. Thus, you have a viable business model in hand. This has opened up new markets across the globe.

Speaking about the potential of Indian properties in the international markets, there is a significant Indian diaspora - though not critical enough to drive the business -- supporting the trade. Genre-wise, I would say there is a stress on movies.

South East Asia has always been the strong traditional market for Indian content. But now, with the advent of new content platforms, Europe and Africa have also started showing interest in our content. European channels such as RTL2 (Germany) have been showing a lot of interest in Indian content. As I mentioned earlier, there is a demand for movies. But, at the same time, some of these European channels now want to try shorter series as well.

Hence, developing homegrown properties, which can be saleable in the international markets also, sounds a lucrative idea. But, our main focus continues to be India and the strategy has always been to leverage on the original Indian content. For us, the Indian viewer always comes first while conceptualising ideas.

What will be the size of the content syndication market with regard to Indian television? Please speak on the market dynamics including growth potential and competition.

It is a highly fragmented market in India and it will be very difficult to put any number to it. Apart from the three or four big players, there are several medium-sized companies and then hundreds of smaller players including sub-brokers. The traditional syndication market is stagnant. New content platforms will drive the business. This will be driving almost 50 per cent of the revenues in the near future.

Competition is there in all forms, whether it is producers or broadcasters. Speaking about Sony's content syndication plan, I would say we haven't yet exploited the segment to the full extent. We have just started. Healthy competition definitely helps. With competition, you have new markets opening up across the globe. Players keep moving, looking for greener pastures.

'The advent of new technologies is changing the face of the international content syndication market'

How much does the content syndication business contributes to Sony India's kitty?

It is definitely not a topline driver for Sony. It is more of a bottomline driver. Though it contributes a miniscule compared to other revenue streams, it plays a significant role in the total scheme of things. It creates a market value for the channel. It creates added revenue opportunities through an existing property. We have to keep in mind that, here the channel is not making any new investments.

Speaking about the future potential, content syndication & licensing will contribute well to drive exponential growth.

Star India recently revamped its short code 7827 and looks very aggressive on its interactive and digital plans. What can we expect from Sony this year in this space?

With cricket action coming up, Sony has got lots of initiatives lined up in this space. The action will start ticking from October 2006 onwards. We are still working on our plans.

Speaking about our digital presence, Sony already has a Wap site. But we haven't been promoting it much since the Wap technology is still in its nascent stage of growth in India. Hence, we haven't been banking on the Wap site much to drive user downloads. A good percentage of our content download happens through the telecom operator sites. We are also weighing options to launch a mobile voice platform.

Please elaborate on your digital and wireless strategy

The entire department has been created to leverage the opportunities this space offers. Sony envisages that, the future is going to be digital. New technologies driven by mobile phones, iPods and other handheld devices will spearhead an exponential growth. The atmosphere is very encouraging since mobile connectivity in the country has really picked up. Keeping the changes in mind, we are closely working to build a digital content bank and making our programming and content available across all the available platforms. The thrust will be on creating a dedicated mobile and internet community.

Convergence of television and portals appears to be the latest mantra for entertainment. Please elaborate on Sony's plans and the progress in this segment.

We have our online presence in setindia.com. To offer content through broadband, we have tied up with SifyMax. This association helps us to offer some of our popular shows such as Fame Gurukul and Indian Idol through broadband. This way, we are able to capitalise on the significance of SifyMax as a popular destination for online content. This is a win-win situation for both of us. We also have content associations with Indiatimes and Tata VSNL.

How do you plan to leverage Set India's programming portfolio with the mobile initiatives? Are there plans to make mobisodes out of your popular soaps?

I would say, the Indian market is yet to see a proper mobisode. The mobisode revolution is still bit away in the horizon as the technology is not yet ready to accommodate it. What we all have been doing is, repurposing our content for mobile phone. And the advantage: you can target different audience segments with various niche products made out of a single programme.

Globally, most of the mobile companies are getting out of the content sector to focus on their main areas of strength. In India also, should mobile operators have to move out of the content space? Please offer your take on this.

The international market has been witnessing lots of alignments between content providers and the technology companies. Internationally, we have entertainment companies sticking on to content operations, while technology companies concentrating on the technical aspects. Obviously, you can't lay your hands on both the businesses because it is difficult to focus on these diverse segments. The same applies to the Indian market as well.

Are you looking to partner international companies in the digital space? What is your take on the global scenario?

Sony in talks with some of the players for digital distribution of content and we have already got Jump TV on board in this space. We are in advanced stages of talks with some of the European and US players and an announcement in this regard will be made soon.

What are the issues that will foster an even faster mobile market growth in India?

What is critical is creating best practices and formula for the industry. Industry practices should be standardised so that, it will encourage the players to roll out a variety of services. There should be flexibility in pricing. There is huge potential in areas such as voice offerings and subscription services. By working together as a team, we can capitalise on the huge growth potential the space offers.
Will web streaming as a concept catch up in India?

Web streaming is yet to catch up in the country because of the bandwidth issues. But, with falling broadband prices, it has got a huge potential to deliver, especially in the area of interactivity. If the government's bandwidth targets for the fiscal are met, the market would undergo a tremendous change.

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