'Sony's agenda is to focus on prime & then take on the rest' : Sandiip Sikcand - Sony chief creative director take on the rest'

Sony Entertainment Television India's chief creative director Sandiip Sikcand is the newly appointed man in the newly created position, tasked with the job of scripting a turnaround in the ratings fortunes of the network's flagship channel Set. And it is a task cut out for the experienced hand from Balaji Telefilms, who has been the creative head for projects such as K Street Pali Hill, Kkusum, Kaisa Ye Pyar Hai and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii.

After a four-year stint with Balaji working under the overarching leadership of Ekta Kapoor, Sikcand is tuning himself to a corporate structure, wherein he will be steering the creative aspects of Sony and also concentrating more on fiction. Geared to making a mark and getting the channel going, Sikcand talks about his plans and the road ahead in a conversation with'sManisha Bhattacharjee.


You are handling Sony, but the network also has Sab, so how do you differentiate and segregate the shows between the two channels?

The operations between the two channels are different and very clear. Though part of the same network, the guidelines inscribed for Sab TV is poles apart from Sony. The latter is into hardcore soaps, melodrama, while the former is more youthful, catering to a more niche audience. It will be on Sab where the network can experiment with different kinds of concepts or shows. Sony will continue to offer a hardcore soap diet. It is broadly chalked out and chances of overlap are minimal.

With Sony now in third position, what is the course of action that the channel is planning?

Well, we have lined up new shows and are strengthening the 8 pm to 11 pm band. The shows will be rolled out over the next six months. We have tied up with Tony and Diya Singh for Jeetiya Hai Jis Ki Liye, which will star Renuka Shahane. We have Also tied up with the Anuj Saxena's Maverick productions for a drama titled Akhand Sau Bhagyawati. There is Khamoshi, Durgesh Nandini, Viruddhwith Smriti Irani. A Variety show with Anupam Kher, which is a talk show.

You are looking at launching only soaps, does that signify that reality will take a back seat?

No, Sony has always maintained that reality will be an important component. Reality shows are likely to be relegated to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, while the rest of the week will see soapy dramas taking centre stage.

We are presently running Jhalak Dikkhla Jaa. And will be launching Bigg Boss on November 3. In May, we have scheduled the launch of the third season of Indian Idol. We are also devising our own little reality show, which will be aired twice a week, which we are targeting to launch in February or March.

'I do not see Sony coming back to number 2 or number 1 position overnight'

So what is this reality show that is homegrown?

I can't speak much at the moment as we are yet to finalise on certain aspects of the show.

Not being on a strong wicket as of now, and launching so many shows, isn't it too much too soon?

No. These will be spread across and launched in a phased manner. The emphasis is on the strengths Sony has already shown. It has been structured accordingly so we are confident we can succeed. The idea is not to shock the audience.

Likewise, I do not see Sony coming back to number two or number one position overnight. It is process, which we have already started working towards. I am not saying either that all the shows are going to be stupendous successes. Some of the shows might not even work, we might have to pull them off and replace them with some other products. We are all geared for that. But it is a definitive step towards changing the number position of the channel.

It is a tough battle for Sony, as it has to fight the leader Star Plus and Zee, which has bounced back after a long while?

I think we have to fight it out with everybody. I have to even fight Sab, Zee Café, Star One, Zee Cinema, Star Plus and Sahara One. Every channel is competition. Sony is not going to be pulled back by its competitors. Sony is first going to stand up on its own feet and in that process if there is competition so be it.

So what is the strategy you are looking at employing to help the channel stand up?

There is no strategy. I think in the television and entertainment business, the essential ingredient is just entertainment. As an audience, if I find a show entertaining, whether it may be appearing on ABC or XYZ channel, I will watch it. The endeavour and the aim of Sony is to give wholesome entertainment; that's the strategy.

Besides looking at strengthening you prime band. Are you looking at the other bands?

We will be focusing on the afternoon band and launching a slew of shows there too. As of now, we run movies for Saturday and Sunday, we may look at having movies only on Sunday. But that will be once we get our other line-ups fixed. The agenda really is to focus on prime and then take on the rest.

What's this obsession networks in general seem to have with reality shows?

It is a trend. You can't discount it. It has always happened in India. For example, in Bollywood, if you have one film of Nagin (snake) succeeding, there will be 10 other films based on the same. As I said earlier, Sony has always maintained that we will be doing reality shows, which we are and will continue doing.

But, the point being that the ratio with be 80:20 (in favour of soaps). We will have specific reality show making sure that we do not bring in the fatigue factor and also that we do not overkill it.

The channel will be shortly launching Bigg Boss. There are many who are skeptical about the chances of success in India of a show that is so in your face voyeuristic as Bigg Boss is? What makes you confident the Indian public will like such a concept?

Well, we all have a peeping-tom somewhere, which we do not accept. But, the reality show Bigg Boss has all the elements that any other soap holds. We are confident that the success Big Brother has enjoyed (elsewhere) will be visible here too.

I do not believe in bifurcating my programmes into reality or fiction. Eventually, it is all about entertainment. It is important to understand that if soaps give you a certain amount of interest, so does the reality show.

The fact remains that reality shows are clicking and drawing in viewers and that soaps have always brought in audiences.

So are you saying it is not reality vs soaps?

All I am trying to say is that the kind of entertainment a Bigg Boss will provide is not to say that watch Bigg Boss and not Kaajjal. The shows provide you different elements of entertainment. The viewer has to be entertained. I do not think that the audience will say "I will not watch reality show because I never watch a reality show." For the audience, what matters is entertainment.

CAS is likely to change the dynamics of the television market? Your thoughts?

Well, being on the creative seat, what can only be a deterrent for me is if I tell them that you have to pay more to be entertained?

How do you view the whole general entertainment market?

The whole television market has a lot to offer and the entertainment business is growing. The audiences will have an amazing offering to chose from in the future. Although we are growing rapidly, but by the time we grow to reach the standards that are followed outside, it will involve a lot of hard work. I believe across the line producers have to realize what television is all about and give a lot of importance to creativity. I think it is happening. Thus there is lots to look forward to.

You were present at Mipcom. What were the formats that you enjoyed?

Well, there was this Endemol game show where one can win a fixed amount of money for his entire life span. Another show that I enjoyed was a reality show where a girl has to spot an eligible guy out of three where you have a gay, one already taken and a single guy. It is a show that can never be made in India. But the concept was interesting.

So have how many formats are you buying?

We are still in the process of weighing the pros and cons. We have not yet locked any deal.

Has the tie-up with Smriti Irani affected your channel's relationship with Balaji?

Yes, it has already affected it. But, I must say that I am proud to be a product of Balaji. I left the production house for some personal reasons. Reasons I would not like to go into.

Now that I am with Sony, anything that I have to do, I will do for the betterment of the channel. Smirit had an amazing concept. So I see no reason why I should not do that show.

In fact, Sony had been approaching Balaji for the last two months even before I joined. Ekta had her own reasons for not doing a show for Sony as she said that she is tied up somewhere else. But she is to do a show for Sab, for which she has time, which is great. That she has no time to do a show for Sony, is absolutely fine and acceptable. As and when she has a concept for Sony, all she has to do is dial my number.

Today, Sony is third, Zee had been lurking in this position for long. Zee's soaps have given them a fresh lease of life?

The journey of Zee is very motivational. After seven years, it is really something to talk about. If Zee can do it, Sony can well do it. Competition keeps you going. I was the creative head on Kasamh Se and my interactions with Ashwini (Zee programming head Ashwini Yardi) have been great. It is very inspirational.

In the current situation, with your experience is it a tough battle to manage a channel's programming?

It is a whole new corporate world. I feel at home. In this world of entertainment it is a combination of competitiveness and fun. I belief I too need my fair chance to prove myself.

What is the road map for Sony for 2007?

Well, all efforts will be towards bouncing back.

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