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Next 250 M digital video users will be non-English speaking: Uday Sodhi

Next 250 M digital video users will be non-English speaking: Uday Sodhi

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MUMBAI: These are exciting times at Sony Pictures Network (SPN) India. When it comes to scale in sports broadcasting, the FIFA World Cup ranks second only to the Olympics. It's safe to assume that bringing world football's showpiece event to audiences is hugely challenging yet satisfying. In a sense, the chatter and bustle on the fourth floor of SPN's Malad headquarters highlights this. There is a distinct flavour and energy to the environment that points to one thing - it isn't business as usual.

However, Uday Sodhi, the big boss of SPN's digital arm, appears relaxed. The veteran of many battles has a lot at stake at the moment. Having played an instrumental role in building SPN's OTT SonyLIV, the onus is on Sodhi to guide his team through what many are describing as India's first OTT video World Cup. Never before have as many Indians consumed digital video content at such high speeds and low costs.

As the driving force behind SonyLIV, Sodhi is at the forefront of the changing face of India's digital landscape. Indiantelevision.com caught up with the man of the moment to talk about week one of the World Cup, India's OTT industry and the future of digital video consumption.

Lionel Messi's Argentina crashing out at the group stage is bad for business?

Not really. I think teams like Spain and Portugal are very popular. Portugal because of Ronaldo and Spain due to the presence of a lot of La Liga club stars. Brazil is an evergreen team too. Germany remains a hot favourite.

Tell us a bit about the viewership patterns on the SonyLIV app?

I classify football viewers into three groups - fanatics, fans and flirts. The first week numbers point to a 85per cent contribution of male viewers as opposed to the 15per cent female fans. On digital, people tend to move back and fourth during live matches. The average viewing time in the first week comes to 16-18 minutes. If that's the average, then a lot of people are watching 30-40 minutes. Like everything else in life, there is a pyramid. There are a lot of people who watch the full 30-40 minutes. However, we look at viewing times at a stretch. So they probably take a break during the interval and come back. So my guess is there are a lot of people who come, watch the score and go back. A lot of people do the under five minutes viewing. A lot of matches are during working hours, some people are traveling. The watch times increase when people get home. People tend to hit the scorecard and go back a lot.

Can you give us a break up of the numbers you've done so far?

There are about a five million users a day on the app and website. The Match Centre and Second Screen engagements are about 25 million in the first week. That's been the key takeaway. We expect 40-45 millions users on SonyLIV through the course of this World Cup.  The Spain vs Portugal had 3x traffic as compared to any other game.

The first match didn't go as per plan?

Instead of a five minute delay on the ad-supported feed, there was a slightly longer delay of 10-15 minutes. We had some blip, there was a heartbeat missing somewhere.

How many advertisers have you signed up for the World Cup ?

We have 15 (and counting) advertisers on the app. We have all the big brands like Patanjali, Red Bull, Nivea, Carlsberg, VIP, Swiggy to name a few.

How crucial is sports content for an OTT platform? Can Indian broadcasters build a world-class product without sports?

Absolutely, you can build a solid platform without sports. Does it become easier and faster with sports? Yes! Does it give you more traction? Yes! You have to spend less on marketing and you gain more organically with sports content. You have to work harder without sports. But your technology has to be far stronger in sports. Sport tests you far more, as consumers are more touchy. Two or three minutes here and there and the whole world comes to an end. With fiction you tend to get more chances to get things right.

What has been your biggest learning in the last five years?

The importance of technology is one key thing we have learnt. We realised that just the video is not enough. There needs to be data too - what's happening in the match, what's happening around the match. People want to come back and see the clips, highlights. A lot of surround stuff has to happen. The quality of the product, its availability across platforms, across devices. There has to be a seamless experience. That's the challenge. Its very easy to put up an android app with video playing capabilities. That's vanilla these days. That's not a tough one to do.

So, what's a tough one to do?

The real tough one is to do it across platforms, do it seamlessly, do it live, publish it live. We did 3000 live events last year. To be able to do that on a weekend is tough. At times we had 20 concurrent matches happening - Serie A football, tennis, MotoGP together. You need that kind of infrastructure to publish 20 live games. That takes real effort. That's the real story. That's the blood and sweat behind the business. Technology is the key. Content is easy vanilla. Everyone has it. Real challenge is to make sure the platform works day in and day out. Spikes in sport are phenomenal. Those are learning that don't come in a text book. That's something the team learns from experience.

How much has the company invested in building SonyLIV?

We don't talk numbers. But there's a technology layer at one end and is huge invest. Sports rights is another very, very expensive piece. We are making sure our digital investments and our digital business grows along with the sports investments we are making. So, this year we have FIFA, India vs England, then there is India vs Australia. So, there is tremendous investment that is happening back to back on sports. All of it is hard cash going out. Over and above that you are putting layers of content that you are acquiring, stuff that we are doing with various partners. We are building a huge repository of content. We service all the needs of the customer from high-end sports to travel and food.

How big is the SonyLIV team?

Internally and externally there are about 200-250 people working on the platform.

Is there room for more OTT players in the market?

We have just started this journey. There are close to 500 news sites in India, probably 800 TV channels. So why not more OTT platforms? Digital video advertising, and I'm not talking about subscriptions, is about Rs 2000 crore in India. Digital advertising business as a whole is about Rs 8000 crore. In China it is a Rs 60,000 crore market, with digital video advertising contributing to Rs 30,000 crore. That's as big as our television advertising business. So, we too will get there in the next five to seven years. China has 650 million digital video users, we have 250. In the next 1000 days, we'll be double our size. When the consumer base doubles, the advertising revenue doesn't go up 2x. It goes higher.

Do you see any particular trends for the future?

The next wave of digital content consumers will be big on video, not text. Attention spans of users will continue to increase due to cheaper Internet data. The next 250 million digital video users will be non-English speaking. They'll consume content in their local languages.

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