Television

SONY:THE BIG PICTURE

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(Written By Anil Wanvari in 2000)

Posted on : 30 Dec 2000 07:47 pm

Sony Entertainment Television (Set) is fighting back. Reeling from the loss of audiences to the huge runaway success of Star Plus‘ Kaun Banega Crorepati, it has rolled out seven new shows, has juggled around with its FPC, and has plans to have more film star based events on its channels.

"You ain‘t seen nothing yet," says CEO Kunal Dasgupta. "This is just a start, there‘s lots more coming viewers‘ way. Read my lips: we are going to recapture our market."

Additionally, Dasgupta and his men are drawing up a corporate blueprint for Sony Entertainment Television. Says Dasgupta: "I am looking for business growth in three major revenue streams: free to air television advertising sales, pay television subscription and theatrical distribution and production of films."

Its first major foray outside its core television business and into Hindi movies is commencing with the launch of Mission Kashmir - a film it is distributing internationally. The movie is slated to premier in October 2000 in both New York and London. Two other movies are in the process of being signed on.

"We would like to produce 10 films a year," says COO Rajesh Pant whose been given the responsibility of steering Sony Entertainment into new businesses, the foremost of which is theatrical distribution.

Dasgupta says that the Hindi movie business could end up being as big as Sony‘s television business is today. "It would be in the region of Rs 3-4 billion a year. We have to ramp up to this level."

The company does not have a presence in cable TV, as compared to the market leader Zee TV which owns Siticable. But Dasgupta does not believe that it is a disadvantage. He has cobbled together a bouquet of channels, which are being distributed by Sony Entertainment in order to create a pay TV package and make India‘s errant cable operators pay.

Currently, it is chalking up revenues of $10 million per annum from its pay TV business. In the bag are channels such as CNBC India, AXN, Set Max. It is handling both the distribution and ad sales for the three channels, a kind of model which it maintains it will follow.

Set Max, an events, sports and movies channel is the most recent of its additions as it was encrypted in July 2000. Some 1,700 decoders have been placed in the marketplace giving it a penetration of 2.3 million homes. "We want to take this up to 4,000 boxes within the next couple of months," says Dasgupta.

AXN on the other hand has a claimed 2.5 million paying subscribers - that is cable operators are claiming that figure as their subscriber base when they are making payments to the Sony distribution team. CNBC has a penetration of 1 million with cable operators paying between Rs 3 and Rs 5 depending on the subscriber base they are disclosing, reveals Pant. 720 boxes for the business channel have been activated.

"We are working on our pay TV plans hard and are in talks with several programmers," says Dasgupta. "The market for international product is opening up in India. We see another three or four channels joining our package," adds Pant.

He expects pay TV operations to pitch in with Rs 1.5 billion in revenues in the next three years.

Currently, both Sony and Star TV India are believed to be the front runners to distribute the Disney channel in India. Disney has been hovering around on the sidelines of the Indian television market for nearly half a decade without talking the full plunge with a 24 hour channel.

Recently, it terminated its programming contract with Zee TV on which it used to air two hour long morning and evening animation programming bands. It opted for Sony Entertainment Television instead. The network is looking at really creating a lot of hype around these two bands in the next two months, and will even fly viewers to Disneyland every week should they win the contest.

"Disney animation is extremely popular in India and we are serious about taking the maximum out of it and make it a big viewing option," says Dasgupta.According to him the standoff for the Disney distribution contract is sometime away but he is going to ensure that Sony will be at forefront when it happens.

On the international front, Sony Entertainment is looking at foraying into newer markets teeming with pockets of people of Indian origin. It already has a presence in the UK, is getting ready for a launch in the US, is aiming for Africa, is already viewed in Malaysia. On the roadmap are possible forays into Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji.

Pant says the stellar performance has been in the UK, where it is being sold along with Bollywood music and film channel B4U as a package on the BskyB platform and on cable systems. "We are at 12,000 subscribers last year around this time and we were falling," he says. "This year we are at 62,000 and climbing rapidly. It has been phenomenal growth." 25,000 subscribers are on cable and 37,000 on the DTH package with B4U. As against this Zee is at some 130,000 subscribers in the UK.

While some people credit the super showing to the slick new movies that B4U brings to the table because of co-promoters Kishore Lulla and Bharat Shah, Dasgupta says Sony is attracting audiences too because of its well-packaged programming.

The channel is expected to do a soft relaunch in the US in September on the Echostar platform after the Ethnic American Broadcasting Corp went bust. "We have been freed from EABC and now are on our own and being distributed with Zee TV, TV Asia among, other channels as part of the Asian package," says Pant.

A foray is expected into south Africa too on the Multichoice platform. In Malayasia, it is on Measat‘s Astro service and Pant, says Sony should sing up 20,000 subscribers at about $3 each to start with. "We would like to build it up to 100,000," he points out.

Dasgupta and Pant and his team will have to work hard on building up the mother channel Sony Entertainment Television. The channel which had been leading the viewing sweepstakes until June has slipped to the number two spot after the stellar success of the Indianised version of Who wants to be a millionaire? (Kaun Banega Crorerpati -KBC) on Star Plus. The show has raced to the top of the ratings chart. And it is attracting viewers to soaps before and after it as they are getting in and staying on to munch on the fare.

Agrees Dasgupta: "KBC has been a major success. We are cutting back our revenue target to Rs 6.5 billion from Rs 7.5 billion set earlier. Imagine how much it will impact Zee TV."

Nevertheless, he is doing something about it. A couple of new game format shows are to be launched before the year is out. "Game shows had not done well in the country before until Star Plus showed what they could do with KBC," reveals Dasgupta. "We did not want to take the risk then. We will take the plunge soon."

But more than that Sony will sport an entire new entire fixed point chart come September. Seven new series have been announced - ranging from comedy to soaps mythological shows (Shree Ganesh produced by Creative Eye on the elephant God). Event-based shows focusing on film stars like Bollywood heart throb Hrithik Roshan,the Deol family and actresses renowned for their dancing prowess have been planned.

The 9 pm to 10 pm slot has almost been vacated with lesser known series being aired then. A revamp of the Indianised Jay Leno Movers and Shakers is also on the anvil. The time slot has been pushed back to 10:40 pm. "There will be bigger stars on the show, the sets will be bigger," says Dasgupta. "This is going to be a show to watch."

The channel is also upping its promotional budget to about Rs 250 million this year. "Our marketing spends are going to go up," says Dasgupta. "We‘ve got our programming line up in place. From matinee soaps through the day, we move on to the kids band in the evening then onto light entertainment late evening and finally heavy entertainment late at night. Our viewers are loving the channel. Yes we were No 1 in ratings, and now Star has moved us back to the No 2 spot, but we will fight back."

Dasgupta reveals that the network is also on the verge of signing on a programming head to replace Ravina Raj Kohli who left to head Kerry Packer‘s Channel Nine India operations. The buzz is that it could be a former agency creative director who had made a mark with her focus on linguistic copywriting. The channel has also lost close to 40 employees in recent times. "But we have also hired strongly on the creative front. And we have built up a strong management team on top," says Dasgupta.

The Internet strategy for the Indian operations has been scaled back. Earlier, Dasgupta had talked of acquiring portals and building up a strong Sony India Web frontier with lots of investments being poured in. Now the decision has been taken to put minority investments in the business and only as part of the overall Sony Worldwide portal.

"I‘m very bullish," says Dasgupta. "We are going to do well. I‘m looking at a revenue of Rs 10 billion by 2002, going up to Rs 30 billion by 2005. Sony Entertainment will be an Indian entertainment powerhouse then."

Sony reveals its 2000 Entertainment bonanza 

Sony has revealed a plethora of entertainment programmes called Entertainment 2000

CHOODIYAN: This is a heart rendering story of a girl overcome by the grief of a diasaster which struck her mother.Since then she has the mind of a child and is completely taken care of by her brother.

HAAL KAISA HAI JANAB KA: In a twist to the normal hospital environment, this serial is based on the day to day of a hospital where everyone is having a good time and where everyone is quite different from what you would normally expect from a hospital staff.

MILAN: The serial is about a girl, Chanchal who is caught between family ties and her love.With shades of the clash between tradition and following one‘s feelings, the serial promises good family entertainment.

DIL HAI KI MANTA NAHIN: Dil hai ki manta nahin is a serial targetted at the young college crowd with the two main characters of the serial being a chirpy 19 year old extrovert girl, Priya and her classmate an introverted shy boy, Amit.

SHREE GANESH: This is a mythological serial about the story of Ganesha, the most popular, auspicious and loved god of India.With Ganesh Chaturti fast approaching, this serial promises to attract a lot of interest.    

GOOD MORNING DISNEY & DISNEY HOUR: These two new shows being telecast with collaboration from Disney will surely woo over cartoon crazy kids. Previously telecast by Zee TV, Sony seems to have taken care of its young audiences.

YEH DUNIYA HAI RANGEEN: Reminding us of a bygone era of chawls and ‘Nukkad‘, this serial is about overzealous neigbours who all come from various corners of India but share the same desire-Gossip. A hilarious and entertaining serial which will surely remind you of some of your own neighbours.

SHAHEEN: After Heena‘s tremendous popularity especially with the middle east crowds, Sony seems to have once again captured the attention of this section of the society by launching one more serial about a women of Muslim background who finds herself in a strange game of fate.

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