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'80 to 180 in 2009. And miles to go...' -Sony Entertainment Television business head Ajit Thakur

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MUMBAI: I still distinctly remember the year 2007 when over a coffee table conversation in London, my friend started talking about Indian Idol 3 and CID and that if we are not watching it, we are missing out on good television. I immediately made it a point to watch Idol and was hooked from the word go.

I remember writing to the producer of the series then on what a great show it was, thanking everyone involved in making the show (I didn’t know anyone at Sony then, for that matter hardly knew anyone in the industry). And an immediate strong bond with Sony Entertainment Television was formed – there is something about the brand that over the years has maintained strong affinity with viewers despite the usual ups and downs… a sentiment many peers echo in the industry.

And when I was asked to write the yearender on Sony Entertainment Television, I felt both excited and nervous. Nervous because I have been around for just six months at Sony (and broadcasting) and the other contributors are industry stalwarts. Excited because it’s been such an eventful year for us and there is so much to share. So here it goes…

We started the year at about 80 GRPs and had slipped to No. 5 amongst the GECs (general entertainment channels). We ended the year at about 180 GRPs and much closer to the top GECs than we had been in the last 12 months. We beat everyone’s expectations including some of our own. And this, when we have unleashed only a part of our strategic plans. So that holds a lot more promises for the year ahead (will come to that in a bit). Through the year we launched a number of shows and every time the audience gave us a fair chance. With some we succeeded, with others we faltered but the overriding Sony Entertainment Television brand equity ensured that we kept gaining from strength to strength.

Through the year we continued to raise the bar on content innovation bringing in fresh, sometimes bold and brave ideas into the rather undifferentiated menu that’s dished out daily. Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao and Dance Premier League were clutter breaking reality shows mounted on a scale never seen before and both created tremendous buzz.

Entertainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi karega started a new genre of talent shows and popular demand drove us to a second edition within months of the first edition. Ladies Special was one of the most appreciated daily soaps getting rave reviews from almost everyone we know. Baytaab Dil Ki Tamanna hai and Jeet Jayenge Hum dealt with bold social themes.

And we started 2010 with the most differentiated slate of shows from YRF. Whether it’s the coming of age Sci fi thriller Seven or the modern look at matrimonial agencies in Rishta.com or the ultimate cops vs. crime thriller, Powder, or the refreshingly “that could be my story” world of Mahi or the super stars show with a purpose , Lift kara De - each one has set new benchmarks in Hindi entertainment content. Not all of these shows lived upto our ratings expectations but every single one stood out amongst the mass menu pushing the envelope every time.

This was also the year when we revisited our history and brought back shows that have enjoyed tremendous popularity over the years. Aahat season 4 was a runaway success creating a new original programming slot at 11 pm. Comedy Circus 3 ka Tadka definitely had viewers asking for more. Dus Ka Dum continued to be popular in its second season. And yes, the much talked about CID was a key pillar of our plan.

We put together a plan to further strengthen the footprints of the brand which included bringing back the best cases from CID archives as CID Classic Cases as well as announced the CID Gallantry Awards amongst other ideas that we continue to work on. We got an overwhelming response from audience and CID is today amongst the most popular shows on Hindi GEC. After all, how many shows have enjoyed an uninterrupted run for 12 years!

Last but not the least has been our focus on people and sharper audience understanding. In this continuously evolving market and changing audience preferences, we have spent a lot more time understanding whats happening out there. And we are building a team of only the best professionals. In total, 2009 was a year of accelerated growth based on a robust mix of innovative content, focus back on existing properties, fixing basics and building foundations for the future.

The next three years starting 2010 will be about sustainable and profitable growth. We will look to consolidate our position on the back of a formidable content pipeline that we are already building and with a sharper understanding of the ever evolving audience.

There are plenty of opportunities for Sony as we embark upon this journey. The big one is the tremendous opportunity we have on weekdays and with the daily soap launches lined up in the next six months, we are more confident than ever before.

Equally important is the fast growing DTH homes. Early data already indicates that Sony enjoys a proportionately larger following within DTH homes which will be a competitive advantage for us. We also have a growth opportunity by extending our hours of original programming vis a vis the competitive set.

In an extremely competitive scenario, the challenges are no fewer. There are the usual threats from existing competition who are all very formidable as well as newer threats from the emerging entertainment channels like Sab and Bindass. And the biggest challenge will continue to be to never underestimate what the audience demands and deserves.

So is there a GRP or position we have in mind? We do. However, at this stage its suffice to say that we have a plan and a team that is committed to deliver this growth taking Sony Entertainment Television to a leadership position again.

 

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