How Sony Entertainment is driving its online ambitions

Nitesh Kripalani is a man on a mission. His weapons: a MacBook Pro, a high tech smartphone and a 3G internet connection. His battleground: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the oceanic mobile app market. Kripalani spearheads the very dynamic ‘digital team‘ of 10-15 young and passionate social networking experts at Sony Entertainment Television (SET). It is his responsibility to create a virtual and online connect for hundreds of millions of Sony Entertainment Network Television viewers - in India and worldwide. Kripalani is one of the masterminds of the digital revolution that has gripped India‘s Hindi general entertainment TV channels (GECs).

The future of television could very well be digital. What could not have even been imagined a decade ago is now an indispensable part of our television viewing experience. Social interactivity with viewers at home is now just a ‘comment‘ away. ‘Tweet‘ and express your views on the latest twist and plot of your favorite daily serial. Guess what? The future is here and how!

Catching up with the pulse of the audiences, Multi Screen Media‘s (MSM‘s) Hindi GECs Sony and SAB have carved out an online indent for themselves. The need for making their presence felt on the dynamic platform of new media urged Sony to gradually devise a social media integrated communication plan around three years ago.

Let‘s consider the statistics to gauge the digital reach of the two GECs of SET.

Sony and SAB both have an official Facebook profile and Twitter handle with a commendable fan base. While Sony‘s Facebook page boasts of around 0.17 million likes with 7,500 plus facebookers talking about it, SAB has 50,249 likes and 2,649 active followers. The quintessential TV viewing audience is increasingly engaging on Facebook. Then its official Facebook pages for its TV shows tot up large numbers. Itsiconic Ram Kapoor and Sakshi Tanwar starring Bade Acche Lagte Hai Facebook page has 0.7 million likes with 21,000 active followers. The official page of its Kaun Banega Crorepati has 0.35 million likes with 6,700 active followers and the show‘s registrations have yet to start. Crime Patrol has knocked up 0.1 million likes with 3,800 active followers. The long running CID, which garners huge ratings for the channel, however has a comparatively low 33,000 likes with 1,110 active followers.

The thirst to know more about their favourite shows is quenched on these Facebook pages. Sony constantly updates these with pictures and teasers of upcoming episodes. The buzz is also kept alive by the Sony‘s TV show addicts who go to make up its fandom. When looking at a channel‘s Facebook presence, fan driven pages cannot be left in isolation. A lot of action takes place through these fan pages. Look for Bade Acche Lagte Hai, Sony‘s popular fiction show, in the Facebook search bar and chances are that you will be looking at 10 active Facebook pages with as the most popular sporting close to 0.25 million, with 40,000 fans being active.

Twitter, being an indispensable aspect of social media, cannot be left out. And it is here where the Sony Network has to buck up and it lags behind its rivals Star and Colors. Hindi GEC Sony has an active twitter handle with around 7,500 followers, while SAB follows with approximate 4,500 followers. @SonyTv is buzzing with tweets and re-tweets every couple of hours.

What more? The numerous fan-driven handles of their popular shows are busy re-tweeting and sharing every Sony update, making for a huge cacophony of views across the digital world.

Ironically, the Facebook and Twitter fan base is just the tip of the iceberg. What takes the cake is Sony‘s official YouTube channel which has one of the most massive subscriber‘s bases in India of nearly 1.6 million and a humongous video views count of over 660 million. SAB has its own share of digital audience with around 28 thousand subscribers and 190 million video views. Ever since Set India joined YouTube on 20 September 2006, it has uploaded 1,69,994 videos so far and counting. No wonder, Sony leads most other GECs in the rat race of YouTube subscribers.

In order to aggregate all its social media activities under one umbrella, SET India launched a vibrant and ‘lively‘ Sony Liv this January. Sony Liv is a branded website cum app which is slowly but surely gaining momentum which has generated nearly two million downloads on android and iOS platforms. The official SonyLiv Facebook page has over 0.12 million likes. In five months, the branded site has attracted around 12 thousand followers with 15 million videos watched so far. The fans are more than happy to catch up with not only the latest episodes of their favourite on-going shows, but also remain loyally connected with their beloved shows which have gone off air.

All in all, SET has done it all from having an official Facebook page to its twitter handle; from one of the largest YouTube channels to a newly launched Sony Liv. The numbers are heartening! On an average, each YouTube upload by Sony garners as many as 25 thousand video views! The episodes are uploaded within two hours of telecast and by the next day, the newly discovered online audience has watched it repeatedly.

Bade Acche Lagte Hai leads the race on Sony‘s YouTube channel. The adorable middle-aged married couple - Ram and Priya have a dedicated fan-following of around 35 thousand viewers who watch every episode within a couple of days. Next in the YouTube popularity index stands the veteran fiction-crime show CID, which continues to garner a massive count of more than 30 thousand video views for each episode.

We have finally entered the era where the quintessential TV viewing audience is engaging on the digital platforms. Who knows, in the not so distant future, our stereotyped Saas-bahu sagas will drive a lot more traction online than what the TRP‘s tell us now!

Sony began targeting the online space around three years ago. The first phase focused on handphones with the Indian Idol audition mobile registrations and special Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) apps. The second phase promoted the Sony YouTube channel and the third phase which continues today, involves the development and promotion of its own branded website-cum-app Sony Liv.

Sony Entertainment Network SVP – new media, businessdevelopment and digital/syndication Nitesh Kripalani says: "We have covered all social media platforms from mobile to our own branded site that is the newly launched Sony Liv. It is an integrated marketing communications approach. We look at the online space as the means to reach maximum audience. The main aim is - first, to interact with and engage with our audiences and get their valuable feedback; second, to spread the word and promote our shows through this mass medium; and finally third, it is to monetise the online traffic."

Kripalani estimates that the Indian digital market is Rs 1,000 crore - Rs 1,500 crore out of which approximately Rs 200 crore constitutes the mobile market; the rest is left to digital. Understandably, this digital revolution has opened up a whole new universe for revenue generation.

Sony derives its online revenue through its existing advertising associations. Last year, Sony‘s official YouTube channel earned significant online revenue from brands like Axis bank, MTS and Maruti that sponsored popular shows like KBC and Indian Idol.

As far as social media such as Facebook and Twitter go, Kripalani says, "Currently, our goal is not one of maximum monetisation. In fact, we believe the platform must be primarily used for reaching out to our viewers. Perhaps a year from now, we may look at subscription based content following a premium model where 80 per cent of the content is free while the rest is paid for."

Sony Liv has been attractively packaged with several elements including videos, photos, behind the scenes videos and archived content. Some of the older shows like Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi, Aahat, Heena and older episodes of Crime Patrol, Comedy Circus and CID receive considerable traction as well. This content that was otherwise rendered useless after the shows went off air is now being made to eke out revenues through digital media.

Comparatively, among on-air shows, fiction has an upper-hand over non -fiction shows. Kripalani reasons, "Fiction series dominate the most watched content online because of loyal viewers who watch episodes repeatedly. However special episodes of non-fiction shows like Indian Idol, Comedy Circus or a KBC attract thousands of views. Fiction series have a consistent following which is understandably missing in case of non-fiction."

Sony‘s revenue from its online initiatives runs into millions of dollars. Yet the network has not moved into producing web exclusive content like some of the other Hindi GECs. However, Kripalani does not dismiss a possibility of producing such content in the future. "As the market expands and becomes more receptive, we will look at generating content exclusively for the web. Let‘s say in the next year and a half, Sony Liv will be the one stop destination for exclusive web content. After all, the digital platform is very profitable and is growing rapidly," he concludes.

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