Television

"My immediate focus is on turning around Sony Ent, our flagship channel"

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He has been fairly low profile, mild-mannered and soft spoken. But underneath the soft exterior NP Singh is tough as nails and a fiesty fighter just like many from the Sikh community - to which he belongs - are known to be. Recently, Singh was hoicked to the CEO's position at Multi Screen Media India - Sony Entertainment Television Network India - after running it as COO for nearly a decade. He replaced Man Jit Singh - who has moved on to a global position looking after its home entertainment business.

NP is a long time Sony loyalist as he joined it way back in 1999 as CFO.  He has been given charge at a challenging time when the network's flagship channel Sony Entertainment is at  a lowly sixth position amongst Hindi GECs, just a tad above Sahara. That's a far cry from the third or fourth spot it occupied until 2012.

Currently in his mid-50s, has seen the highs and lows of not only the Sony Entertainment Network, but the industry as well. His appointment has put his rivals on alert because it is he who pushed the transformation of Sab into a topnotch Hindi comedy offering, Pix into a channel showcasing Hollywood blockbusters, and successfully launched Mix in a crowded music channel market place. 

In a conversation with Indiantelevision.com’s Seema Singh, NP speaks of his immediate plans and the road ahead.

Excerpts:

15 years in Sony and now becoming the CEO. What is the feeling?

I have enjoyed every day that I have been here. I joined the company in June 1999 as the CFO and then got elevated to the position of chief operating officer and now the chief executive officer. I have seen the entire journey. The company is 18 years old and I have been here for the past 15 years. I have been a part of a lot of success and have also faced multiple challenges. Overall, it has been a fantastic journey. I am happy that I have been given the role to head the company.

What are the challenges that lie ahead for the Network?

The number one priority for me is to turn on the power of the flagship channel, Sony. In the short time, this will be my focus. We have seen success on the flagship channel not too long ago. In 2012, the channel was doing extremely well. Since 2012 end, the channel started seeing a drop in viewership; my objective is to arrest that drop and put the channel on the path of growth.

Every CEO has a dream team. What is yours? Do we see any management changes in the future? Who do we see as the next COO for the Network?

We have a strong management team with very good talent across the company. And we have been proud of the team and I will continue to work with them to achieve the dream that we have collectively for the company.

Changes are a part of life and as we go forward, there may or may not be any changes, but it is too premature to comment on.  

For now there will be no COO for the company. We have a strong management team and I will work directly with them to achieve the objectives set.

Will life change for you after becoming a CEO?

I have been here and have been partnering with Man Jit Singh who was here as CEO earlier. I have been part of all the successes and challenges and am acutely aware of what needs to be done. So it doesn’t have any major impact on my life going forward. Except that I will not have a COO right now and so I will interact with the management team directly. This means I will be spending more time in the office, of which I do not complain.

What are the opportunities you have as a CEO?

There are multiple opportunities. In the near term, my first priority is the turnaround of Sony and within that lies an opportunity for growth in revenue of the company. I see growth opportunities on the distribution side as well. That is something we have to stay focused on and we have to help grow the ARPUs at the subscriber level so that the benefit can flow right through the value chain upward to content owners like us.

I see huge opportunity in the exploitation of digital platforms through mobile phones and tablets. If we can get our content to the audience through this medium, we will see a huge rise in revenue.

I also see an opportunity in the regional market that we will evaluate over a period of time and then make our choices.

Sony launched ‘Sony Mahotsav’ in UP, Punjab and Haryana starting from November 2013. What was the reason for it and how has the response been?

We launched it with the objective to engage with our viewers in these markets. We want to take the brand to these markets and also our artistes from major shows to those cities to make the brand more accessible to them.

The response has been positive and we will continue to build on this initiative going forward as well because we want to engage audiences of smaller towns with the channel. This is one initiative. We are also trying to build that engagement through our content and communication.

Phase I and II of digitisation is complete. Do you see that helping the Network in getting better reach and viewership numbers?

Digitisation will not grow our overall viewership base. It will lead to more transparency from the broadcasters’ perspective. Because digitisation will bring about addressability, there will be more information/ transparency about the viewer or subscriber we have for the network. Having said that phase I and II have been completed, set top boxes (STBs) have been installed in the households, but the real addressability has still not happened.

There is still time for that. The MSOs do not have the database for those STBs. We are supporting them through campaigns running on our network. Hopefully in the next few months, they can get the data from the local cable operator and create a database and then start invoicing the subscribers directly. That will happen in the next few months and then over next two years complete addressability will come in and there will be benefits right from the viewer up to the broadcaster and content creator.

Sony has always believed in experimenting with the content. But the past few years have not done too well for the channel. Is it that the channel is too ahead of time? Why aren’t you able to connect with the audience?

It is a combination of multiple factors. Till 2012, we were clearly the number two ranking channel.  We were also at number one during the nine week period when the ratings did not get reported. But since then we have seen a decline in viewership and there are multiple factors behind it. One of the key factors was the universe update by TAM and the inclusion of LC1 markets in reporting viewership. The LC1 market has a 25 per cent share in the total viewership pie and that impacted our ratings. Secondly, some of our fiction shows also didn’t perform the way we expected them to.

But we are the pioneers in the many new concepts and ideas. Some of them have been way ahead of time, for example the YRF shows that we brought to our viewers. Those were top quality shows that were accepted and appreciated by one set of audience, while not taken well by the other set of audience. But that doesn’t mean we will stop coming up with path breaking ideas. We have not been successful in the recent past, but that will not stop us from continuing to follow that path.

The fiction shows have not done well for the channel. Also the non-fiction slate is developing fatigue. How do you plan to strengthen the programming slate?

We have to continue to innovate. We did that successfully with the last season of Indian Idol in which we introduced kids. Also in Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) we brought several innovations. Though it was well received in the beginning, eventually it settled down at a lower number. But that doesn’t mean there is fatigue with the format of the show. We will do something more when we bring KBC the next time.

We are looking at refreshing our weekend primetimes and that is why we got Boogie Woogie back on TV, which is doing well for the channel. We will be bringing back Entertainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega as well. The first and foremost task is to look at our fiction strategy and revamp that. Our plan is to bring in new shows to weekday primetime and strengthen it. We realise that it is there where we can build loyalties with the viewer. So that is the focus, followed by refreshing the weekend.

Though Sony India is doing well and contributes some 40-50 per cent  to the overall revenue of the Sony Pictures' media networks business, there is pressure on Sony from investors such as Dan Loeb to make Sony’s entertainment business deliver. Is that putting any pressure on you? How do you plan to cope with that?

MSM is a very strong performer for the entire Sony Corporation. We have performed really well and India has a lot of growth opportunity and we are getting a lot of investment from the parent into the company. Whatever new initiative we come up with, till the time it makes strategic and economic sense we will get investment support from the parent.

You will be reporting into Andy Kaplan, what is it like to work with him? Are there more challenges now?

I have worked with Andy for the past several years and I don’t see any change in the dynamics of our relationship. I look forward to working with him even more closely now.

What do you think is missing in the Sony slate?

There will always be some unfinished agenda at any point in time. But right now we have everything to make the network more successful. There are some new initiatives that we are working on for the future growth of the network, which we will announce in due course of time, but first and foremost objective is the turnaround of our flagship channel.

The network bouquet looks weak without any strong regional offerings. Are you looking at strengthening it by moving south?

We have one channel in West Bengal. So we have one channel as far as the regional space is concerned, but it is a small channel, which has carved a niche for itself. We are looking at some other markets and currently we are evaluating all the options and will make our choice in due course of time.

Unbundling of bouquets is something which Dish TV has recently encouraged by offering IndiaCast channels on an a la carte basis. Then the TRAI may soon come up with its recommendation paper on aggregators. Do you see that affecting the distribution of channels?

We always follow very collaborative process in any negotiation that we do with our partners and like everyone else Dish TV is also a strong partner. We have had strong relations with them in the past and even now.

There has been a lot of conjecture about the TRAI consultation paper on aggregators, but no one knows what will happen. Will cross that bridge when the recommendation comes out.

 Are you looking at launching any new channel?

We never do something because other networks are doing it. We always do things that are good for our Network. We will do what makes strategic and economic sense for us. And from that perspective, if we have to launch a new channel we will.

You can watch more of what the Sony Entertainmetnt CEO has to say by clicking here: Executive Dossier with MSM India CEO NP Singh

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