Sony turns 20 in India: Retrospect & Prospect

MUMBAI: Glory, agony, poison, panacea… As Multi Screen Media (MSM) (erstwhile Sony Entertainment Television India) completes two decades in the Indian broadcast space, it has witnessed it all. The broadcasting company, which started with one channel, is now sixteen channels strong with even more additions in the pipeline.


In a rapidly changing scenario, where the entire ecosystem is moving towards the digital platform, there are challenges and opportunities alike. And MSM CEO NP Singh is ready to take them all head on.


A Sony veteran, Singh has been privy to the business affairs of the company for as many as sixteen years since first joining the organisation in 1999 as chief financial officer (CFO).


Even as word trickled in about MSM’s collaboration with US-based mega sportscaster ESPN Inc, came the news that the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) title sponsor PepsiCo was withdrawing as it brought ‘disrepute’ to the game. In the midst of some good news and bad, Singh’s core focus at this stage is on the network’s holistic growth.


“My focus is on aggressive growth of the network and consolidation of our existing channels. Along with this, foraying in new areas of businesses, expanding our portfolio and exploring opportunities on the rapidly growing digital platform is what we are looking at. At the same time, course correction of our flagship channel Sony Entertainment Television (SET) is a priority,” Singh says.


To that effect, MSM has made a series of changes in its management team and these are likely to reflect in the programming and content soon enough.




In its two decades of operations in India, Sony has been a pioneer of new ideas that set benchmarks in the Indian broadcast space.


“MSM as a network has pioneered a lot of new ideas, for the industry to follow. The first ever big scale live event was done by us; namely, LataMangeshkar’s live concert. Infact, we’ve had the privilege of hosting both Lataji and Ashaji in live shows.” Singh reminisces.


“In earlier days, MSM also created ripples by airing blockbuster Hindi movies on TV. It started with the airing of the evergreen movie Sholay and was followed by Border. The ratings those days were somewhere close to 30,” he informs.


While today MSM’s flagship channel SET might have lost its yesteryears’ glory, the fact remains that it aired the first ever daily soap in Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka, “The show reached a thousand episodes those days during 1998 - 2000 and used to do well against Kaun Banega Crorepati (on Star Plus),” says Singh. hose days were somewhere close to 30,” he informs. says Singh.


From CID, which recently completed a run of 19 years on Sony, to the maiden season of the interactive reality show Indian Idol, the finale of which witnessed a total of five crore votes, there have been landmarks galore for MSM. From India’s first homegrown reality show - Boogie Woogie to the now very popular reality show format - Bigg Boss, which was initially brought to India by Sony, the network has been trailblazer of sorts.  


In March 2005, Sri Adhikari Brothers’ Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) SAB TV was acquired by MSM and one of the country’s most popular scripted comedy show Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah has been running on the channel for almost eight years now.


In a bid to bring the glitz and glamor of the film industry on television, Sony was also a first mover in televising the Filmfare Awards.


“We were the first ever network to bring sports on a Hindi movie channel - Max in 1999. It continues to be the leader even as today there are many others who do the same. The first ever wrap around show (Extraa Innings) for cricket was done by us during the Colombo Champions Trophy. Extraa Innings is now over 12 years old, and is the highest rated wrap around show for any sport on any channel,” informs Singh.


The rationale behind telecasting cricket on a movie channel was to rope in the women audiences for the game. “In 2003, on the back of Extraa Innings, the female viewership grew by 31 per cent,” he adds.


The retrospective is indeed dotted with many a milestones.




“Sony Pal to have original content, ‘KBC’ back in 2016”


The Hindi GEC space has always been one of MSM’s biggest focus area. However, in recent times, the network’s performance in the category has been disappointing to say the least. Now with a new team in place, it might just be a matter of time before MSM’s flagship channel SET takes off again.


“Our flagship channel continues to be my number one priority in addition to growing the network. With that in mind, we have put a new management team in place. Danish Khan has joined as SET business head and has a new team under him catering to content, communication, promotions, research strategy and marketing. I am very confident that in the upcoming months, the new programmes to be launched on SET will increase the viewership on the channel, significantly although with a strong male audience base, Sony is already uniquely positioned at this stage.” says Singh


The centre of the network’s strategy right now is to create new content to lure viewers back to the channel. “We are focusing on gaining both qualitative and quantitative consumer insights so that we can feed those back into the system and create content that not only resonates with the consumer but also reflects his/her cultural ethos”, he says.


Additionally, Sony will also bring back the next season of KBC, with its superlative host Amitabh Bachchan next year.


MSM’s third Hindi GEC, Sony Pal, which was launched as a female-centric channel did not take off as was expected. However, where original shows failed, old shows did the turnaround for the channel. The channel, which currently has archival content from Sony’s library as well as airs South Indian movies, may get back original shows in the future.


“In a few months’ time if we see viewership increasing further, which we are seeing right now, then we will start bringing original content again on Pal. I have a blue print of what I want to do over the next six months,” he says.




MSM has also been aggressively moving on the digital front with its over-the-top (OTT) platform Sony Liv.


“We are exploring opportunities on the digital platform as it is growing rapidly and we want to be a major part of the action. We’ve taken baby steps towards it by launching Sony Liv. In the last one year, we have upped the ante. Recently we launched our first original series Love Bytes, which already got 1.5 million video views. This resulted in a 300 per cent growth in our video consumption on the digital platform,” says Singh emphasising on digital.


Sony Liv’s growth strategy will be two-pronged. While the platform will develop new original shows for the digital platform, it will also aggregate a lot of third party content. “One of the key aspect of the collaboration with ESPN is to co-create a multi sport app where we will use the expertise of ESPN-Cricinfo,” informs Singh.

Even as the digital medium is witnessing immense growth in India, players are yet to figure out a concrete revenue model. While a few of them are providing content for free, others have opted for a pay model. “There’s a classical debate going on across the globe about which models is better. As I see it, currently, we have all our content on AVOD (advertising supported video on demand). But we will start putting up some of our marquee content in SVOD (subscription supported video on demand). Again, we were the first ones to put content on the SVOD platform. FIFA 2014 was one of our subscription based products available on Liv Sports,” Singh says.


“We believe that any marquee content should be primarily subscription led, and then eventually free. However, at this stage, a lot of models are being experimented with.


 With MSM poised for the next phase of growth and expansion with multiple strategies across its businesses, the network’s road ahead will be watched with keen interest.




MSM has an extensive sports bouquet at this stage and the primary of them is IPL, which now is making headlines as PepsiCo expressed its desire to opt out of the sponsorship deal.


“Any sponsor opting out from IPL won’t affect MSM,” Singh tells “We have seen a change of sponsors before too but the tournament continued and kept growing,” he adds.


“MSM has made aggressive acquisitions of football properties this year and plans to create a lot of wrap around and editorial programming for it. And now, our collaboration with ESPN has given us an opportunity of presenting international level editorial content. 


With MSM poised for the next phase of growth and expansion with multiple strategies across its businesses, the network’s road ahead will be watched with keen interest.

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