Television

We are just focused on creating an identity for ourselves in the space: Prasana Krishnan

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He is the man with a plan for Multi Screen Media’s (MSM) sports channel Sony Six, and he is ensuring the channel continues to remain at the top of the game in all aspects. 

Ever since he moved to the MSM stable from Neo Sports in early September 2013, Sony Six business head, Prasana Krishnan, has not only endeavored to bring in a wide array of sports which have their own loyal fan base, he has left no stone unturned in acquiring some of the biggest international sports properties such as the European Qualifiers for 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, The FIFA World Cups of 2014 and 2018, the Australian Open and Total Non-Stop Action (TNA) to name a few.  

Krishnan further opens up on Sony Six’s journey thus far and its strategy to navigate the road ahead in a tete-a-tete with indiantelevision.com’s Sidharth Iyer. Excerpt: 

Q. It’s been six months since you took charge of Sony Six. How has the journey been thus far?  

It’s been a very exciting first six months. The channel is still in its nascent stage and we are trying to create an identity for ourselves to stand out from the competition. The idea is to identify niche areas we want to operate in and figure out how we are going to attain long term growth in this business. 

Q. This is your second stint with a sports broadcaster after being with Neo Sports for over seven years. Is there any change in your role and responsibilities? 

Well, it’s a given that different organisations face different types of challenges, depending on the situation. Like in 2006 when I was with Neo, the market was not this competitive and it was a very different landscape. The market has evolved with time and the competition is now extremely aggressive. With Sony being one of the largest broadcasters in the country, it’s a whole new ball game for me personally. 

Q. Has sports broadcasting changed over the years? 

There have been significant changes in the space over the last few years. Back in the day when I entered this industry, there was no Indian Premiere League (IPL) and no leagues existed; test and ODI cricket were still dominant forms in the sport. A format such as Twenty-20 was unheard of globally. Cable digitisation was many years away and direct-to-home (DTH) was still in an experimental stage.  

So if we really turn back the clock, the last eight years have witnessed a dramatic transformation in the media landscape in terms of distribution, DTH, cable digitisation and regulatory changes. The entire sports landscape too has changed with T-20 becoming a predominant format and leagues emerging not only in cricket but in other forms of sport as well. 

Q. What is Sony Six’s strategy to grow as a sports broadcaster, given the fact that it is a highly competitive business? Is Sony considering launching more sports channels to offer a wider choice to viewers?

We are still in the first year of operations; we’re just 18 months old and trying to get a foothold in the market. So, as far as the idea of new channels is concerned, it’s a bit too early to comment on the same. But Sony Six the brand is clearly focused on a select number of sports, which we believe have latent potential but are underserviced. 

If you look at basketball, it is one of those sports with the largest infrastructure facilities; schools encourage it, participation on ground level is very high and yet its potential hasn’t been tapped.

So, along with NBA in India, we are much focused to try and grow that sport in the country and we already have encouraging numbers to support our drive. We’ve found the number of people who sampled basketball this season have grown seven to eight fold that of the previous season.  

Fight sports is one more focus area which other broadcasters have shied away from. India is traditionally known for its fight sports such as boxing and wrestling and the country has continually shone in the same at the Asian Games as well as the Olympics. So, what we have done is focused on fight sports as a category and included a daily programming block called ‘Action Ka Blockbuster’. TNA has grown by over 170 per cent in the past month and half. TNA ratings have peaked at 384 TVTs which is its highest ever rating in the past one year; Kurt Angle’s episodes have always rated the best amongst all so far. We have a mixed bag of fight sports including wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts so the idea is if these sports interest you as a viewer, then Sony Six is the destination for you. 

Additionally, we have some of the largest properties including the IPL, FIFA World Cups of 2014 and 2018, and the Australian Open beginning next year. So what we have done is assembled very high profile marquee properties and other sports where we see a lot of development potential. Our positioning is such that apart from IPL, we are the home of football in India, so anytime you see famous footballers, they are all on Sony Six. Plus we focus on national sides and not club football so every time there is a major event in this sport, you can view it exclusively on Sony Six. 

Q. How would you describe competition from rival sports broadcasters? 

It is an intensively competitive market but everyone has their own brand and identity, and the Indian market is big enough to accommodate multiple players, so it’s not necessary to take the competition head on in case of each and every property. Speaking of identity, Ten Sports has its own identity where it is focused more on international cricket while Star Sports is dominant in a variety of sports. We are just focused on creating an identity for ourselves in the space. 

Q. Ten Sports acquires the rights for matches hosted by boards of other countries. Do you intend getting into that space? If so, what will be your strategy for entry?

We will look at it on a case-by-case basis instead of running in all directions to pin down whatever cricket telecast rights we can acquire. We have our core focus areas in place and we are positioning ourselves as the home of international football, along with basketball and fight sports. We have a good mix of quality content on offer. So, we just don’t want to go hammer and tongs in acquiring cricket properties just for the heck of it. However, when an opportunity presents itself, we will certainly take it up.

Q. What kind of numbers are you generating in terms of viewership and who are your viewers really? 

Sports viewership sees a lot of fluctuating numbers primarily based on the event that is being telecast at that point in time. But what we have noticed is that our profile is younger than the competition and that’s our view, and we do believe that numbers are supporting that because of the nature of sports we have identified and picked. 

The India vs New Zealand series has averaged 2.6 million TVTs with a peak TVT of 3.0 million TVTs for the third ODI.  49 million viewers have seen the ODI series on Six, this figure is far better than any other series in the recent past. With cricket, Six’s average TVTs have grown exponentially to a career high 459 average TVTs in Week 4 2013. It’s the first time Six became the no.1 sports channel in a non-IPL week. The channel’s share grew to 60 per cent from average seven per cent in the past four weeks.

Our reach and distribution has never been a cause for concern as we are part of a large network like Sony and are also ably distributed by The OneAlliance Group. The channel is pretty much available across the country to whoever needs it. But absolute numbers will always vary, because if you look at IPL, the numbers could well be in excess of 200 million viewers. So there really can’t be a fix on the viewers. 

Q. How big is the advertising market for sports broadcasting? What is your share within the same? Which categories of advertisers spend the most on advertising on your channel? Are there any new emerging spenders?

The share of the advertising pie varies a lot depending upon the number of big events in a particular year, so if you get a year where you have the FIFA World Cup or Cricket World Cup, the amount of money pumped in at that point in time is significant. 

We are definitely a major player in the sports market on account of IPL, but in absolute and not IPL-related areas, we are still in an early stage and yet to get to our first big event which will be the FIFA World Cup 2014. 

So while we have made a string of acquisitions in the past few months, we are yet to prove our mettle with the first big event to be hosted and telecast exclusively on Sony Six. Advertising on sports channels is generally very male-skewed; apart from FMCGs, banking and financial services, telecom has always been prevalent, so also automobile and insurance.

Though there are subtle differences between advertiser profiles on GECs and sports channels, the big brands are always present across categories and it’s just a question of where they apportion a higher portion of their expenses. 

Q. Sony spends thousands of crores on the broadcast of IPL on Max as well as Six, so what do you think of Star Sports jumping into the fray and bagging the online streaming rights for IPL by spending just a few hundred crores?

See the rights for IPL that Starsports.com has acquired are not for live streaming; they were with Indiatimes for the past three years, and YouTube was doing the telecast along with Indiatimes so the product itself is not new. Instead of YouTube, Starsports.com has now partnered Indiatimes. There is no fundamental shift at ground level, but because it is Starsports.com that has come into the fray, it is being looked at as a big development.

YouTube as a platform would have been even more formidable with its reach and availability, and an even bigger threat. Our focus is the television broadcast of IPL, and I believe we have been doing a good job of that year after year. From the viewers’ perspective, they will still be coming onto Set Max and Sony Six to catch all the live action and we really don’t see a problem in that sense.

What is the way forward for Sony Six? 

The future is certainly quite bright. As I mentioned, we have our focus areas in place and we are going in a particular direction with a set plan. We are trying to carve out a niche identity, and we have a fairly robust and youthful audience in terms of viewership because of the kind of content we have on offer. The focus will now be on the execution and monetisation of plans already in place.

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