"Bollywood is not making films suited for home viewing on TV today": Sony Max senior VP and business head Neeraj Vyas

He is a man who is passionate about movies, music and cricket and is lucky enough to be handling all three. Sony Max senior VP and business head Neeraj Vyas is living his passion for all three by handling Set Max and Sony Mix. The man always has work on his mind and cannot disconnect from the office even when on a holiday. And he has been at it for almost 17 years at Sony Entertainment Television (now called Multi Screen Media), first with the main channel, followed by stints at Max before finally heading it. Today, Vyas is looking at maxing Max's position in the Sony entertainment channel bouquet. In a t?te-?-t?te with's Seema Singh, Vyas shares his thoughts on changing movie trends, the supply and demand chain and the opportunities provided by digital space and digitisation.


How do you decide on which movies to acquire? What is the life cycle of these movies? Does Sony buy movies for the entire network? Or does Set Max buy them separately?

The movie game essentially is a demand supply situation. You can’t buy everything that is available, even if you want to, you have limited money and that money is not growing. On the other hand, acquisitions are also becoming more and more expensive. So you have got to be as prudent as possible when you buy.

I don’t think anybody can, beyond a point, guarantee if a particular film will work or not on television. There are situations where a film has been a monster hit in the theatre circuit, but has not worked on TV. The reverse of this is also true. So, these are judgement calls that the broadcaster has to take from time to time, even in scenarios of what is available and what is not.

By seeing the trend (actors, crew, director, past record, genre, production house and marketing), one gets a feel of how the film will perform and based on this one decides to either buy or not buy. I don’t think anybody can predict the success or the failure when he is buying the film. The meter keeps moving as per the demand and supply situation and the price obviously needs to be right to make that final choice.

We buy a film for the network, it’s not only Max, any network today whether it is us, Star, Zee or Viacom, buys films for the network. No movie channel will be able to sustain the cost that it is bought for. It has to be played across various channels of the network for the cost to be amortised.

Which are the movies that you have acquired recently?

Post IPL we have come back very strongly, having four clear weeks of leadership as far as ratings are concerned. And it is a decent leadership of almost eight to ten GRPs from our closest competitions. It’s been a decent comeback from the IPL. Even pre the IPL, that is, in the second half of last year onwards, we have been the leaders.

We kicked off post IPL with the telecast of Jab Tak Hai Jaan. This was followed by Taalash. We will be telecasting the world TV premier of Aashiqui 2 on 28 July. Among the host of other movies that we added are: Yeh Jawani hai Deewani, Murder 3, Shootout at Wadala, Once Upon a time in Mumbaai Dobara, Ek thi Daayan, Gippi and Krish3.

We buy a film for the network, it’s not only Max, any network today whether it is us, Star, Zee or Viacom, buys films for the network. No movie channel will be able to sustain the cost that it is bought for. It has to be played across various channels of the network for the cost to be amortised

Does the network set a limit in terms of price it is willing to cough up for movies? Or do you buy movies which you think will click with the public? How big is the Bollywood movie channel industry market in terms of ad sales revenues?

Of course there is a set limit on price. Paying absurd amount of money for any movie is not possible. Because, even if you amortise the cost over five years in terms of recovery that you make, sometimes it is not possible. The mathematics does not work out, so there is always a cut off.

With a fair approximation it would be close to Rs 1350 crore to Rs 1400 crore and is growing at about 15 per cent.

What is the trend in movie acquisition? We have heard that there are networks paying close to Rs 400 or 500 crore to acquire Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan movies?

Honestly all of us have only heard about it, but there is no clarification by either the actor or his PR firm or even the channel. So nobody knows what the mortalities are and nobody knows what the working is. Frankly, all of us are only speculating and I do not want to add to the speculation. It is just a little grey right now.

What is the lifecycle of Bollywood blockbuster on TV?

There is a huge issue that’s coming up as far as the supply chain is concerned. I see it a little differently, simply because of the kind of movies that are being made today. If you look at the trend in the past three to four years, the ratings for the movie channels come from smaller towns. We basically cater to section C D E audiences and C D E male is the core target group for all us.

Having said that, the films being made today are creatively better, technically sounder, performance wise better and also there is a lot of boldness in the attitude of the films. Movies today are edgier, bolder and racier. So, while all of this is good from a cinematic point of view and from a theatre-going point of view, this does not work on TV.

For example, even though The Dirty Picture was a nice, bold, raunchy film with bold dialogues and situations one would probably go and watch it in the multiplexes and feel good about it. But the same audience will not watch it with their parents when aired on TV.

Eight out of ten films made today are from this kind of work zone. Back in the seventies, eighties and nineties, commercial cinema was driven by certain kind of directors and producers. You had the Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Yash Chopra, and Yash Johar (among others) schools of filmmaking. They made films in a particular genre for a particular kind of wider cinema audience.

Then you had the art house makers like Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Ketan Mehta and others who made art house cinema. So there was clear demarcation of people who wanted to watch their kind of films.

Today, it’s great for the industry to see Vishal Bhardwaj and Ekta Kapoor coming together, with the creative sensibilities of one and commercial sensibility of the other to make Ek thi Daayan.

Also Yash Raj Films, for example, made certain kind of cinema, but today if you look at the kind of directors that Aditya Chopra is working with like, Manish Sharma and Habib Faizal, are directors who don’t confirm to commercial Hindi cinema. They have a mind of their own, treatment of their own, message to give and language of their own to use in the kind of cinema they believe in and these are the films that are being made now.

So even though it’s more meaningful and relevant cinema, bringing out the social realities of the country, they don’t work on TV beyond a point.


Movies today are edgier, bolder and racier. So, while all of this is good from a cinematic point of view and from a theatre-going point of view, this does not work on TV. So even though it’s more meaningful and relevant cinema, they don’t work on TV beyond a point

If these movies do not work on TV then why are channels spending so much on buying these movies?

That is because of the demand and supply game. You've got to run the show. According to me, the supply chain is the larger issue more than anything else. And I think that is something that all channels need to wake up to, and figure out the right price to pay for such films, because none of the films have longevity beyond a point. They don’t have repeat viewing value.

Movies like Hum Aapke Hai Kaun and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai still get good viewership. This is because most of the audiences are from smaller cities. Also 85 per cent of the country is still a one TV home, which is a big number.

The supply chain is not producing the kind of content that the movie channels will ideally like and as an industry, this is the biggest challenge we face. And, on the flipside, which is worse is that we have to pay a lot more than we should be paying for those films.

Does SET have exclusive deals with any distributor or film production houses?

We are in talks with everybody and we have good relationships with almost all. We have key relationships with Rakesh Roshan, Yashraj Films and Karan Johar, but there is no exclusivity. The industry does not work like that. It finally comes down to who bids the highest price.

Any plans to convert Set Max into a complete movie channel and taking cricket only on Sony Six now? Will Max telecast the next IPL season?

That is probably an eventual reality for all us. The objective of launching Sony Six was to make it a full-fledged popular sports channel. And cricket being the biggest sports vehicle in the country, at some point, IPL will have to move onto Six. And as and when it happens, Max will become for 365 days - a full on movie channel.

Sony Six needs to be distributed well. We are still waiting for the DAS roll out to happen peacefully. From a network point of view, IPL is the biggest thing we do. So only after Six has a bandwidth to reach out to people, the shift can take place. We may take a call on the shift of IPL from Max to Six later in the year.

How do you ensure that the channel gets good ratings during the IPL? How do you manage it throughout the year?

IPL ratings are cricket ratings, so the channel takes a very different avtaar during the IPL. IPL rates more than any other channel in any case. And those are very big ratings, so I think that will be very unfair comparison. What we do post IPL is what the real MAX is.

For the rest of the year, the titles that we buy ensure good ratings. Presentation of films, marketing and packaging of promos, all lead to good ratings.

For example, the promotion strategy (see story on Set Max goes big on marketing for Aashiqui 2) for the world television premier of Aashiqui 2 is such that we are virtually re-releasing the film. The challenge today is to retain an element of freshness of the movie being telecast on channels. The film is aired on a channel almost after two to three months of its release. By this time either the audience watches it in theatres or at home on pirated CDs. Channels have to get people excited about something they have already seen.


The promotion strategy for the world television premier of Aashiqui 2 is such that we are virtually re-releasing the film. The challenge today is to retain an element of freshness of the movie being telecast on channels

How do you programme the channel during the IPL season? Did spot-fixing allegations during the IPL affect the ratings in any way?

It is very simple. When we have two games a day, we run three films and when we have one game we run four films. For the whole length of IPL (54 days), we avoid all the blockbusters or big films. This is obviously because there are two large games in a day or one in a day.

Honestly, I don’t think it affected our ratings, because it happened only towards the last games. It surely leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Will the 10+2 ad cap have any effect on the channel? Will there be any hike in the ad rate?

It is the biggest blessing that is going to happen to the genre. The number of people the movie channels reach out to is at par with every Hindi general entertainment channel of the country.

We have a 48 to 50 per cent reach. So whether it is Max or Zee Cinema or Star Gold, the reach is not very different from Sony's, Star Plus', Colors' or Zee TV's reach.

The ad cap will bring down the advertising time the genre currently has. The biggest problem that the genre faces is the time spent by the viewer on the channel. The current time spent by viewers on movie channels is around 65 to 68 minutes and on GECs it is around 122 to 130 minutes.

There are clear reasons: 1) GECs air original content everyday; while movie channels air movies that have already been watched.

2) The number of ads on GECs is limited; while on movie channels it is far more.

Ad cap will mean a reduction in ad time and this in addition will tempt the viewer to stick on to the movie channel and watch more.

The ad cap will lead to a hike in the ad rates. Reasons:For one, the time spent by viewers will get better, so we will have a valid reason to ask for a rate hike. Then traditionally, Hindi movie channels have been sold at a very low rate, though the correction should have happened many years back, it has not happened. So probably this is the right time to make that switch.

With GECs also entering into the world TV premier league, how do you intend to hold on to viewers' perception that movie channels also offer them value? Sony has recently launched MSM Motion Pictures. Is that going to help MAX get good deals in world premiers?

The movies are bought by the network and so in reality it becomes important to launch the world TV premier on a GEC than the movie channel. Networks pay big bucks to buy these movies, and the amount of money that is recovered in the first run on GEC is always going to be far more than what is recovered through a movie channel.

Set Max will never telecast the world TV premier of a big film, having huge acquisitions (Aashiqui 2 being an exception, since the acquisition rate was not very high). It will always be on Sony.

MSM Motion Pictures will help us get better deals. That is the main or one of the objectives.

How do you see the competition in the space? Who amongst the movie channels is the leader?

It is a very close game between the three of us. So week-on-week you see shifts happening. It will be silly if I or anyone else claims to be the undisputed leader, it is a shifting game. The genre is too small for people to take clear leaderships.

How do you differentiate between various channels? What are the standout brand characteristics of Max?

Max as a network is very conscious about the quality. What we air has to be cutting edge in terms of the way we look, package, present, promote and market the product. This is not only for our film, but even the channel. This can be seen in the way we promoted the IPL.

Set Max telecasts a lot of South movies dubbed in Hindi. Do you get a good viewership for them? What led to this trend of running such movies?

The trend started close to four years back. Close to 30 per cent of any channels fixed point chart (FPC) is now South Indian cinema, simply because it does well.

Most of these films have extremely exciting action sequences and are gorgeously and lavishly produced. The themes of these movies are mostly revenge, emotional and social issues. By large it is Indian cinema, so the ethos does not change beyond a point, only the look of the people and the way the films are packaged is different. So that is the only reason that everybody is buying them and telecasting them. Had it not been accepted, it would not have survived for four years.

What strategies are being used by the channel for marketing itself to increase its viewership?

We have now decided, as a thumb rule to tie up with production houses for new releases. We are also coming up with innovative marketing strategies. For example, we roped in Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone to talk about Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. We promoted its theatrical release and also got them to do a channel promo talking about new releases on Max.

We get star faces on the channel to promote the upcoming movies. This helps us further the perception of Max being the big channel with big faces. Max, in return acts as platform for movie promotion for these actors. Today, apart from the GECs, we are the only ones who have this kind of reach. Aashiqui 2 is another movie which is being promoted by the Lootera team.

We have also tied up with Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai Dobara team for promotions. We keep doing this every month.

Is the channel using digital space to promote its content? How? And do you have any striking case studies?

The use of digital space became a kind of case study for us when we did the IPL. Even post the IPL we have some very aggressive plans. We were the first ones to have live tweets during the telecast of Jab Tak Hai Jaan. We got close to 2,500 responses. We also had Twitter contests called #TalaashHunt for Talaash. Through the contest we added around 11,545 followers from 11 July (Thursday) to 14 July (Sunday), the day the movie was telecast.

We also have mega plans for Aashiqui 2. Digital is a massive reality for all of us.

What kind of USPs do you offer to advertisers?

Reach is the biggest player and it is a dynamic reality. It’s unbelievable to see the amount of people we reach out to as a genre and as a channel- it’s second to nobody. This is our biggest USP. Also we commit at a very affordable price.

Can Max become a substantial revenue creator for Sony Entertainment in terms of ad revenues and subscription revenues?

Yes it will, in fact it already does. With the digitised environment that we have got into, we will get more paid subscribers. So, maybe in the next 16 to 24 months, all movie channels including Max will become large players in the scheme of things within the network. Also once the paradigm shifts from CPRP to CPT, the consideration for ad rates will go up, because we will have numbers to prove our reach.

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