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Reimagining SonyLIV: the story begins

The streamer is strategising its next moves to dominate the OTT side.

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MUMBAI: Way before international streaming giants entered the Indian over-the-top (OTT) market, Indian broadcast networks had already rolled out their digital offerings. Sony Pictures Networks India's (SPNI) digital arm SonyLIV - one of the early-movers in the “streaming race”, is now undergoing transformation under a new leadership team. While its business has largely been driven by advertising revenues and catalogue offerings till now, the streamer is all set to increase its focus on subscription and original content.

Led by digital veteran Uday Sodhi for around half a decade, SPNI rejigged its team, plonking in old-time SPNI executive Danish Khan to lead it, adding to his responsibilities as business head of its leading GEC Sony Entertainment Television. Khan roped in the A-Team that works with him at SET, Ashish Golwalkar and Aman Srivastava, to also help him revitalise SonyLIV. Golwalkar, the content head at SET will now help build the streamers slate, while Srivastava, who steered the rebranding and positioning of SET, will also have the digital business marketing title on his visiting card. Amogh Dusad as head – programming and new initiatives, digital business has been given the mandate of strategic planning, operations, viewership management and analytics for SonyLIV.

Golwalkar says his experience at SET will help him steer the streamer’s content play well. “As we jokingly say that on SET, in any case, we make digital content. The digital traction of SET is very good because as a channel we are largely urban. We are focussed on metros and newer metros and the urban markets and digital growth is also happening here which very nicely coincides,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. “In terms of learning, of course, it is a different medium. So we will have to evaluate the content basis that.”

“However, there are certain inherent aspects that we have as a network in terms of the ethos of content and the kind of people we talk to. I think we will take a lot of synergies from that piece and we will navigate those people who are already there on the network and look after how we navigate them to our own digital platform as opposed to them straying to some other OTT platforms. I think that’s going to be a challenge but I think we’ll do it,” he adds.

Golwalkar confesses that for any streamer the real traction for subscription is driven by premium sports or premium content and SonyLIV is going to play both. As the network already has premium sports properties, the major focus will be on originals for the next few months.  “Anyway, we did not have any significant original content play before this,” he says.

In terms of language, Hindi and English are going to be important languages, followed by Marathi and Bangla as SPNI already has linear television channels in those markets. The platform will also consider some of the south languages also.

“We already have Sony Pictures Television content, some of it is with other OTT platforms. So we will see how we can attract more studios and international content to SonyLIV, the talks are on. These relationships with the international studios are forged over many years. Some of the relationships we already have and some of them we intend to kind of build,” he comments on English content portfolio.

“We have just started SVOD last year. We started the relationship with Lionsgate which gives us almost 400-500 hours of content. Some of the bigger shows from their slate include Power, Anger Management, Sweetbitter. We strengthened our Hollywood offering with SPT content also. We believe that there is an audience for English content also. It has just been six to eight months into the journey.  I think we will continue to push and strengthen Hollywood offering,“ comments Amogh Dusad, another key person in the transformation.

“We are looking at the entire piece like a strong SVOD service coming and the idea is to be in touch with the consumers whether online or offline or on any social media or the basic consumptions on the app to ensure that what we show on the app  is in sync with his /her taste and preferences. And a lot of work is going to happen in the next two months,” Dusad adds.

The reason for the SVOD shift: with higher investment in originals and acquisition of premium TV content, reliance on just ad revenues is proving a challenge for Indian streamers. The subscription curve is growing at a faster clip than the ad revenue one, although the Indian market is going to remain an ad-led one as per experts. A recent KPMG report projects subscription revenue from OTT platforms to grow to Rs 22 billion in FY20 and Rs 62 billion by FY23.

“The insights tell you what are the triggers that get a person to start sampling the product and what is it that keeps the person as well. So what it helps especially for us is to design the consumer experience around that,” explains Srivastava. “So, one is an experience which is on the app, the other is the interaction with the brand outside the product as well. We will also have to work on is where do you get the consumers as insights will play a role where you find a like-minded set of audiences. All of these help in defining the consumer journey - some of who are on the platform, some of who are not on the platform and some who are not even aware of the platform. So we are going to work around all three sets of people using all kind of insights we get on or outside the platform.”

Is pricing going to stay put or will a new package be drawn up?

“Everything is up for change. As all were saying, all businesses go through a transformation, so SonyLIV, the digital business in SPN, is going through one such transformation and everything is up for discussion. What we are very sure is that we are going to shift the focus more towards subscription, currently, a large bulk of it is ad revenue. It’s a no-brainer that if anyone wants to have a play in this, we will have to drive subscription,” Golwalkar sums up.

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