Mumbai: Chief executive of Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd, which operates Sony Entertainment Television, SET MAX and SAB television channels in India, Man Jit Singh, shared in an interview details of his plans to launch a sports channel and acquire regional broadcasters. Multi Screen Media is a part of Sony Pictures Television Networks’ business in India. Edited excerpts:
Ambitious plans: Singh says the company is now back to investing and looking at the Gujrati and Bhojpuri channel space very seriously.
Are you happy with Sony’s viewership ratings?
For our flagship channel Sony, our gross rating points (GRPs) have gone up. We had started the year with 70 GRPs and are now well over 150. In the earlier part of the year, the advertising market, in addition to our ratings (being low), was soft. Today, the advertising market is bouncing back. MAX has been the dominant movie channel for nine weeks in a row. SAB has doubled its ratings—32 to 64 and now 69—in the last week. The general entertainment space is very competitive and the top three are shifting weekly. We were No. 5 earlier and now we are No. 4. But my goal is to be No. 1.
How do you plan to get there in terms of programming?
We tied up recently with Yashraj Films and it’s an exclusive relationship. It will only make television programmes for us. We are also doing four new shows with Aditya Chopra of Yash Raj films. One of them is called Powder, which is about a drug underworld character who’s trying to get out of India and the cops are chasing him. It’s a fast paced thriller. We have a very exciting non-fiction show on the cards—a fan-based show which will involve fans working for their stars. The stars could be cricketers, film people, etc.
Amongst movies, the next big Hindi premiere (on television) would be New York. In English movies, we are trying to get the new Michael Jackson movie on our channel, though the deal is not sealed as yet.
Would you continue to invest in big-ticket reality shows such as Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao? What would your strategy be?
We feel that a lot of these international formats such as Iss Jungle Se Muhje Bachao are very expensive and we are looking more at homegrown formats. We are clear that we want to build our library of fiction shows than non-fiction. For our flagship channel, we will deal with contemporary issues in a relatable way.
In the early prime time (early evening slot), we will address issues around small-town India and in the later time band, we will focus on metros and large markets. With SAB, we have moved from a youth orientation to family comedy.
You also harbour ambitions in the regional channels space.
Regional channels are the fastest growing in India. We began by acquiring a Bengali language movie channel. But then, the market was unsettled because of the downturn and the whole investment plan went through some changes. We are now back to investing and are looking at the Gujrati and Bhojpuri channel space very seriously. In both these areas, we would be looking to make an acquisition. But you’d probably see us announcing something in the southern markets first.
What about your plans to launch an independent sports channel? How would this affect MAX, your events and movies channel?
A sports channel is something that fills our channel bouquet. It gives advertisers another reason to come back to our network because sports channels tend to be more male-skewed. When we look at the power of IPL (Indian Premier League, a 20-over cricket tournament) and the brand it’s become, a sports channel could be economically very viable for us. We are exploring what sports rights (events) can be acquired, so it gives the audience enough variety to come back on the channel. Also, it is felt that some of the loyal SET Max fans get disturbed when there are matches playing on the channel. We will launch the sports channel in the next six months.
There have been reports on investors looking to exit because of lack of pay-offs.
The way our company is structured, Sony is the majority owner and then we have a number of Indian investors who at various points have looked at the possibility of liquidity for themselves. We have (when asked) actively supported those efforts. Whether they are looking at private equity players to take their place or whatever else, we’ve supported them. Till this point, we’ve been extremely stable in terms of our ownership. We are already in a position where we are starting to recover our investments.
What about your plans for an initial public offering?
We were looking at the possibility in the past but there is nothing on the cards for now.
What are your expectations around the IPL next season? Champions Trophy didn’t do well. Will this dampen advertiser interest around IPL?
The next season of IPL will be even bigger. The big theme for us is “IPL is back in India”. We have signed up seven sponsors and are well ahead of our plans in ad sales. When India’s playing any of the tournaments, the ratings are always sky high. It’s only when other teams get involved, that have nothing to do with India that the interest level and ratings drop. The showing of these other tournaments will not have consequences for us.
When you joined as chief operating officer there were layoffs, especially at the senior level. Did it save costs? Will there be more layoffs?
Those layoffs were not cost-driven but efficiency-driven. Today, we have a much more flexible, much faster reacting organization. And there would be no more layoffs. Things are looking up for us, our ratings are growing and we have plans of launching our sports channel. We need more (employees), not less.