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From comedy to happiness enabler - Neeraj Vyas on Sony SAB’s growth strategy

Sony SAB has been making a shift from being a pure comedy channel to providing a more holistic happiness narrative and is exploring new themes like dramedy, horror comedy and fantasy. 

In conversation with Adgully, Neeraj Vyas, Business Head, Sony SAB & Sony Pal, speaks at length about the growth strategy for Sony SAB as the new year begins and how the channel has been gaining in this transition process. 

On Sony SAB’s commitment to happiness 

Sony SAB’s commitment to happiness is reflected in the kind of content we showcase. The overall imagery has evolved to a more holistic happiness narrative. Our variety in content offerings complements our efforts to achieve this. We now proudly call ourselves ‘the happiness enablers’. 

Exploring new dimensions to bring alive our promise of happiness through newer and exciting themes, Sony SAB is launching a whole variety of new shows. Two finite series will go live on January 26 as part of the weekend programming – ‘Band Baaja Bandh Darwaza’ and ‘My Name Ijj Lakhan’. ‘Bhakharwadi’ and ‘Baavle Utaavle’ are two upcoming weekday shows, each exploring a new theme and story angle. 

On focus of Sony SAB’s programming strategy 

There is a very different take on how the channel used to be a year-and-a-half back than what it is today. It’s a different journey and a different way of reaching out to our audiences. We firmly believe that we are a family brand and propagate value-based entertainment. We are not just a comedy channel, I think that’s the clarification was needed for a long time. The word ‘comedy’ is very restrictive; we stand for a lot more than that. We talk about hope, happiness and responsibility. Sony SAB is a trendsetter that doesn’t shy away from picking unconventional themes and newer genres to explore. 

Backed by distinctive content theme, Sony SAB brings the best of known and upcoming talent from the world of entertainment, staying ahead of the curve. Sony SAB is exploring new themes like dramedy, horror comedy and fantasy – all wrapped with the promise of light-hearted storytelling delivering happiness. Most of these shows that are on air today and the shows that are in the pipeline are beyond just the comedy language. Comedy is essentially sitcom, stand up, hit & miss, there’s only so much that you can do with it. What we’re doing now with our stories, with our expressions, with our plots and content is that we are creating characters that have a much longer linear character. The stories not just plot-based, but linear arts of the narrative, and more importantly, characters will be the heroes. Gone are the days when we actually did just a hit & miss on our shows. Fun and happiness is what we stand for today, beyond the comedy. 

For our weekends, we will stick to doing fiction shows. We will not do non-fiction or a dance/ music reality show or stand-up show, because there are music shows and then there are clones and more clones. Some work, while many don’t work. 

We have decided to do limited series fiction shows on weekends in the 7-8 pm band of 26 episodes. I firmly believe that there is interesting fiction that can be done in a limited series format and weekend is the right environment because you have a different kind of audience, you have a different set of eyeballs. The weekend audience is a lot more different and evolved. 

On creating differentiation for Sony SAB 

The year 2018 has been an incredible one for us from many points of view. From the advertisers’ point, the top 4-5 categories have multiplied for us, where spends have gone up. All this has happened only because of our content. 

While everybody else is a little apprehensive about channel MRP, we are extremely confident about the way things are today; for far too long TV content has been created for mass consumption, that’s why there are clones. 

With the new tariff regime, the choice lies with the consumer. Therefore, the content you make should be differentiated and completely unique. Sony SAB doesn’t look like anybody, we don’t clone anybody, we have our own shows, we have our own ethos. I don’t know how many GECs can say that they have their own DNA; Sony SAB has its own DNA. We are the general happiness channel, others will probably be a general entertainment channel. We have our own base because we have completely differentiated content. Take for example HUL which has both Surf and Rin in its portfolio. While both are washing powders, the approach, TG, marketing strategy, and communication are different. Similarly, we also have to fall in line and make sure that we are chasing one segment of the audience; in our case it is 15+ years. We all need to define our audiences and customise content for those audiences. 

On Sony SAB’s association with comedy and whether the shift will dilute channel identity 

There are two preconceived notions about Sony SAB – that it is a channel for the slightly older audience group because of the way it was packaged and the content it has; and secondly, it has been considered primarily as a comedy channel. But, as I said earlier, we believe ‘comedy’ is a very restrictive word; if you call yourself a comedy channel, then you are left with only one expression of content. 

We have induced layers of happiness, linear storytelling in a happy format. While making sure we do not do anything that is not family inclusive, we will not promote anything that is regressive value wise or deals with superstition. 

On the fate of existing line-up of shows with the shift from ‘comedy’ tag 

When I look at the wholesomeness of our content and the ratings that they deliver, I think we will continue with our current line-up of shows. But we will keep a sharp eye on the ratings as well as the content mix. We will have more clarity on the TG that we are targeting and then create the content. We’re focusing on getting on board good talent as well as encouraging newcomers. 

The idea is to create a distinct identity of the channel in the mind zone of the consumers with a very clear strategy by giving them good content, great characters and aiming at happy content which is a far-cry from what it used to be. With this, we are also looking to attract younger and newer audiences. If 65 per cent population of the country is below the age of 35, then we better create content for them, but without losing the focus that 98 per cent of India is a one TV household. Therefore, we need to create content that the entire family can watch.

On long-running shows – ‘Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah’ and ‘Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai’

‘Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah’ is like our sheet anchor, like Cheteshwar Pujara, who holds one end and keeps on going! ‘Tarak Mehta...’ is a universe by itself. Hence, it is a very critical part of our lives, it binds people; I’ve had people come and tell me so many things about the show. Some people break down when speaking about the show; I get mails from people from Egypt, Canada, etc. No show is going to look like ‘Tarak Mehta...’, which is exactly what I’m saying that gone are the days when we could use content from one show in another show. No one can replicate ‘Tarak Mehta...’. 

Today, TV channels have to work really hard to come up with good content. The problem is that we don’t have enough good writers, who are always in heavy demand. They are more in demand than even the actors. Between TV, web, OTT and movies, we don’t have enough writers. 

Creation of shows take time. Today, we need to make sure that the writing is right and then begin the shooting. The content needs to be focussed on the audiences, who are spoilt for choice today and expect a wide variety. All these things make TV an even more challenging medium. Though OTT has been seeing a rapid rise, with 197 million homes and 840 million plus subscribers, TV is still the biggest. But we have to get our act right.

On whether the era of FTA channels will end with the new tariff regime 

It will depend on DD FreeDish; this platform will be critical. It is very relevant for us in markets like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which are predominantly cable-dark, which is why DD FreeDish is the leader in those markets. So, this is very important for the future of this genre of channels.

On whether TRAI new tariff regime will push TV viewers towards apps 

It depends on the MRP. Though content on digital has been growing fast, content is going to be platform agnostic. Such content has to be created that can be consumed across platforms. 

Segmentation is a reality for virtually all categories of brands. MRP is going to force segmentation upon all of it. We will have to go in with a set of audience that we feel are best suited for our brand. 

TV is the largest medium right now, but internet is catching up fast. TV will continue to dominate, but other mediums are also important and slowly gaining traction. Content from Sony SAB can be watched on apps like SonyLIV or JioTV.

On growth in demographics and time spent 

2018 was a momentous year for Sony SAB as the channel registered strong growth numbers in a market that was de growing. 

Among NCCS AB 15+, Sony SAB was the highest audience coverage gainer. The audience coverage increased from 36 million to 38 million over the last year.

  • NCCS AB Male 15+ increased from 18.8 million to 19.7 million
  • NCCS AB Female 15+ increased from 17.4 million to 18.3 million

Over the course of last one year, Sony SAB saw a 10 per cent increase in time spent – from 110 minutes to 121 minutes. 

Among NCCS AB 15+, Sony SAB ranks No. 3 with 118 minutes (Star Plus ranks No.1 with 131 weekly average time spent per viewers, while Colors ranks No. 2 with 120 minutes) 

Among young male audience between ages 15 and 21, SAB leads the charts with 31 million viewership. Over the past year, male youth viewership on Sony SAB increased from 27 million to 31 million. 

We have also attained newer markets and a fresh set of newer audiences:

  • In MP, Sony SAB is the only gainer in MP among paid GECs. Impressions have increased by 9% from 18.1mn to 19.8mn over last year.
  • In North Zone, impressions have increased by 12% from 60.2mn to 67.6mn
  • There has been a major gain in Delhi, impressions have increased by 24% from 18.9mn to 23.4mn
  • Continuing growth in the west, Sony SAB is highest gainer among HGECs: In this zone, impression have increased by 16% from 127.9mn to 148.6mn
  • In Maharashtra, Sony SAB’s impression has increased by 23% from 61.5mn to 75.9mn over last year
  • In Mumbai, impressions have increased by 19% from 29.7mn to 35.3mn

 

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