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Sony’s English Cluster viewership grew 54% in 2017: Tushar Shah

Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) has been fortifying its presence in the English Entertainment space with a refurbished content line-up for AXN as well as for Sony PIX. The network has also seen great traction for its factual entertainment channel, Sony BBC Earth. 

According to Tushar Shah, Executive Vice – President and Business Head, English Cluster, Sony Pictures Networks India, “The English genre is evolving and so are we, keeping in mind the changing need of the viewer and the market. Backed by great content and marketing innovations, we have seen an increase in the appeal for all our 4 channels, resulting in viewership growth of 54 per cent for the cluster in 2017 vis-à-vis 2016. 

In conversation with Adgully, Tushar Shah chalks out Sony’s strategy to further grow its English Cluster in 2018, the strong content line-up for the year ahead, and more. Excerpts: 

What is Sony’s plan and vision for its entire English Cluster in 2018?
We want to provide best-in-class entertainment to viewers across all our platforms, based on deep consumer understanding and insight. Our strategies – be it acquisition programming or marketing, all stem from that one vision. This is what enables us to improve our market and revenue share. 

In 2018, SPNs English Cluster is offering content that no one would want to miss. Sony PIX will showcase top blockbusters and franchises such as ‘Fast and Furious 8’, ‘Despicable Me 3’, ‘The Mummy’, ‘American Made’, and ‘Harry Potter’, among many others. AXN, which was #1 in female (26 per cent) and male viewership (24 per cent) in 2017, will continue to showcase iconic women characters and shows for both audience sets with shows like ‘Madam Secretary’, ‘Billions’, etc. Sony BBC Earth will premiere the most anticipated show, ‘Blue Planet II’, in addition to some fascinating stories like the India-special, ‘Secret Behind Foods’, ‘Toughest job in the Universe’, etc. We will also continue to bring impactful and disruptive marketing innovations to wow the audience. 

At present, we are focused on metros and 1 million+ towns. We target the young India – young not by age, but by mindset. Therefore, we strive to appeal to this segment by delivering best-in-class content, aided by strong international studio tie-ups. For example, in 2018 we have films from 5 of Hollywood’s top 7 studios. Our recent deal with Warner Bros has further strengthened our movie library. 

With regard to English entertainment, we have deals with leading studios like CBS, Keshet, Showtime, MGM, Warner Bros, BBC, NBC Universal, Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE), etc., who deliver some of the finest international shows and series. 

How is Sony strategising to bring in content more current and closer to their global release? What are the tie-ups built for that?
We have an existing property – Fresh from the US – that airs shows closer to their US premiere date. In addition to this, we are introducing ‘AXN Premiere Club’ from February 5, which will showcase ‘Seven Days Seven New Shows’. As the name suggests, the channel will premiere one new show every day at 10 pm, including the most awarded show of 2017, ‘The Handmaids Tale’ (8 Primetime Emmy Awards and 2 Golden Globe Awards). Apart from this, we will have the hot new show ‘Brave’ from the makers of ‘Homeland’ and ‘Doubt’, the new season of ‘Vikings’, ‘Bull’, ‘Zoo’ and ‘Scorpion’. All of these shows are exclusive to AXN. 

Apart from the content line-up, how are you further strengthening AXN’s presence in 2018?
AXN is a legacy brand in its 20th year now. We are #1 in the category with 25 per cent market share. We will continue to strengthen our offering while catering to all kinds of viewers. So, while we are getting a new show every day with the ‘AXN Premiere Club’, we also have a slot called ‘AXN Bestsellers’, which will air cult shows like ‘Sex and the City’, ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Sherlock’, etc. Weekends cater to the movie lovers with ‘R.E.D. Box Office’, and at 9 pm we have the best reality shows like ‘Top Chef’, ‘Fear Factor’, ‘Top Gear’, ‘Next Top Model series’, ‘The Voice’, etc.

We have also taken ‘experiential marketing’ to the next level with a never-done-before activity for AXN. For the premiere of ‘The Handmaids Tale’, we went to malls and offices with women dressed as Handmaids holding bold, powerful messages questioning basic rights for women. The response to the campaign has been phenomenal, where people are appreciating disruptive marketing campaigns as opposed to just the traditional methods. 

How is the viewership base evolving for the English Entertainment genre in India?
There is tremendous opportunity for growth of English Entertainment in India. In fact, India is the second largest English speaking market in the world, where 60 per cent of the population is under 35. Also, with the proliferation of English medium schools and growing Internet penetration, we have seen higher affinity towards English content. We are excited and bullish about the category. 

How important is the time of airing of the show to gain maximum traction?
There are some viewers who would like to watch the show as and when it premieres internationally and some who wait for it to come on television. We cater to both sets. 

Who are the most prolific advertisers on your English channels?
We have various categories of advertisers, including automobile, FMCG, telecom, e-commerce, etc. Some of our key clients include Mahindra & Mahindra, Amazon, Godrej, Jeep, P&G, Airtel, and Google (Pixel 2), among many others. 

How has Sony BBC Earth been performing, given that there are other strong existing competitors in the genre? Has the performance been along expected lines?
Sony BBC Earth is a pureplay factual entertainment channel, where love and respect for the natural world is at the heart of everything we do. We are changing the way people look at infotainment.We differentiate ourselves by offering genuine drama and entertainment from the real world that appeals to the heart and the head of the viewer, making them Feel Alive. 

We had a big-bang channel launch less than a year ago and our iconic shows like ‘Planet Earth II’, ‘Spy in the Wild’, and ‘Fishing Impossible’ have made a significant impact, especially in the prime-time slots. In fact, some of these shows have been #1 in the 9-10 pm slot. 

How exactly are you looking at building up Sony BBC Earth in terms of content differentiation, marketing and media platforms?
In addition to what I mentioned above, presenting stories in a positive, insightful manner is at the core of the brand. This approach stems from the consumer insight that modern day life is disconnecting us from the joy of the natural world. Also, a recent BBC research proves that being connected to the natural world makes us happier. Therefore, our aim is to open young Indian’s eyes to the wonders of the Universe that will make them Feel Alive. 

Sony BBC Earth is also the only channel in the category that showcases its content diversity by providing distinct and predictable viewing opportunities. Viewers know what to expect when they tune-in, that is, Science@8 pm, nature/ wildlife@9 pm, adventure@10 pm and the specials on weekends. We also have some iconic legends like Sir David Attenborough, Steve Backshall, Dr Michael Mosley and global shows such as ‘Trust me I’m a Doctor’, ‘Deadly 60’, and the upcoming show ‘Blue Planet II’ that has taken underwater shooting to new depths. In fact, new scientific papers are being written basis the findings from this series. 

We have also recently introduced an annual property called the ‘Feel Alive Hours’, where we have taken our brand proposition on-ground. This will cover various on-ground touch points like schools, colleges, offices, malls, etc. We have started with schools first with our School Contact Programme as annual exams are around the corner and we want to help students de-stress. We are reaching out to 300 schools and 2 lakh students across 4 cities.

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