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SonyLIV, Lionsgate ink content deal; to roll out 500 hours of Original series

Premier OTT platform SonyLIV has locked in a multi-year strategic content deal with American entertainment giant, Lionsgate, to bring the best mix of international content to Indian digital audiences. Uday Sodhi, Business Head – Digital, Sony Pictures Networks India, and Rohit Jain, Managing Director, Lionsgate India, inked the association. 

Lionsgate Play will be bundled within SonyLIV’s current slate of programming, significantly enhancing its premium English-language offering to viewers. The embedded Lionsgate Play destination on SonyLIV will roll out with over 500 hours of Lionsgate premium original series, including hits like ‘Power’, ‘Vida’, ‘Sweetbitter’, ‘The White Queen’, ‘The White Princess’ and ‘The Spanish Princess’, along with popular Lionsgate library titles such as ‘Crash’, ‘Manhattan’, ‘Wildfire’, ‘Are We There Yet?’ and ‘Chasing Life’. Also included are science fictions and thrillers like ‘Con Man’ and ‘Insomnia’ that comprise the repertoire spanning across genres. 

The new assortment of shows will be available for viewing under SonyLIV Premium for Rs 99 for a month, Rs 299 for 6 months and Rs 499 for a year. 

Commenting on the tie-up, Uday Sodhi Business Head - Digital, Sony Pictures Networks India, said, “We’re incredibly excited to team with a prolific and innovative content powerhouse like Lionsgate. With over 500 hours of premium programming at launch, they bring to our platform a great mix of popular original series and classic Lionsgate catalogue titles, sure to resonate with our customers for years to come.” 

Rohit Jain, Managing Director, Lionsgate India, added here, “We are excited to partner with SonyLIV to bring Lionsgate Play in India. Our collaboration is the latest milestone in elevating our brand in India, and we’re delighted to kick off our partnership with a robust portfolio of Lionsgate programming. Sony India as a media house has a legacy of bringing cutting-edge entertainment to Indian audiences, making them the perfect choice for us to bring to Indian audience some of our most successful premium English content. This is a great starting point for the two companies and we are excited about the journey ahead of us.”

In conversation with Adgully, Uday Sodhi and Rohit Jain, share details about the nature of the partnership between SonyLIV and Lionsgate, the content strategy, evolution of the OTT space in India, advertiser interest and much more. Excerpt: 

What is the nature of the partnership with Lionsgate? What kind of content can we expect from Lionsgate?
Uday Sodhi: The idea is to strengthen our subscription product even more. Most of the content on our app (SonyLIV) is centered on our TV shows, some of our sports and obviously a large set of movies. We are seeing subscription as a category we want to grow. We are seeing a lot of high quality/ top of the line shows becoming available in India and the awareness for these shows has expanded significantly. The ability and desire of Indian viewers to binge watch has gone up. About 6 months back, we launched a set of international shows and that experiment worked for us. 

We are working closely with Lionsgate to offer a large catalogue of Lionsgate shows. They are one of the largest producers of TV series and movies across the world. Lionsgate Play will now become part of our subscription product, so hundreds of hours of content from Lionsgate, primarily TV series, will be exclusively available on SonyLIV premium. Premium users will now have this entire catalogue available to them. 

The focus of our effort is to create a large SVOD category and build that along with Lionsgate. 

What kind of content do you have on subscription?
Uday Sodhi: While we do a lot of sports on subscription, we also do a fair amount of movies. We have already started on English content and have been doing so for almost a year. We are now adding a large catalogue of Lionsgate Play. 

How is the English entertainment genre contributing to the OTT growth story?
Uday Sodhi: English content has grown significantly because of 2-3 things. We have seen significant penetration of smart TVs in the last couple of years. Smart TV is making it easier to binge watch long shows. The availability of these shows has become easier. People on social media are connected and know which shows are launching in the rest of the world. This is naturally becoming a part of our habit. 

Rohit Jain: We were probably the only Hollywood studio that didn’t have a presence is India. We set up our office in India earlier this year. This is a very important milestone for us to expand the brand and bring some of our really acclaimed and biggest shows globally to India. Some of these shows have a huge fan base in every market that we’ve taken them too. The Indian customer is a global customer. They watch content in line with what the world is watching. 

We are very happy with this partnership (digital only partnership). Sony as a media house has a tremendous legacy. They have been the pioneers in India, whether it was opening the unscripted market in India with ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ or whether it was started comedy shows like ‘Comedy Circus’ with SAB TV or whether it was creating the sporting culture with the Indian Premier League (IPL). There have been many firsts for them and fortunately this partnership comes at a time when they were looking to strengthen their English offering. It is a mutually complementary and beneficial partnership. With better data speeds and social awareness, more and more customers are watching English shows. We hope to build a great fan base for these shows in the Indian market. 

We are one of the top five Hollywood studios in the movie business. We are probably among the top three in the TV series. As we speak, we have about 90 different shows running across 40 different networks across the world. We make a lot of originals for Amazon, Netflix, and other large networks. 

This partnership is very focused on A-series. It is a very interesting mix of content (‘Vida’, ‘Sweetbitter’, ‘Power’) and in India, Lionsgate Play as a branded destination will be exclusively on SonyLIV along with the content that we shortlist. 

What have been the key trends in the OTT space in recent times?
Uday Sodhi: The big story is adoption. When you look at it from a global perspective, the adoption that we are seeing in India is unparalleled compared to any other place in the world. We are adding a significantly large amount of users every year. It is anticipated that we will add another 200 million users in the next three years. Smart TV adoption as a trend is significantly large. I was surprised to see that Xiaomi sold half a million smart TVs this year. Now Jio is launching its Fiber across the country. So, I think OTT is a lean forward experience. We were wondering whether 15 minutes was the right duration for content on OTT almost 2-3 years back. Now, you can easily lean back and watch 1-2 hours of content; you can stream it, Chromecast it, put it on your Firestick. Right now it is the best time to be a consumer and we are excited to be in this market going forward. 

How is the SonyLIV app keeping up with the technological advancements?
Uday Sodhi: Most hybrid boxes going into the market will have the SonyLIV app. Most smart TVs launching today will have the SonyLIV app. Whether it is smart TVs, Set Top Boxes or digital streaming devices, today the whole ecosystem is making it easier for you to consume content, and being among the top 2-3 players in this pack, we obviously get chosen to be one of the burnt-in apps within the system. 

How are the Tier 2 and 3 markets contributing to SonyLIV’s subscriber base?
Uday Sodhi: Subscription is still dependent on sports and some of the English content. Therefore, we still haven’t seen the kick-in come from beyond the big metros (the top 10-15 cities). As we add more regional content and Hindi shows, we will see a kick-in coming from the smaller towns. Once we bring in shows from Lionsgate, a lot of people in these markets will experience these shows for the first time and we will bring in some of those users. 

How are advertisers looking at the OTT platforms today?
Uday Sodhi: Advertisers are the real swing, as I have seen in 2018. Now, while planning a campaign, most advertisers include OTT as part of their media spends. Today, they don’t go into the market without OTT as part of their plan. This is a huge shift from 2016-17. For FIFA World Cup 2018, we had 35-36 sponsors. You have never heard those kinds of numbers for a digital property earlier. OTT has gone mainstream and advertisers must put their money on OTT as part of their media plan going forward. 

Some reports are saying that advertising on digital video is growing at about 40-45 per cent. It must be 40 per cent for OTT as well, as it is the largest part of the advertising pie in terms of growth. The allocation for most brands is still small, but now I believe it is critical that we put it on OTT. 

What are the categories that are showing the most interest in OTT?
Uday Sodhi: FMCG, Consumer Durables, Smartphones, and e-commerce. FMCG is pretty big on OTT, compared to the rest of digital. 

Is Lionsgate going to enter the production market of India?
Rohit Jain: Yes. We are in the midst of developing several Indian language series. We are doing some movies right now in an independent capacity. Some series are adaptations of our globally famous series and some of them are new stores waiting to be told. We are doing a fair bit of work on that.

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