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Sports will be the driving factor for SPN: NP Singh

Reinforcing its position as one of the largest broadcasters of sports in the Indian subcontinent, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) has grouped its sports brands together under the business vertical – Sony Pictures Sports Network (SPSN). 

Two new HD channels – Sony Ten 2 HD and Sony Ten 3 HD – have been added to the bouquet, taking Sony’s sports channels count to 11. Meanwhile, Sachin Tendulkar has been brought on board as SPN’s ambassador for sports. 

Bullish on the sports offering, NP Singh, CEO, Sony Pictures Networks India, asserted that sports will be the driving factor for SPN. He added, “Last year, we invested heavily in technology and we will have a lot of live sports to carry these streams. We decided that we need to have a strong robust platform and that was our focus. Now, we are focusing on taking SonyLiv to the consumer. On the digital front, we have been aggregating unique content through original series specifically for SonyLiv.” 

He further said, “Our corporate philosophy of Go-Beyond encourages us to be brave, curious, insightful and visionary in everything we do.” 

In conversation with Adgully, NP Singh and Rajesh Kaul, President, Sports and Distribution, Sony Pictures Networks, India, speak about the SPN’s sports drive, the objective behind the rebranding, the content strategy, marketing plans, the various sports properties and more. Excerpts: 

According to you, how big is sports in India in terms of viewership and advertising?
Rajesh Kaul: There is no uniform number in the sports business in terms of viewership and advertising because the ad revenue keeps changing as it depends heavily on the kind of events that take place. While the Indian Premier League (IPL), World Cup, and the Indian Cricket season are big pocket events, there are times when there are no marquee events happening. 

Where does sports fit in Sony’s bouquet of channels?
NP Singh: We run on three major pillars – entertainment, digital and sports. India is a young country and it is our responsibility to take different sports to our youth to encourage them, and if we are able to motivate even a small section of the younger generation, it will give us a lot of satisfaction. Sports is an extremely important part of our strategy, not only on television but on digital as well, as a lot of our properties can be accessed on SonyLIV too. The youth is consuming a lot of digital content, so we thought we must give them access to view live sports on digital platforms to bring them closer to sports. 

Why undertake the rebranding at this point in time?
Rajesh Kaul: The rebranding has happened because of the immense consumer interest. Today, there are 25-30 sports channels available in India. We have enough volume and content to make Sony the ultimate destination for sports – Sony Six will air mostly cricket, Ten1 will be for wrestling, Ten2 will be for football, Ten3 will be in Hindi, while ESPN will have international content. 

How are you ramping up your marketing plans to build brand connect?
Rajesh Kaul: The strategy for our channel positioning is to create unique identities for each channel by creating unique ad films. We have a comprehensive marketing campaign planned out, which will run through print, electronic, radio, digital and outdoor. 

Will you be looking at getting more regional channels apart from Hindi?
NP Singh: Language feeds have worked for Sony’s sports channels in the past, but this time we wanted to have a dedicated Hindi language channel because that’s what the viewers were asking, although we will have other regional language feeds for marquee events and properties. 

Will you monetise the Hindi and English Sports channels separately?
NP Singh: There is an opportunity for us to do that as the viewership during IPL in Hindi language is higher than what it is on English. Today, marketers are looking at the aggregate of those two and making their investments. 

How do you monetise the various properties?
NP Singh: It’s a portfolio of content that we have for the respective channels. We monetise through advertising on linear, digital and distribution. 

Do you think international content can be monetised better?
NP Singh: Yes they can, but distribution will fuel growth of these channels. Globally, sports is driven by pay distribution and not by advertisers in the ratio of 65:35, where 65 per cent is ad-driven and 35 per cent is derived from distribution. Sony Pictures Sports Network is a serious player in the market and we will continue to strengthen the brand. The new rebranded channels will feature Cricket with West Indies, Sri Lanka and South Africa series in place, we will have Under 17 FIFA World Cup on Ten2 and we are also adding WWE on Ten1, which is the highest rated property after cricket. 

Will Under 17 FIFA Tournament prove to be a major game changer in terms of viewership for Sony?
NP Singh: We have produced several cricket events, but this is the first time when we will be producing a football event. 

In terms of viewership and perception, it can be built into as strong a property as the FIFA World Cup itself since it is happening in India. Earlier, FIFA in Rio or Russia was available on air, but we can do a lot of stuff here on ground. Monetisation for the event will be better compared to the previous events because it is happening in India and India is participating in it. 

Will HD and SD have simulcast feeds?
Rajesh Kaul: Since we have just launched, the HD feed will be a complete replica of SD, but if there is a serious clash tomorrow between the shows, where we don’t have the space to telecast it, in that case we will shift them to separate channels. 

Since digital is your second pillar, do you plan to put sports behind a pay wall on digital?
NP Singh: We would love to do that and have some content behind the pay wall and seen a growth in subscription. If it continues to grow at the same rate, maybe tomorrow we will put the marquee events behind a pay wall. 

Which sport garners maximum ratings for Sony?
NP Singh: Majority of the ratings come from cricket, but over the last couple of years the ratings for football has grown exponentially as the youth today is following not just one but so many sports.

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