TV will grow, but digital is where the money's at: SPNI's NP Singh

  •  October 24,2020 By IndianTelevision Team

MUMBAI: Sony Pictures Networks India MD and CEO NP Singh has always believed in looking on the bright side. After the network lost the IPL media rights to arch rival Star Sports, Singh claimed they were better off and more profitable without the league. When the Covid2019 pandemic struck, he was optimistic that the nationwide lockdown would boost viewership. By now, it's evident that both his projections were bang on the money. While Star reported a loss of Rs 1,216 crore in FY2018-19, Sony stayed in the green. And in the last few months, the broadcaster's digital and cable businesses have clocked a significant surge in engagement.

Now, as Sony Entertainment celebrates 25 years in India, Singh talked about the organisation's journey, his vision going forward, and the challenges that lie ahead at the ‘visionary talks’ series hosted by Governance Now MD Kailashnath Adhikari.

Currently, the thing that sparks the most joy for Singh is the success of Scam 1992, SonyLiv’s tentpole show that has proved to be a gamechanger for the streaming platform.
On the back of Scam 1992, the platform has seen an uptick in the number of paid subscribers, said Singh. And because it was SPN’s own production house Studio NXT which produced the series, this success tastes all the more sweeter to him.

Singh highlighted that apart from working on premium originals, the platform is working towards bringing in live sports content. SonyLiv currently streams the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. It also recently finalised the India tour of Australia, beginning 27 November. In addition to this, the OTT platform has a slew of global content line-up.

When asked about SonyLiv’s revenue model, whether it will be a subscription-based or hybrid model (AVOD vs SVOD), Singh explained that the network’s primary focus is to deliver a subscription-driven platform that also offers AVOD content. Said he: “After the relaunch (in May 2020) we have introduced a premium plan of Rs 999 for one year. It is completely SVOD and has all the content that we can offer to subscribers. We have also brought out two new annual subscription plans – Liv special and Liv special+ which are priced at Rs 199 and Rs 399 respectively. The plan offers access to all shows at the same time as TV, downloading of episodes, and live sports preview up to 10 minutes. It is completely AVOD. So, yes we are sharply focusing on both SVOD and AVOD models.”

During the conversation, Singh shed light on how the media and entertainment sector is coping with the disruption caused by the pandemic. With the unlock phase the sector is beginning to see early signs of economic revival. As far as the network is concerned, he stated that SPNI’s ad-revenues have reverted to the pre-Covid2019 levels.

Further, Singh was confident that the festive season will provide additional impetus to the M&E sector, with many traditional and new categories like ed-tech and online gaming freely wielding their advertising budgets.
However, the pandemic was not without its setbacks for the broadcast industry. Several niche TV channels have shut down. Monetisation has also been an issue. While it’s good to be an optimist, it’s equally important to take cognisance of the current environment, said Singh. “Sony had shut down channels even before the pandemic started, because I believe in observing strong fiscal discipline. We at SPN take very measured risks and we always keep an eye on ROI. So, we have invested where we have seen strong strategic and economic value, and at the same time we have exited from properties and channels which appeared unviable in the long run.”

When it comes to the overall market, Singh mentioned that the television industry will continue to grow but not at the same pace as it used to. Content consumption is up and viewers are evolving rapidly. The sign of the times is the paradigm shift from TV to digital – with creators and broadcasters also moving to where the audience is.

Given this scenario, there is a possibility that the content budget for TV will shrink or be diverted to creating content for streaming platforms. Singh, however, contended that ever since the network positioned itself as a content company three years ago, it aims to create high quality content across segments. “I believe that consumer needs will define the content strategy for each segment. It will help us to find the budget for that segment. I don’t think our budget for TV content will dwindle but we will be seeing huge investments in OTT.”

Singh, who has frequently aired his concerns regarding the NTO, emphasised that a stable and consistent regulatory regime is necessary for the media and entertainment industry to recover. Further disruptive changes in regulations would be inimical to the sector as it tries to find its feet in the new normal. But even as the NTO case is up in the air, Singh is doing what he’s good at – hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.