For close to two years now, Sony Entertainment Television (SET), Multi Screen Media’s (MSM) general entertainment channel has been struggling to get its groove back. Ratings have steadily dropped; from being the second most watched channel in 2013 it has slipped to sixth position as audiences have shifted loyalties and more recently, it has been hit by a new rating system from Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) that has reclassified and expanded the viewership base in the country. To fight the slide, Sony is taking the battle to small towns, while rebuilding its appeal in urban and semi-urban areas with new non-fiction properties, mythological dramas and historical fiction.
MSM CEO, NP Singh says, “We have noticed the development of a loyal viewership in the LC1 markets (markets with population more than one lakh). There will be a shift in programming to cater to this category.” He is clear, however, that the channel will continue to focus on urban and semi-urban areas, (NCCS A and B segments in the BARC measurement system) where it has always resonated well with both males and females. Traditionally,SET has a male-skewed perception (in terms of viewership) and an urban tilt.
Originally positioned as a Hindi entertainment channel for audiences with a contemporary mindset, Sony’s weakness, perhaps, has been that its focus was too wide and diffused. Experts believe that today, having a precisely positioned channel, even if it does not cut across the universe of viewers, is better strategy.
Reality, movies and drama
In its revival plans, SET wants its non-fiction properties to play a pivotal role. Its popular Kaun Banega CrorepatiSingh says, “will make a comeback in the middle of next year.” And the channel is developing a new show calledPower Couples. It has also bagged the rights for big ticket events like the Filmfare Awards and come December, two more events will premiere on the channel reveals Singh.
The channel is also looking at premiering blockbuster movies. It has a longstanding agreement with Yash Raj Films and the rights to SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali and a slate of films from the Disney-UTV banner. The network’s own movies under the MSM Motion Pictures banner will also find a slot.
On the fiction front the channel is looking keenly at mythology and period dramas. It has also tied up with Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms and a new show will be launched this month. “Mythological shows and period dramas cut across demographics. They also provide a logical ending and that is something we are looking at doing as well,” explains Singh. Currently, SET has two mythological shows on air – Hanuman and Karna and one historical fiction drama – Maharana Pratap. The channel will continue with its popular CID and Crime Patrol. The new content mix is the outcome of research based on the new BARC ratings and in-house surveys.
Different strokes for different folks
The other channels in the network are also getting a makeover. A joint venture between MSM and ESPN will mean more sports channels in the bouquet. The alliance, Singh explains, will also further their strategy for sports broadcasting, which is to focus on non-cricket sports. MSM will also be expanding its digital reach through the ESPN tie-up as it has planned the launch of a co-branded localised multisport website and app.
Industry experts believe that MSM needs to take a close and hard look at its Hindi entertainment strategy, especially after the failure of Sony Pal. Also they say the network must expand the kind of shows it airs, to reach out to different kinds of viewers. Other networks like Zee have already launched channels catering to different kinds of audiences, they point out. Zee launched a second brand ‘&’ in 2013 with &pictures and followed that up with the launch of &TV.
MSM’s Sony Pal, launched last year, is its third Hindi GEC under and was meant to cater to the urban women. But nine months into the launch, the channel found itself floundering. And the network therafter scrapped all the original shows on Pal and began running archived shows from SET and SAB TV. But Singh is categorical that he will not “shut down Pal. The plan is to wait for the viewership to gather critical mass. Yes, it did not go as planned, but I have always told my team – take risks since playing safe does not make you a pioneer,” concludes Singh.
The network has had better luck with its English language channels. And playing with its strengths in this genre, it has tied up with BBC for a new infotainment channel called BBC Earth. “There is demand for high quality content in the genre. We see it as an opportunity to expand the scope of our offerings,” says Singh. Its English language movie channel Sony Pix (number 2 in the rankings) and AXN, the English entertainment channel which is at the number one spot are getting a boost too ,with a first output deal with NBC Universal that will help MSM expand its library of new and old Hollywood movies.