Anindita Sarkar
Interviews

"If you take a big chance, you can get big success" - Man Jit Singh, CEO, MSM

Come April 3 and a fresh struggle will begin in Indian homes for control of the remote. Cricket's annual extravaganza, the Indian Premier League, tends to do that to families. This is the perfect time, then, to ask the CEO of Multi Screen Media (MSM, still identified by many as the Sony network) about the role and importance of IPL for the broadcaster.

Man Jit Singh came over after nearly three decades in the US to join MSM as non-executive chairman in 2007. When the CEO's position became available in 2009, Singh took interim charge and was then confirmed some months later as a fulltime chief executive. Excerpts from the interview:

Edited Excerpts

How has the role and importance of IPL within the MSM network changed over the last six years?

The IPL is not just a premier sports property today but the largest sports property in India. It is an extremely profitable part of our business. It is also very significant primarily because it allows us to leverage distribution. This way we are able to get placement for all our channels. It is also a marquee property where we can promote all our other properties.

And what about its share in revenue for the network?

Sony Entertainment's ratings are significantly up and we are in the top three most of the time. So, our revenues have grown considerably on the core channel. Consequently, our dependence on the IPL is lower than before. Nevertheless, while I can't share the numbers, I must also say that the revenues from the IPL have only continued to grow; it's just that our overall revenues have grown even faster.

DLF has been associated with the IPL from day one. Now with Pepsi endorsing the game, what does it mean to brand IPL?

DLF had it for five years as per their commitment. What Pepsi brings with it is an incredible amount of consumer marketing and energy. We believe that Pepsi will take IPL to a brand new height - it has that consumer orientation and that marketing push. For instance, this time viewers and audiences will see that the stadiums are blue. It is going to be an incredible Pepsi event. So, it is a very good partnership.

Does Pepsi's coming on board mean that Coke will stay away?

Coca-Cola is advertising on air with us. I think that for both the brands April-May is a key period. It is the season for soft drinks and Pepsi and Coke without doubt are going to advertise on large properties. So, the viewers will absolutely see both the brands on air.

Why did you choose to simulcast the event and not telecast on Sony Six alone? Wouldn't that have given the channel enormous momentum?

We thought about it but in broadcasting, recently, we have seen some successes with simulcasting content in both English and Hindi. So we decided to do both a Hindi as well as an English commentary for the IPL.

We decided to simulcast the IPL in Hindi on Sony Six and in English on Sony Six HD and SET Max of course since HD's penetration is still relatively small. English is a very key audience for the IPL, we wanted to put the property up in on Max. However, when the penetration of HD grows, we plan to shift the game to Sony Six entirely.

Is it fair to say that the aggressive Farah Khan campaign is aimed at pulling up the viewer's engagement with the game which has dipped?

With the new campaign we want to build and grow the viewership engagement with the IPL. We want people to get up and dance in their homes when there is a four and a six.

But I certainly do not agree that we are doing this because the viewership engagement has fallen. The number of viewers and the reach of the IPL have only grown every year. We really do not worry about the ratings much and if one considers the reach, we do not believe that there is any dip in viewership at all.

First there was the sheer thrill of seeing something like IPL for the first time. What is the challenge in keeping the excitement going?

Sports leagues only grow with time because people start getting engaged with their local teams. Look at any league around the world, be it the EPL or the NBA. That way, IPL too will only continue to grow. Last year there were many close matches and the cricket was brilliant. There was plenty of excitement, there were celebrities in the crowd, there were cheer leaders, the stadiums were full and people were going crazy.

When you look back, what has been the big learning from the IPL experience in business terms?

The big learning from the IPL for us was that we took a chance on something that was completely new and unexplored, believed in that concept, in the combination of cricket and entertainment and it has been wildly successful. The point is, if you take a big chance, you can get big success and that is what the IPL is all about.