Suraj Ramnath

"Most advertisers today take OTT as part of their media plan,": SonyLIV's Uday Sodhi

We spoke to the business head - digital, Sony Pictures Networks India on its partnership with Lionsgate and SonyLIV's content.

SonyLIV, the over-the-top (OTT) platform from Sony Pictures Networks India has announced a multi-year strategic content deal with American entertainment giant, Lionsgate. The new assortment of shows will be available for viewing under SonyLIV Premium which has INR 99 a month, INR 299 for 6 months and INR 499 a year plans.

Lionsgate Play will be bundled within SonyLIV's current slate of programming and 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 eagerly-anticipated The Spanish Princess. These will be in addition to popular Lionsgate library titles such as Crash, Manhattan, Wildfire, Are We There Yet? and Chasing Life.

"Most advertisers today take OTT as part of their media plan,": SonyLIV's Uday Sodhi

Screenshot of shows available on SonyLIV

In a press conference held by SonyLIV, Uday Sodhi, business head - digital, Sony Pictures Networks India spoke to afaqs! about the deal with Lionsgate and on SonyLIV's content.

Edited Excerpts

There is content available from content maker Arré on SonyLIV; how different is the content going to be from Lionsgate?

The idea is to strengthen our fiction product. What we currently have on our app is centred around TV shows, some of our originals and sports, and a large set of movies. We are seeing subscription, as a category, grow and high-quality international shows becoming available in India. The awareness for these shows has expanded significantly. The ability in the desire to binge-watch has gone up. About six months ago, we launched a set of international shows on SonyLIV and some of them were very big shows. That experiment worked for us.

We have been working closely with Lionsgate to see if we can offer a large catalogue of their shows. Lionsgate is probably one of the largest producers of movies and TV series across the world and Lionsgate Play becomes a part of our subscription product. So, for now, more than 500 hours of original content by Lionsgate, primarily TV series, will mostly be exclusively available on SonyLIV Premium. The focus is to create a large subscription category and build it along with Lionsgate.

Is the English genre on OTT seeing better growth than TV?

Absolutely! English content has grown significantly because of two or three things. One reason is we are seeing a significant penetration, in the last couple of years, of smart TVs. Smart TVs makes it that much easier to binge-watch long shows. The availability of these shows is becoming easier. People are connected on social media and know which show is getting released in the rest of the world. Power is a show we are launching and already, people on social media are talking so much about it. This is naturally becoming a part of our habit.

Will SonyLIV subscribers also get access to movies made by Lionsgate?

At this point, we think TV series are very exciting; yes, 'movies' is also an interesting category. At this point in time, what we at SonyLIV and Lionsgate have thought is that TV and Web series are exciting things to go after. For one, mentally we far more tuned to watch series. We are used to the entire television ecosystem and we are far more comfortable watching series. We are far more binge-friendly and that's where we want to focus on. The good part of digital is that we can hear immediately from consumers. We will see the viewing pattern and figure out quickly that this is what works. As a partnership, we can go back and try out a few more things and expand this moving forward.

Will there be a repeat of shows on SonyLIV that are seen on other OTT platforms?

It's possible. Some of the content might get repeated. Anger Management is one of the shows that is available on other platforms as well. But a lot of shows will be seen for the first time in India, exclusively on SonyLIV.

Will these shows be dubbed in regional languages too?

We haven't really thought about it yet. It is an interesting idea, but at this point, we are focusing on English.

You say India is a binge-friendly market; does that put additional pressure on you to deliver?

Actually, there is no pressure. People are enjoying watching long shows. As platform and content developers, it is an exciting space for us. We are seeing the metrics grow at a very fast pace. So, as data costs come down, fibre is going to be available for everybody at home. This movement is happening towards the easy accessibility of data and content. All these fall into place for us beautifully. This means we can give better quality shows, the output can be better and we can invest more in the content. And plenty of content coming from Lionsgate is absolutely phenomenal and that would be seen from the quality of the shows. If the experience is phenomenal, they will binge and spend more time and that's what content/platform owners want.

How far are we from seeing an original from StudioNEXT for SonyLIV?

Not too far. I think StudioNEXT is just starting off its operations. You will see a lot coming out of there, but it is still very early days.

Are you planning to have tie-ups with broadband players?

Absolutely! I think most hybrid boxes going into the market will have the SonyLIV app. Most smart TVs that are launching in the market will have the SonyLIV app. Whether it is a smart TV, set-top box or even digital streaming devices, the whole ecosystem is making it easy to consume content.

How much growth are you expecting, in terms of subscriptions?

I think subscription is an exciting space for us. It is the key focus for us going forward. We will see a significant amount of investment being made in content behind subscription. With our partners, Lionsgate, we will see more and more content coming in and we are also looking at other exciting regional content in 2019. We are looking at a full pipeline for doing Marathi shows, South Indian shows and Hindi shows. So, yes subscription will be a key focus and growth area for us.

How are advertisers looking at SonyLIV?

Advertisers are the biggest swing I have seen in 2018. What we are seeing in 2018 going on 2019, are that most advertisers, while planning any campaign, put OTT in their media spend. Today, a brand doesn't go into the market without OTT as part of its media plan which, I think, is a huge change from 2016-2017. Look at the number of advertisers that participated in Fifa Worldcup. We had 36 sponsors and we have never heard of that before for a digital property. In Diwali too, we are seeing most of the big brands consistently advertising on OTT. So, OTT is now mainstream for an advertiser. You have to put your money on OTT as an advertiser, going forward.

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