Anirban Roy Choudhury
Interviews

“We are trying to learn from the mistakes made by our competitors”: Saugata Mukherjee, SonyLIV

Mukherjee worked with Hotstar and Star TV before joining SonyLIV as head-original content in February 2020. He talks about how SonyLIV will approach its content creation, among other things.

All your competitors have made multiple ‘Originals’. What do you make of this space?

Digital content in this country doesn’t have a very long history, unlike (in) the West, where it was just a change in the form of distribution. In India, we had films, which is a two-and-a-half-hour experience, and television is a 500-hour experience.

So far, we’ve had a few hits and misses, as it should be, or as is the case, in any industry. Our competitors have made shows, some worked, while others didn’t. We’re trying to learn from the mistakes made by our competitors so that we don’t repeat the same ones.

How will you differentiate yourself from what has already become a clutter?

What we’re trying to do is tell stories that don’t necessarily need a huge expanse. There are a couple of genres which are underserved, like comedy, for example. We’ve not done enough comedies, or sitcoms... we’re trying to differentiate our content by picking up certain genres, which others are underserving.

The other thing we’re trying to do is to look at interesting ideas from anecdotes that are thoroughly Indian. Stories that give you a peek into this country. Most stories we’re picking up are deeply linked to Indian ethos, and not trying to follow a lot of western forms of storytelling.

What’s your target audience? Is it the 10 million sitting at the top of the pyramid?

Everybody is trying to target the top 10 million in the country. The good thing about SonyLIV is that we come from a broadcasting network, and there are a lot of people who love Sony. Millions of people come on our broadcast channels and SonyLIV because they love the shows that our TV partners make.

We’re trying to serve a big part of that audience, give them something new, and get them to sample the newer form of storytelling. Having said that, our target group is urban educated class of audiences, who have certain kind of intellectual capabilities.

Saugata Mukherjee
Saugata Mukherjee

When all of you are battling for the same set of consumers, how do you ensure that you get your share of time?

The good thing the Internet and digital have done is that they’ve both made things a lot more democratic. If you put a bad piece of content on a very popular and big platform, people will still bash it. It all boils down to what you’re producing, and people have great regards and appetite for good content.

There is a space for everybody, as we’ve seen in television, where there are a plethora of channels serving the same set of content at the same time. It just provides more options, and yes, there is a lot of competition, which is good as that makes you experiment more.

When we talk about different content, it boils down to premium drama. It essentially means a lot of money being spent on a Bollywood cast and a renowned showrunner...

The answer would be yes and no! For us, it’s not just the names, but the story as well. Spending more money and getting big names isn’t the magic wand to success. Yes, there has been a propensity to overspend, but I don't think we’re going to do that.

We’re going after stories, and if it means we have to spend a certain amount of money, we’re very happy to spend it. There is no yardstick... We are very clear that there is a scope for new storytellers, who will come and make different kinds of stories...

SET the flagship GEC has always been a brand skewed towards urban areas. Won't it be a challenge for you to differentiate yourself from what is airing on television?

Yes, it is true that Sony has always been skewed towards urban areas. It is an advantage for SonyLIV, it puts us ahead of some of our competitors. We have a very strong set of Sony followers, and they organically flow into this kind of premium content.

Yes, there would be a competition for the audience on TV, but it’s no longer an ‘us versus them’ story. There are people who will still watch daily soaps and watch SonyLIV content, too…

Do you think it’s essential for you to only make what isn’t put up on television?

I think some stories can actually fit in both worlds. I don't believe that if you make a really good love story, it won't work on SonyLIV. It is the way you make it. The way you made it 15 years back may not, or won't, work for people now, as they have evolved. They probably want to see the story in a much more concise manner.

But if you say that people watch only soaps on TV, and when it comes to digital, it has to be dark, crime, murders, sex and all, I don’t think that kind of categorisation is right. The grammar may change, but the story will still work. The grammar of telling a 500-episode show is very different from narrating it in six, or seven episodes. It needs a different set of skills.

SonyLIV's new logo
SonyLIV's new logo

When you commission a show, do you think of a season, or two? Is that a yardstick?

There are no hard and fast rules, I’m open to doing mini-series on SonyLIV. I know that some of the stories can’t be told over multiple seasons. That should never be the yardstick for us to choose a show.

But yes, we often look at shows which have the possibilities of running into multiple seasons, as it helps in marketing, building a brand, and having a recall value... Does that mean we aren’t going to do shows that last just one season? Of course not… I see a big scope for mini-series.

But what if the mini-series becomes a big hit? There will then be a temptation to make a season two. Will you drag it then?

There will always be a temptation... Now, if we can find an organic way of doing season two, we will do it, otherwise we are happy telling the story in one season. The greed of pushing, pulling and dragging a show on and on, we aren’t in that space. ‘Chernobyl’ can’t have 10 seasons, yet it was made.