Shweta Mulki

"We are getting into an aggressive growth mode now"- N.P. Singh

On Multi Screen Media completing 20 years, its CEO says the collaborations with ESPN, BBC will soon get operational and the flagship channel will also be revamped.

Multi Screen Media (MSM) has just completed 20 years of its existence on Indian television, and is all set to go full steam with its various ventures. On this occasion, the network's CEO N.P. Singh, who has spent 16 years with it spoke on plans for growth and expansion. He said," We have grown from a single channel to now multiple channels, and are getting into an aggressive growth mode. There are challenges but we are focused on growth, and consolidation, and the course correction for our flagship channel"

"We are getting into an aggressive growth mode now"- N.P. Singh

He also listed some of the highlights of the 20-year journey of the network. Some of them include the first ever big-scale live event (Lata Mangeshkar Live), the first to bring Bollywood blockbusters to television (Sholay' followed by Border), the first daily soap ('Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka'), Ekta Kapoor's first show ('Ghar Ek Mandir'), the first interactive reality show ('Indian Idol'), first dance show ('Boogie Woogie'), the first 'pure' reality content (Bigg Boss').

He added that in 1999, with SET Max, they were the first to have a channel combine sports with Hindi movies, and took the World Cup and cricket to women viewers, as in 2003, with 'Extraa Innings'- the first ever sports wrap-around show, female viewership increased by 30% that year. MSM also says that its successful second GEC, 'SAB TV' is also the only full-time family-humour channel, running daily strip shows. Its popular 'Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chasma' has been on air for over 7 years.

The network has been making changes to the management team, and the objective is to expand and diversify the portfolio with new businesses and explore opportunities in the digital platform.

On digital, Singh said," Digital is growing rapidly and we want to be a major part of the action. We started taking baby steps two years ago with the launch of Sony Liv, which has been ramped up in the last year. We've launched our first original series 'Love Bytes'-the first to do that on an OTT platform. It's at 11 episodes, and we've already got 1.5 million video views, and overall consumption has grown by 300% due to that show. There are more original shows in the pipeline, and we are aggregating lot of third party content as well."

On the Sony-ESPN venture Singh said its co-branded multi-sport app will also be localised, and we have the expertise of ESPNcricinfo on that and that the latter will also be used to create its branded content for the channels. He added that will be integrated with Sony Liv.

Replying to a question on free versus paid content, he said that models are being debated globally, and though they have free content currently, he believes that marquee content should be subscription led, and are ready with a subscription-led model if the circumstances so permit.

He added, "We have acquired a lot of sports content outside of cricket. Out football portfolio has become very robust, we had Copa America, we have tournaments like Euro 2016, FIFA 2018, FIFA European qualifiers, FA Cup, Italian Seria A, La Liga, and the Rugby World Cup. We've got other international sports like UFC, NBA which has grown in viewership, plus, NFL, ATP tours and the grand slams." On IPL, he said that their different channels now bring in opportunities to monetise regional feeds. He added that Prasana Krishnan, will head Sony ESPN too, along with the other sports channels.

On Sony TV he says," We were trying to follow a more inclusive strategy and some elements of that haven't worked. With the new team, we are re-orienting ourselves back to the core positioning. In the next 6 months we expect to see a fairly big surge in viewership based on the development scale we have. The channel has always resonated with 15-34 yrs female, and in the last two years the content has not really worked for them, though male viewership has grown, so we working towards a balance. We want to bring back our female viewers especially on the weekdays.

On BARC's upcoming rural ratings, Singh said, "The network has always had an urban skew, and moving away from that does not makes sense, so to that extent, this is a challenge but we will try and provide content for viewers in smaller towns and rural. Our show 'Hanuman' for instance has universal appeal."

MSM is the only network with three mainstream GEC channels. On plans for the network's third GEC Sony Pal, Singh said, "it has gone through the content strategy change and viewer traction is growing. There is a broad outline for the next 6 months that we will start working on" On the HD front, he said that MAX and SAB will be soon launched in HD.

Lastly, speaking about the Sony BBC Earth, he said," 60 to 70 % of factual entertainment content in the world is supplied by BBC, so we wanted to get into a JV with them. The content will be in SD and HD in Hindi and English and later in other languages. We are already in the process of curating content from BBC. Saurabh Yagnik will head this as well along with Sony Pix and AXN." The launch date has not been announced as the FIPB approvals are yet to be given.

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