Anirban Roy Choudhury

"The challenge is creating something people are ready to pay for": Ashish Golwalkar

In millennials’ lingo the video-on-demand space in India is ‘hot’ and ‘Originals’ add a swag factor to most platforms. It’s difficult to drive by the highways of Mumbai and Bengaluru without spotting a gigantic hoarding of a ‘Originals’.

There is a reason why large Indian broadcasters and international streaming giants are going all guns blazing to promote their digital offerings in India. In FY19 (ended March 2019), the digital video business in the country stood at Rs 3900 crore. Rs 16,000 crore of advertising money was spent on digital advertising and video’s share in FY19 was Rs 5300 crore out of which Rs 2700 crore were spent on OTT-videos. In FY20, advertising on digital video is set to rise to Rs 7700 crore with OTT platforms estimated to get Rs 4300 crore of that share. The digital video subscription market is far smaller in India at Rs 1200 crore but is growing faster than digital advertising, albeit on a smaller base. KPMG projects it to grow to Rs 2200 crore in FY20 and Rs 6200 crore by 2023 (FY). Overall, by 2023, the video OTT-biz in India is set to touch Rs 16,000 crore.

Danish Khan
Danish Khan

The largest OTT-video platform in India, Hotstar, which claims to have crossed 300 million monthly active users during the IPL and ICC Cricket World has reported a revenue of Rs 1,112 crore in FY 19. Times Internet’s MXPlayer claims that it has close to 175 million monthly active users in India but how many of them are streaming video and what is the number of users who are just using it as a media player is unknown. MXPlayer recently forayed into streaming after Times Internet acquired it from Korean headquartered tech firm J2. Viacom18’s Voot, Zee’s ZEE5, and Eros International’s Eros NOW, Balaji Telefilms' ALTBalaji are other big home-grown players in the market but at number three, as per industry estimates, is Sony Pictures Networks India’s Sony LIV, which in July 2019 became the third home-grown app to be downloaded more than 100 million times, (Hotstar and JioTV are the other two).

Recently, after Uday Sodhi decided to move on to start his venture, SPNI reshuffled its digital leadership team. Much like in 2015, when the network wanted to revive its flagship television entertainment channel Sony it is now headed to what it calls, “The process of redefining Sony LIV”. Back then Sony got Danish Khan back from Star India to head both business and programming. Khan, an erstwhile Sony hand had gone on to join Star India in 2012 and returned in 2015. Under his leadership, Sony went on to launch new shows, new non-fiction formats and today is one of the strongest entertainment outlets in urban India. The network has given the mandate to redefine Sony LIV to the same Danish Khan who now dons the hat of executive vice-president and business head, SET, Studio NEXT and Digital business.

Amogh Dusad
Amogh Dusad

Apart from Khan, post the rejig, Amogh Dusad will head - Content, Partnerships, New Initiatives - Digital Business, Aman Srivastava will head marketing for Digital Business and Ashish Golwalkar has the mandate to head - content, SET, and Digital business.

SPNI’s reported revenue in FY19 stood at Rs 6224 crore, which saw a slight decline from Rs 6277 crore in the previous fiscal. SPNI, as said by CEO, NP Singh in an earlier interview has managed to not let the loss of IPL affect its bottom line. In FY19 the SPNI did not have IPL in its arsenal, which it did in the previous years. As per sources, out of the Rs 6224 crore, Sony LIV contributes around Rs 550 crore with “a marginal” operational profit.A

Also Read: "It will take time for OTT to challenge TV": NP Singh

Launched in 2013, LIV which now clocks around 90 million monthly active users (as per SonyLIV), was an early mover, battling low internet and smartphone penetration in a piracy-struck-market. In 2014, it launched LIV Sports a subscription-based video-on-demand platform, which was the official digital streaming platform for FIFA World Cup hosted by Brazil in the same year. Later after Sony acquired Ten Sports Networks from ZEEL for Rs 2600 crore in 2015, it merged its sports offering into one app. It now streams, UEFA Champions League, India cricket matches each time the team tours Australia, South Africa, and many such countries. Apart from sports, it has a collection of international shows and movies licensed from Sony Pictures and Lionsgate, Indian Hindi regional shows and films. Though LIV commissioned original series such as ‘Lovebytes’ it never had its ‘Showtime’ moment.

“We are in the process of redefining Sony LIV”, says Amogh Dusad. “One area of focus for us would be providing deeper and richer content, be it our Originals that we create or the content we acquire.” The other focus areas, as shared by Dusad, are consumer experience on the app and the perception. “We are looking in great detail about how can we enhance our tech and product and innovate to provide a seamless experience to the user.”

Aman Srivastava
Aman Srivastava

What LIV stands for and how it stands out in the clutter is what Srivastava has his eyes on. “Engagement and experience are important but how we make the subscriber a fan is what is key,” he says. “The Original content that we create will drive the identity of the brand,” Srivastava adds.

Sony shares its content with other OTT platforms and telecom operators. The channels can be streamed live on Jio TV, Airtel Stream, and Vodafone Play. Dusad says these are various distribution tools that the brand used to reach out to a larger base. But eventually, LIV would like to have a larger, “direct” relationship with the consumer.

“About 9 crore people watch Sony every month, what we are looking at with LIV is two crore of the 9 who are willing to pay. New people are coming on the television universe but at the same time there is a section at the top of the pyramid that is on the verge of getting out of that medium if, given an alternative option, that is the attention we want to arrest,” says Golwalkar.

Ashish Golwalkar
Ashish Golwalkar

He adds, “We need to create content that keeps the viewer within the Sony universe and then we will also add more viewers too. Digital is a medium where the interaction happens at a personal level, where the consumption is primarily happening on a personal device and so you get the liberty to tell stories that you otherwise could not.”

Sharing his views on the kind of content creation opportunities, Golwalkar says, “There are so many good stories that India has to tell. If Indians sitting here can watch and enjoy and relate to Narcos, which was mostly Spanish, there are so many such stories in India, which I think can fly all around the world, content is becoming language agnostic.”

“The challenge is creating something people are ready to pay for in a price-sensitive market. The content has to be good and only then will people will pay. What is also very important is our ability to market the content in a manner that people find it worthy enough to pay for,” Golwalkar adds.

In 2015, there was a joke that did the rounds, “On Sony they only telecast CID.” Cut to 2019, Week 42 — BARC India ratings, Sony was the number one general entertainment channel in the Urban market (now it has slipped to 4) and it has long discontinued production or telecast of CID. Whether Danish Khan and the same team can manage to turnaround the fortunes of the digital business remains to be seen.