It came a close second when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)’s global media rights for domestic matches were announced. Apart from that, Multi Screen Media Private Limited (MSM) is enjoying a remarkable turnaround story. As the Indian Premier League (IPL) has surfaced as cricket’s most lucrative property, MSM’s subsidiary, Sony Entertainment Television, has been steady on No. 2 position in the Hindi general entertainment space, while its sister channels, Pix and Sab TV, have raced past in their genres. The music channel, Mix, has had a good start. N P Singh, chief operating officer, MSM, spoke to Varada Bhat about the company’s new sports channel, Six, and the network’s growth plans. Excerpts:
Why has there been such a soft launch of the channel? Why isn’t IPL, the lucrative property for the network, shown on the channel this year?
Just wait and watch. We are to launch on April 7. We will be launching hi-decibel promotional campaigns across all media platforms. This year, IPL will be shown on MAX, but we will have other IPL properties and shows on Six. The channel will launch with UFC Mixed Martial Arts and the best of the first four seasons of IPL.
The sports genre already has 11 channels. The IPL seasons is just two months during the calendar. What other content are you looking to acquire?
We believe Six will stand out from the existing sports channels. We want to target the young India and provide a mix of entertainment and sports that appeals to both men and women. The channel will embrace sports such as mixed martial arts, basketball, football and badminton. We currently have the rights for New Zealand cricket, FA Cup and NBA. We are in the process of acquiring FIFA qualifiers.
MSM was seen as the front-runner for BCCI rights. The difference between you and Star India was Rs 150 crore. Do you think the bid amount was less?
If you see right now, we could have bid another Rs 150 crore for the rights. Our amount was also high. At the end of the day, their (Star India) bid was higher.
Nimbus found it hard to break even with Rs 31.5 crore per match. Do you think that was possible if you would have won the rights?
We thought the bid was competitive. But from long-term perspective, and given that digitisation is a reality, it wouldn’t have been difficult.
Hasn’t it been tough to sell the ad inventory for IPL? Generally by mid-February, you manage to close almost 80 per cent of your inventory.
It has been slow, but we have had a good response. We usually keep some inventory for spot sells. The season has started well, we see the interest going up from now on. The IPL TV rights are with us for another five years, and it is our biggest property; we can’t afford to discount its current value. T20 continues to grow in popularity.
Sony has good run in the past few months. Will SET launch an afternoon band to create a new revenue stream or still have a prime-time overhang?
We have no such plans. It doesn’t make a big difference to your ratings and, hence, advertisers have little interest for it. Hindi GECs (general entertainment channels) have preferred to expand their prime time. It now fills up the early evening from 6 pm right up to 12 in the night; there is a lot of viewership in that time band. Post-IPL, we will be launching a new season of Indian Idol and developing our existing properties.
Sab is doing really well in ratings. Do you plan to add more programming?
In the past two years, Sab has had a strong viewership. It is uniquely positioned as a family comedy channel. Sab has helped our network revenues grow. We are launching new shows and properties on that. Recently we just moved Movers and Shakers on Sab.
Why did MSM decide to launch a music channel when the market is too crowded?
True, it is a crowded market, but it is a good genre to be in. MTV and Channel [V] have taken a different route and focus on reality shows as their growth drivers, while other players in this pure-music space have a standalone presence. Mix’s positioning of capturing the various moods during the day has got acceptance, and we believe that we will be the leader. As a pure music channel, we are here to grow the market. Our network strength will help us to ramp up revenue.
MSM doesn’t have a footprint in regional-language broadcasting that is growing the fastest. Was letting TV18 Group acquire ETV a missed opportunity?
We are interested in the regional space. Our parent company already has stake in Bengali movie channel Sony Aath, which is doing well for us. If we plan to acquire any channel, it has to come at right price.
With digitisation becoming a reality, what are key focus areas for MSM? Do you plan to launch more channels especially niche channels?
We want to get into regional space by the end of this year. We have a lot of work to do in the fiction area of our main channel. Shows like Bade Acche Laggte Hain continue to do well. We want more of those programmes. These shows are actually the bread and butter of any GEC. We are very sure that we need to pay attention on the main channel, and will continue to focus on that.
After Star-Zee distribution agreement, is Sony looking to merge forces with external broadcast networks?
I think Star-Zee coming together caused a lot of people (to talk) to others. We have a distribution joint venture with Discovery, we already have two top channels in Hindi general entertainment. Digitisation will solve a lot of current problems on distribution. It is the only thing that will give complete knowledge of all the subscribers. Digital platforms carry a lot more channels than the existing cable systems, and will help the overall industry move forward.