Sony LIV, Multi Screen Media’s OTT platform, recently launched its first original series #LoveBytes. Uday Sodhi, EVP and Head, Digital Business, MSM, shares insights on how content consumption and production differ on Digital and TV, and how he sees the platform evolve as a viable business
What is the thought process behind the launch of the series #LoveBytes? What are the consumer insights which went behind the show?
Multi Screen Media (MSM) is a large content organization which basically looks at creating content for multiple screens. So we have got the entire TV side of the business, motion pictures business and now we are building and consolidating the digital side of the business. As the digital markets are growing we thought that now is the time we can create a web series as a viable opportunity for the consumers and as a viable business for us too. We started to speak to a few consumers and undertook some research to figure out if people will consume digital content on a regular basis. We found that on Sony LIV a large set of people came back every day to catch up and view content on a regular basis. We then looked at the category and realised that a lot of people have done stand-up comedy and there is a lot that one sees on digital, comic shows, spoofs, etc. which are more topical. Based on all these insights, what we wanted to do was to create something which had a shelf life, which had legs of its own and therefore would relate to the audience.
What prompted the move for Sony LIV, a digital OTT platform, to foray into original production?
We want Sony LIV to be the preferred destination for content consumption on digital. It is our flagship OTT platform. Our direction going forward on this is we want to make this a multi-content platform. What we are doing currently is that we’ve got shows, sports and movies on it. So we are making it a one-stop destination and most of the shows running on it are from our own internal channels. We thought let’s bring out some freshness for the TG because a lot of our consumption is happening with youngsters. A lot of our TV content may not meet their requirements and therefore we thought we should build something for that TG. One thing which we also discovered while we are doing this was that television and digital content are very different. One of the key differences was consumption behaviour – television content is consumed along with the family since even today 90 % of the homes in India are single TV homes. Mobile content on the other hand, is essentially personal viewing.
Secondly, what you do on mobile is non-appointment viewing. Content on television is very appointment viewing based and is linear. On digital people prefer to watch at convenience. So our Sony LIV tag line is ‘Jab Aap Chahein’, you can watch when you want to watch. We get a lot of viewership in the evenings when people are travelling to and from work and when they have breaks, lunch time, etc. That window for us gave us insights that we can make special content for them.
How would you define your core target audience?
We looked at the market and surveyed the big consumers and the smartphone users. The audience that really stood out was in the age group of 18-24 years who were consuming a lot of content on smartphones. This audience comprises both male and female, urbanites who want byte size content. They are constantly on the move and therefore watch 8-10 minutes of content at a time and then move on. Since this was our first online show, we wanted it to be about our TG’s first relationships and we wanted to give a balanced male-female combination showcasing both sides of the story.
Will #Lovebytes be telecast on Television or is it going to be a strictly digital affair?
For the time being our plans are to keep it on digital only. We believe that the content we make for digital will be very different from TV. At least our objective is not to make content which will also play on television. We can have television content playing on digital but we don’t want digital content playing on television, especially not on the main GEC. Most of the content that we are making is a little different from the way GEC content is made today. So I don’t see fitting into that space at all. The way people talk is a bit of Hinglish, urban in nature, it takes up issues which are not TV type issues, etc. Our positioning on this is it is ‘un-TV’ content.
What has been the response from advertisers? Will you be looking at a subscription based model?
Currently we are building an advertising based business. Today whatever web series we are building are AVOD based. Yes, at some point in time, we will want to do subscription based stuff, but the current things that are in the pipeline are AVOD. We have got a good response from advertisers. The whole experience of a web-only show and its ability to connect to the consumer at a non-television cost also is very appealing to them. A lot of these brands want to connect with a different TG, which is a younger and in a different ambience. Today with content like ‘#Lovebytes’ we are able to connect to the audience because this audience is different from the audience that is watching TV. A lot of brands in this space are interested. One of the key advertisers in this is Integriti. So if you look at their product both Integriti and Caprese are very young brands which are in the same space where we have our digital content.
With many digital series following the Advertiser Funded Programme (AFP) model route, has there been an effort to integrate the advertiser message within the series?
This is different from an AFP. With AFP content is build with the brief of the advertiser. Over here, this is a story which we create and then we look at how advertisers can work with us to tell their part or how they can become a part of that story. We are in conversations with a few brands (for creating AFP content) asking for specific content within a specific genre suited to their audience in a particular TG. So we are in active conversations with a couple of brands. AFP on digital is far more advertiser friendly because this does not have any time restrictions. You can look at multiple stuff and various different TG’s. The cost entry barrier is not as much as in any other medium.
How has the year been for Sony LIV? What is the growth that you have seen?
We are very excited about the opportunities that we are seeing on digital. The digital ad market today is growing in the range of 30-40%. We believe that the market will expand significantly because of two or three reasons. One, smartphone penetration, according to estimates, is growing at 5-6 million on a month-on-month basis. That is a large chunk of people. Second, I think there is a huge penetration or bandwidth penetration that is happening with 3G and 4G. I think this will open up the ability to consume video content significantly. The third thing is, with online payment becoming easier and easier, the ecosystem will help us over the next couple of years to significantly expand this business going forward.
What are some of the future plans for the platform?
We are doing a couple of things. We are adding more and more shows going forward, both in English and Hindi. We are also adding independent digital only original shows on Sony LIV. On the sport side, we are adding a large sports catalogue and we are becoming fairly prominent. The third leg for us is movies. We plan to start a subscription service for movies fairly soon. The idea is to put movies, sports and shows including shows that we are creating like the original web series all under one basket. That will be our flagship Sony LIV.