SonyLIV has right assets, realistic goal to become No. 1 OTT player: Uday Sodhi

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This FIFA World Cup is the happiest phase in the little over four-year journey for Sony Picture Network’s OTT platform SonyLIV. The FIFA World Cup live streaming is deriving unprecedented success. SonyLIV has exceeded its expectation in audience numbers. The business goals are scored much before the final whistle. SonyLIV’s FIFA World Cup campaign has been on the global Top 10 list on the Youtube.

Sony Pictures Network Digital Business Head Uday Sodhi has no qualms as he shares with pride that what SonyLIV had achieved with the World Cup live streaming four years ago or the 2016 Euro Cup, has been “happening” every alternate day with FIFA World Cup 2018.

In a candid conversation with about SonyLIV’s business and content strategy, goals and philosophy, a confident Uday revealed that the OTT platform is well equipped to realise its “realistic goal” to become the number one digital content player in India. Here are the excerpts:

InsideSport: How has FIFA World Cup 2018 been for SonyLIV so far?

Uday Sodhi: It has been a brilliant run over the last one month. We have only the deciders left for this edition of the FIFA World Cup. Though this is the second FIFA World Cup for us, the experience this year has been an unprecedented one. We have broadcast key global football properties in the past – ranging from the World Cup in Brazil to the 2016 Euro  Cup. If we compare this World Cup with the previous edition or the Euro two years back, the results are unbelievable this time. What we have achieved for the entire Euro 16 is happening every second or third day on this World Cup. The gains and growth are in multiples.

Better data availability, lower costs of bandwidth and much improved alternate screen devices like smartphones are a major differentiator.

IS: Sony Pictures Network has set a target of ₹250 crore ad sales for the FIFA World Cup 2018. The Sony Sports Cluster has achieved its goal of ₹200 crore much earlier, the other 50 crores had to come from your (SonyLIV) side. With the last few games to go, how are you placed?

US: These are your numbers. We do not discuss numbers. However, we are very happy with the advertisers response for the World Cup on Sony. There are around 20 advertisers on SonyLiv. These include big brand like Uber, Patanjali, Swiggy, VIP, Apple, Red Bull, Vodafone, Carlsberg and Dell have supported us. I can confirm that our entire inventory has been sold out all, all goals are achieved.

IS: Will you agree that from SonyLIV’s sports content perspective, this World Cup has been the best by far?

US: The 30-day World Cup is one of the largest sports events we have hosted on SolyLIV. We are happy to see over 40-45 million users who have visited SonyLIV for the FIFA World Cup games. We believe the viewership is almost equally divided between the SonyLIV website and the SonyLIV app. Significant numbers have now also started coming from connected devices and we are seeing that as a huge change in this World Cup.

IS: The World Cup is at its climax and Indian cricket team’s England tour is already deriving you big broadcast numbers. Then you have the Asian Games from the 18th of next month, in November Indian cricket team will travel to Australia. What are your strategies and goals for the busy season ahead?

US: We are in this OTT sports business for over four years now. It is the second FIFA World Cup for us. In between, we have had other major events like the UEFA Championship, Champions Trophy and the premier European football leagues. Good part is that we have a large, loyal sports audience base on SonyLIV. After football, we have a lot of cricket coming up. Then there is the NBA season. WWE is among the hottest television properties. We probably have one of the best football collection on SonyLIV. We believe we have established a great bond with our consumer base.

With this kind of content, we have the most realistic goal of becoming the leader in the sports OTT business in India. There is a simple strategy to offer the best sports experience to our loyal consumers and expand that consumer base constantly. That (sports) then drives the rest of our business of entertainment, movies and other genres.

IS: FIFA World Cup and England tour are two big numbers games for any broadcaster. How do you plan to retain this big viewer base?

US: The football, cricket and this entire sports season is going to be very heavy on sports. Asian Games are coming up after a very busy cricket season. We have got 70 days of cricket in England. Then Asian Games is another big property that will be followed by India’s tour of Australia. In between, we have other GEC and cinema content. For SonyLIV the next one year probably is the one of our best line-ups for the consumer. This will allow us to consolidate our position in India.

For the first time, we have created a separate wrap around show on India-England cricket for SonyLIV with Ajay Jadeja, Sahil Khattar and Rochelle Rao. The response for that show is amazing and that is a good opening for us for the non-live sports content.

IS: Digital is fast emerging as “the medium” for the live sports consumption. There is a major switch from conventional TV to alternate screens for various factors like better mobile data availability, better spectrum and rapid improvement in the broadcast technology. Can you say this shift is heading for a stage where digital space will edge past the conventional television?

US: There is no reason to compare these two screens. Fundamentally the consumer does not worry about where he or she is watching the content. The consumer is more concerned about a seamless experience. We as Brand Sony are offering multi-screen experience to our consumer. We look at giving seamless experience across all devices. Nothing will take away the advantage of the television at home. That is the first choice. There is no doubt that digital is becoming the choicest medium of video content consumption for the audience that is away from TV sets. Digital will only make it convenient to watch video content on alternate screen. We being in the content business will try and make the best content available across all screens and leave the choice to the consumer.

IS: New OTT players are coming into the market. Sony has seen its LaLiga rights going to Facebook. This growing competition will change the dynamics of the business. How do you look at this more competitive scenario?

US: This (OTT) business is only going to grow. Media rights is something that will keep moving from one player to another. In our strategic decisions, we will gain some and we will lose some. More people will get into this space but there is a room for more players in this growing market.

In most of the countries, there are multiple OTT players. If you look at a market as big as India with a billion plus mobile handsets in use, we have potential to be the single largest digital content market in the world. Then it is obvious to have big players joining this market. As a global brand, Sony is happy to be in the competitive market and win the leader’s position in that competition.

IS: How important is sports to the SonyLIV business?

US: Sports is a very important part of our offerings. There are 11 sports channels in the 31-channel strong Sony Pictures Network. Sportsform the large part of Sony’s strategy in India. The philosophy remains the same for our digital business. We want to make sure that sports derives the repeat users, it derives a certain amount of loyalty. It brings in new users every time there is a big sporting event and we work towards providing them an experience good enough to add them to our loyal viewers’ pool.

IS: SonyLIV has rich non-live content library in GEC and movies. What are your plans with regard to sports non-live content?

US: We have already started looking at a lot of non-live sports content. The studio show with Ajay Jadeja during the England-India series is one initiative in that direction. Our objective is to generate more and more content and improve the quality of our wrap around shows.

IS: Your FIFA World Cup campaign #screamloud is among the top 10 World Cup campaigns on youtube. To have a global top 10 position is a matter of pride.

US: It is so huge for us that it hasn’t sunk in as yet. For an Indian broadcaster to be selected on the top ten list for a football content is something ultimate. Fundamentally, we are not a footballing nation. We aren’t even participating in the Asian Games football. We are not in the thick of the football craziness. So, for  an Indian brand to create a football campaign that is listed among the top ten globally also indicates our consumers’ faith in SonyLIV. There is a strong consumer connect in the campaign. This is indeed very satisfying that our campaign is listed among the best the world over. It is more heartening to see that tournament has gone well from our financial and business perspective as well.

IS: Can you safely say that the FIFA World Cup has been the gamechanger for SonyLIV this time around?

US: Game changer probably will be too strong an expression. We were prepared well for a big event like this. We have done big events earlier. But yes, this has been a real landmark event for us in terms of content consumption, business and our ability to handle such a large event. For us it’s a great experience and a great learning that will help us to do even bigger things ahead.

This is a stepping stone for us to do bigger and better things.