Captivating responsibility: Crafting a show that resonates with audiences: Neeraj Vyas

Captivating responsibility: Crafting a show that resonates with audiences: Neeraj Vyas

Embracing Linear TV: A conviction worth investing in for the next five years.

Neeraj Vyas

Mumbai: The journey has been long—27 years, and I've practically grown up here. It's not just about Sony; I believe this is a crucial perspective for all broadcasters to appreciate. The significance of our broadcasting goals is paramount. Amidst the digital invasion, it's equally important not to get carried away. We need to maintain faith that linear TV is here to stay, at least for the next five years. This collective belief is essential, and this year has been particularly affirming for all of us, whether considering ratings or other metrics. Despite our digital endeavours, we should collectively hold onto the conviction that linear TV is something we should continue to invest in for the next five years.

Sony Television launched its new show ‘Shrimad Ramayan’, Poised to capture varied audience segments across the length and breadth of India, Sony Entertainment Television brings viewers Shrimad Ramayan, an epic that holds immense significance and narrates the life and teachings of Lord Ram in its purest form. Having introduced audiences to some of Indian television’s most memorable characters across clutter-breaking shows, the channel is now opening the doors for a new generation to experience the beauty and wisdom of Lord Ram's journey and is committed to curating differentiated content that holds mass appeal with this saga.

To bring Shrimad Ramayan to your television screens, Sony Entertainment Television has joined hands with Swastik Productions, well-known as one of the biggest storytellers in Indian television, which has consistently curated content with larger-than-life production values. Swastik has deep-dived into the very roots of Indian culture, history and legends, and will bring alive this story that chronicles the ultimate triumph of good over evil. The attention to detail in the costumes, a mega set design, and visual effects will further enhance the viewing experience, transporting the audience to the enchanting world of Ayodhya and Lanka.

This sacred saga resonates deeply with the cultural fabric of India and its enduring appeal lies in the universal themes it explores—duty, sacrifice, love, and loyalty as well as the vices of greed, deceit, and ego. The show will go on air Shrimad Ramayan premieres on 1 January 2024, at 9 pm. caught up with Sony Entertainment Television, Sony SAB, PAL, and Sony MAX Movie Cluster business head Neeraj Vyas for a chat on the television industry, his role in SET and the launch of the new show…

Edited Excerpts:

On how has the year been for Sony and Sony SAB

For Sony Sab, this year has been focused on consolidation. Over the past three years, our journey to diversify content began with shows like Waghle Ki Duniya, Pushpa, and this year's successful launch of Vanshij. Pashmina, a unique love story shot entirely in Kashmir over six months, stands out as the first TV unit to film in Kashmir in two decades. While not the typical genre for Sony Sab, this year has been about expanding our content variety while maintaining a delightful mix of shows catering to the broader family audience.

As for Sony, my tenure began just 5 ½ months ago, marking early days for me. We've taken a fresh approach to KBC, launching it this year as a product that resonates with the new, progressive, and emerging India. The creative for KBC was carefully curated to align with this vision. Additionally, we reintroduced ‘Jhalak dhikla Jha on Sony after a significant hiatus, ventured into the thriller genre with Dabangi, featuring a child as the protagonist, and embarked on the ambitious project of bringing Ramayana to the audience, with many more exciting projects in the pipeline for the coming months.

Personally, it has been an exhausting yet incredibly fulfilling and valuable experience. From a content perspective, I have never worked harder or attended more meetings in my life. Handling different channels has given me insight into the world of nonfiction content, a new and enriching dimension for me.

With Indian Idol, our focus is on infusing purity into the singing competition. Bringing back Shreya Ghoshal as a judge adds significant value to the show. We are actively breaking moulds and challenging established patterns within the channel. While we haven't altered the format of KBC, we've introduced a few dimensions to make it even faster and more inclusive. Small experiments, like the family week and a simplified participant selection process, aim to reach a broader audience. Notably, this year featured a children's special, with a young contestant winning a crore, marking a positive step forward in terms of content diversity.

On launching Shrimad Ramayan now

In today's landscape, there exists an audience for relatable content across diverse genres. From my perspective, it's essential to acknowledge that 96% of households in India are single TV households—a reality that often gets overlooked when we view things through the lens of metropolitan living. Within approximately 30 to 40 kilometres outside every major city, there exists a different India, a new India, where lifestyles and realities differ significantly. People in these areas live distinctly, with varying disposable incomes, purchasing power, and perspectives on life. In these places, television is not just an appliance; it's a family member. With one TV per household, families gather to watch content together, presenting a tremendous opportunity for us.

While shows like KBC appeal to a specific audience interested in quizzes and somewhat elitist content, the reach of television extends beyond this demographic. Ramayan, for instance, is more than pure storytelling; it's an emotion that binds a significant portion of the country. Importantly, it transcends the Hindi-speaking markets. Even in southern cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad, where Hindi is spoken and understood, there is a connection with Hindi films. This presents a substantial opportunity for us to expand our reach into a vast audience that Sony may not have tapped into for years. Historically urban-centric with somewhat elitist content, we now have a chance to connect with a broader, more diverse audience.

On urban household’s chord cutting and the surge of OTT, how has linear TV especially GEC performed

When we examine cricket ratings in our country, the reverence it receives is comparable to the worship of Lord Rama. Personally, I'm delighted with the cricket ratings, which have provided a significant boost. These ratings were achieved in an environment where digital access had just become widespread. The IPL and ICC World Cup, two of the largest cricket tournaments, were made available for free on digital platforms for the first time. Despite this, the television ratings were exceptional, emphasizing that television's reach remains substantial.

The success can be attributed to the quality of cricket presented during prime time in India, attracting millions of viewers to their TV screens. This underscores the point that television's influence persists, and the key lies in creating compelling content. The approach of producing a single type of content for a specific target audience has limitations. Relying solely on rating-specific content is not sustainable. It's crucial to step out of the comfort zone, diversify content, and create multiple touch points within families. This, in my view, presents an opportunity for us to broaden our content horizon and engage with a larger audience.

On the marketing strategy and advertisers for the show

We embarked on an intriguing initiative, something I had never done before personally. Knowing that KBC would conclude on the 28 and have the launch date for the new show set for 1 January, we took a unique approach. We released the first promo on the 14 August, strategically placed in the first break of the first episode of KBC. To my knowledge, such a move hadn't been ventured beyond a certain extent.

The announcement stated, "Shrimad Ramayan coming in January 2024," initiating the first phase. Subsequently, we rolled out a series of three promos featuring 'Shabari kar rahi hai intezar,' 'Bharat kar rahe hai intezar,' and 'Hanuman kar rahe hai prateeksha,' showcasing three individuals eagerly awaiting Lord Rama. This marked the second phase of the campaign. About 15 - 20 days ago, we entered the third phase, revealing Lord Rama's presence in various creative iterations, including 'puri shrishti mein brahmand Ram' and moments with Ram and Sita. This comprehensive approach, featuring six creatives, was a first for me, even surpassing my experiences with IPL. It has been an exhaustive process, meticulously staged to build anticipation and understanding.

Interestingly, many might find it hard to believe, but it was purely coincidental that we had an inkling about the opening of the Ram Mandir in 2024. While we foresaw such an event, the specific timing in January wasn't known when we announced our show's date. This coincidence aligns well with the positive mood of the nation, providing an opportune environment for the show to thrive. This, in turn, places a significant responsibility on us to deliver a show that captivates and resonates with the audience.

There are six sponsors we have locked in, unfortunately this a fiction show, in a non-fiction show you can do product placements. It is going to be a slow journey but the fact that we have closed these sponsors is a great.

On Jhalak coming back to Sony

During the initial three years on Sony, it was truly a spontaneous endeavour, a Sony product born out of instinct rather than a grand strategy or meticulous planning. We sensed an opportunity, had a vacant slot, and managed to put together the show within a swift 45 days.

Although the ratings on Sony and Sab could be better, we've deliberately avoided getting deeply entangled in the rat race. We recognise that ratings can be a limiting factor, leading to a predictable pattern that isn't conducive to the overall growth of television. I am cautious about falling into the trap of producing only a specific type of content that seems to work, limiting ourselves to a fixed number of shows adhering to a certain formula. While the temptation is there, I believe it's essential to resist it for the sake of television's evolution.

Our network has earned respect from advertisers for our commitment to differentiation and the diverse range of content we offer. We are aware that we cater to a slightly more elite audience compared to others, and we are content with occupying that niche. It's a space we've carved out for ourselves, and we are satisfied with the unique position we hold.

On GEC shows having a finite ending

It all began with "Pashminna," which had a definite conclusion. Currently, we're in the process of developing another show with a similar structure. The issue we face isn't related to advertising; rather, it's the cost that poses a challenge. The shorter the show, the more expensive it becomes due to amortization concerns.

However, I believe that if we shy away from this approach and stick to the comfort of creating endless stories, we're missing out on a critical shift in the industry. If we reflect on the past two years, it's evident that the number of show launches has skyrocketed. Unfortunately, many of these shows have not succeeded. This surge in launches is likely because we are not embracing finite storytelling.

We need to rewrite our approach without changing the fundamental context and tone. Finite narratives are essential, and by focusing on them, we can reshape the industry and break free from the pattern of launching numerous shows that ultimately fall short.