We were stuck in comedy and it’s difficult to sustain comedy, says Sony’s Neeraj Vyas

We were stuck in comedy and it’s difficult to sustain comedy, says Sony’s Neeraj Vyas

Vyas shared insights on rebranding the channel to produce family-centric shows 

Neeraj Vyas

Mumbai: Sony Sab has rebranded itself by moving away from being known as ‘a family-centric comedy channel’ to a channel that provides family-centric shows. Sony Sab is in an essential stage of development as it transforms into a channel that presents stories that connect with people's everyday lives while appealing to the whole family. Currently, Sony Sab has a 20 per cent market share in the Hindi-speaking market (HSM).


The man behind this rebranding of Sab from "Haste Raho India" to "Khushiyon Waali Feeling" is Sony Sab, PAL, and Sony MAX business head of movie cluster Neeraj Vyas.  Three years ago, Vyas and his team realised that being a full-fledged comedy channel was not working for Sony Sab and they were stuck in comedy and they had to come out of their comfort top zone to deliver content which would resonate with families and rebrand their channel.

While speaking with Indiantelevision.com Vyas shared insights on rebranding, challenges, and opportunities for television content in India.

Vyas said, "Sony Sab has entered a new phase as the brand is undergoing metamorphosis with its content and brand strategy. We are looking for stories and insights from the daily lives of people. We believe it is a very significant milestone in the journey of the brand, and we feel that it symbolises a lot of what we stand for as a network compared to everybody else."

"As creators, we are constantly looking for new themes and new insights that reflect the trends and what people are going through, staying ahead of consumers and their changing lives," he added.

Stuck in comedy

While talking about the phase of being known as a comedy channel, Vyas expressed, "We were pressured to do comedy shows, and two years ago I realised it was impossible to create around eight shows in a day. Comedy is a very difficult genre to make shows. In our ecosystem, we have very few good comedy writers who can write shows every day. It is slapstick and repetitive; it is not funny either. In the TV industry, there are no brilliant comedy actors as well to give justice to good writing."

Vyas had to persuade everyone that there was a flanker, one singing or dancing show that could work, but he refused.

He said, "We did an on-ground survey; we went to tier II cities like Pune, Satara, Nashik, and Chandigarh where TV is still watched primarily. There is a myth in India that TV is dying but it is not. It’s still watched by many, but on-ground reality is different. We met people, learned about their lives, and understood what they wanted."

On-ground survey findings

While doing the on-ground survey, Vyas found out that the pandemic changed people's lives and made them miserable; their aspirations and roles have also changed; most people rely on 1.5 GB of data, and wi-fi has not yet reached everywhere and is not affordable.

Vyas believes that Sony Sab is perceived as a very happy channel, and that is an advantage for the channel. "I've always believed that only if there is a niche audience for the content should we cater that content; otherwise, it's a waste and just adds to the pile of content," he said.

Vyas is very cognitive about rating where he quipped that the representation of 200 million people is 40, 000 boxes. He said, "If you completely restrict yourself to creating content for 40,000 people then you will fall into a trap. It's a vicious cycle, then we will never be able to create content. If we go by rating we will create different content decided by a group of people which I don't want."

"We believe that real stories work and resonate with people, not high drama or sensationalism. In India, people value relationships and watch shows that have values in them," he added.

Content is king

While talking about content being king, Vyas explained how the channel is focusing more on the content. "We've seen only growth; there are objectives beyond the obvious ratings. Everyone will have to keep the big picture in mind, at least we are going to be that content-driven channel. The critical action for us is to make sure that we get more and more people. We make this distinction that we have noticeably been just making differentiated content, and we have to make sure we market it aggressively. We probably must be one of the most active marketers all around."

"It's a combination of us wanting to do something different and, at the same time, having the opportunity. So, I think we've come at the right time; we are flowing against the tide," he added.

Target audience

He spoke about the target audience, and he was very clear. "Segmentation is a reality on which we have to focus. I will focus on what I want to focus on, which is the slightly elite audience, which is what the advertiser also wants. He wants to know the premium audience. My attempt is to get that audience and create the whole zone for it," specified Vyas.

"Every large advertiser has a very robust internal mechanism to measure the popularity of television and digital. They have their own way; they have their own questionnaires, which they constantly send to consumers," he added.

He further informed us that this year television advertising is likely to grow anywhere between 10 and 14 per cent, whereas digital advertising will grow because digital is at a nascent stage in the growth phase.

What about a Sab App in the future?

Vyas hinted at launching a separate Sony Sab app. "Five years down the road, I could have an independent app called Sab, but for that, I need to cater to the audience who needs content, and I have to produce such content irrespective of medium -- it's going to be platform agnostic," he explained. "If I decide to be available as an independent app on some digital platform, then people should come to the brand to see that this brand gives you this kind of content, and this is the only place where I'll get to see content."

He further talked about how YouTube helps attract young audiences. "YouTube is largely offering some kind of sampling option, more than anything else. So there is a large segment of people who watch short clips in shorts. I could be available on YouTube as an independent app. I could completely change my business model," he pointed out.

Vyas believes TV has a great future as OTT is a very private space for users, and his channel is more focused on family-friendly content. "A lot of people watch our shows with their families. OTT has its dedicated OTT audience, which is a different audience, and decides to pay for that app to watch shows privately. A lot of the content has bad language, nudity, and violence, so OTT apps know their audience -- family is not the one."

With rebranding, the channel is entertaining the audience with shows like Maddam Sir, Wagle Ki Duniya, Pushpa Impossible, Dharm Yoddha Garud, and the recently launched Alibaba Dastaan-e-Kabul, as well as its most watched show, Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah. The channel will soon launch a new show based on migration, where the theme will be how old people are left alone every year because of migration.