interview with Sony Max senior VP and business head Neeraj
is not making films suited for home viewing on
on 24 July
is a man who is passionate about movies, music and cricket
and is lucky enough to be handling all three.
Max senior VP and business head Neeraj Vyas
is living his passion for all three by handling Set
Max and Sony Mix. The man always has work on his mind
and cannot disconnect from the office even when on a
holiday. And he has been at it for almost 17 years at
Sony Entertainment Television (now called Multi Screen
Media), first with the main channel, followed by stints
at Max before finally heading it. Today, Vyas is looking
at maxing Max's position in the Sony entertainment channel
bouquet. In a tête-à-tête with Indiantelevision.com's
Seema Singh, Vyas shares his thoughts on changing movie
trends, the supply and demand chain and the opportunities
provided by digital space and digitisation. Excerpts:
How do you decide on which movies to acquire? What is
the life cycle of these movies? Does Sony buy movies
for the entire network? Or does Set Max buy them separately?
The movie game essentially is a demand supply situation.
You cant buy everything that is available, even
if you want to, you have limited money and that money
is not growing. On the other hand, acquisitions are
also becoming more and more expensive. So you have got
to be as prudent as possible when you buy.
dont think anybody can, beyond a point, guarantee
if a particular film will work or not on television.
There are situations where a film has been a monster
hit in the theatre circuit, but has not worked on TV.
The reverse of this is also true. So, these are judgement
calls that the broadcaster has to take from time to
time, even in scenarios of what is available and what
seeing the trend (actors, crew, director, past record,
genre, production house and marketing), one gets a feel
of how the film will perform and based on this one decides
to either buy or not buy. I dont think anybody
can predict the success or the failure when he is buying
the film. The meter keeps moving as per the demand and
supply situation and the price obviously needs to be
right to make that final choice.
buy a film for the network, its not only Max,
any network today whether it is us, Star, Zee or Viacom,
buys films for the network. No movie channel will be
able to sustain the cost that it is bought for. It has
to be played across various channels of the network
for the cost to be amortised.
Which are the movies that you have acquired recently?
Post IPL we have come back very strongly, having
four clear weeks of leadership as far as ratings are
concerned. And it is a decent leadership of almost eight
to ten GRPs from our closest competitions. Its
been a decent comeback from the IPL. Even pre the IPL,
that is, in the second half of last year onwards, we
have been the leaders.
kicked off post IPL with the telecast of Jab Tak
Hai Jaan. This was followed by Taalash. We
will be telecasting the world TV premier of Aashiqui
2 on 28 July. Among the host of other movies that
we added are: Yeh Jawani hai Deewani, Murder
3, Shootout at Wadala, Once Upon a time
in Mumbaai Dobara, Ek thi Daayan, Gippi
buy a film for the network, its not only Max,
any network today whether it is us, Star, Zee or
Viacom, buys films for the network. No movie channel
will be able to sustain the cost that it is bought
for. It has to be played across various channels
of the network for the cost to be amortised
Does the network set a limit in terms of price it is
willing to cough up for movies? Or do you buy movies
which you think will click with the public? How big
is the Bollywood movie channel industry market in terms
of ad sales revenues?
Of course there is a set limit on price. Paying
absurd amount of money for any movie is not possible.
Because, even if you amortise the cost over five years
in terms of recovery that you make, sometimes it is
not possible. The mathematics does not work out, so
there is always a cut off.
a fair approximation it would be close to Rs 1350 crore
to Rs 1400 crore and is growing at about 15 per cent.
What is the trend in movie acquisition? We have heard
that there are networks paying close to Rs 400 or 500
crore to acquire Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan movies?
Honestly all of us have only heard about it, but there
is no clarification by either the actor or his PR firm
or even the channel. So nobody knows what the mortalities
are and nobody knows what the working is. Frankly, all
of us are only speculating and I do not want to add
to the speculation. It is just a little grey right now.
What is the lifecycle of Bollywood blockbuster on TV?
There is a huge issue thats coming up as far
as the supply chain is concerned. I see it a little
differently, simply because of the kind of movies that
are being made today. If you look at the trend in the
past three to four years, the ratings for the movie
channels come from smaller towns. We basically cater
to section C D E audiences and C D E male is the core
target group for all us.
said that, the films being made today are creatively
better, technically sounder, performance wise better
and also there is a lot of boldness in the attitude
of the films. Movies today are edgier, bolder and racier.
So, while all of this is good from a cinematic point
of view and from a theatre-going point of view, this
does not work on TV.
example, even though The Dirty Picture was a
nice, bold, raunchy film with bold dialogues and situations
one would probably go and watch it in the multiplexes
and feel good about it. But the same audience will not
watch it with their parents when aired on TV.
out of ten films made today are from this kind of work
zone. Back in the seventies, eighties and nineties,
commercial cinema was driven by certain kind of directors
and producers. You had the Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra,
Yash Chopra, and Yash Johar (among others) schools of
filmmaking. They made films in a particular genre for
a particular kind of wider cinema audience.
you had the art house makers like Shyam Benegal, Govind
Nihalani, Ketan Mehta and others who made art house
cinema. So there was clear demarcation of people who
wanted to watch their kind of films.
its great for the industry to see Vishal Bhardwaj
and Ekta Kapoor coming together, with the creative sensibilities
of one and commercial sensibility of the other to make
Ek thi Daayan.
Yash Raj Films, for example, made certain kind of cinema,
but today if you look at the kind of directors that
Aditya Chopra is working with like, Manish Sharma and
Habib Faizal, are directors who dont confirm to
commercial Hindi cinema. They have a mind of their own,
treatment of their own, message to give and language
of their own to use in the kind of cinema they believe
in and these are the films that are being made now.
even though its more meaningful and relevant cinema,
bringing out the social realities of the country, they
dont work on TV beyond a point.
today are edgier, bolder and racier. So, while
all of this is good from a cinematic point of
view and from a theatre-going point of view, this
does not work on TV. So even though its
more meaningful and relevant cinema, they dont
work on TV beyond a point
If these movies do not work on TV then why are channels
spending so much on buying these movies?
That is because of the demand and supply game.
You've got to run the show. According to me, the supply
chain is the larger issue more than anything else. And
I think that is something that all channels need to
wake up to, and figure out the right price to pay for
such films, because none of the films have longevity
beyond a point. They dont have repeat viewing
like Hum Aapke Hai Kaun and Kuch Kuch Hota
Hai still get good viewership. This is because most
of the audiences are from smaller cities. Also 85 per
cent of the country is still a one TV home, which is
a big number.
supply chain is not producing the kind of content that
the movie channels will ideally like and as an industry,
this is the biggest challenge we face. And, on the flipside,
which is worse is that we have to pay a lot more than
we should be paying for those films.
SET have exclusive deals with any distributor or film
We are in talks with everybody and we have good relationships
with almost all. We have key relationships with Rakesh
Roshan, Yashraj Films and Karan Johar, but there is
no exclusivity. The industry does not work like that.
It finally comes down to who bids the highest price.
Any plans to convert Set Max into a complete movie channel
and taking cricket only on Sony Six now? Will Max telecast
the next IPL season?
That is probably an eventual reality for all us.
The objective of launching Sony Six was to make it a
full-fledged popular sports channel. And cricket being
the biggest sports vehicle in the country, at some point,
IPL will have to move onto Six. And as and when it happens,
Max will become for 365 days - a full on movie channel.
Six needs to be distributed well. We are still waiting
for the DAS roll out to happen peacefully. From a network
point of view, IPL is the biggest thing we do. So only
after Six has a bandwidth to reach out to people, the
shift can take place. We may take a call on the shift
of IPL from Max to Six later in the year.
How do you ensure that the channel gets good ratings
during the IPL? How do you manage it throughout the
IPL ratings are cricket ratings, so the channel
takes a very different avtaar during the IPL.
IPL rates more than any other channel in any case. And
those are very big ratings, so I think that will be
very unfair comparison. What we do post IPL is what
the real MAX is.
the rest of the year, the titles that we buy ensure
good ratings. Presentation of films, marketing and packaging
of promos, all lead to good ratings.
example, the promotion strategy (see story on Set
Max goes big on marketing for Aashiqui 2) for the
world television premier of Aashiqui 2 is such
that we are virtually re-releasing the film. The challenge
today is to retain an element of freshness of the movie
being telecast on channels. The film is aired on a channel
almost after two to three months of its release. By
this time either the audience watches it in theatres
or at home on pirated CDs. Channels have to get people
excited about something they have already seen.
promotion strategy for the world television
premier of Aashiqui 2 is such that we
are virtually re-releasing the film. The challenge
today is to retain an element of freshness of
the movie being telecast on channels
do you programme the channel during the IPL season?
Did spot-fixing allegations during the IPL affect the
ratings in any way?
It is very simple. When we have two games a day, we
run three films and when we have one game we run four
films. For the whole length of IPL (54 days), we avoid
all the blockbusters or big films. This is obviously
because there are two large games in a day or one in
I dont think it affected our ratings, because
it happened only towards the last games. It surely leaves
a bad taste in your mouth.
the 10+2 ad cap have any effect on the channel? Will
there be any hike in the ad rate?
It is the biggest blessing that is going to happen to
the genre. The number of people the movie channels reach
out to is at par with every Hindi general entertainment
channel of the country.
have a 48 to 50 per cent reach. So whether it is Max
or Zee Cinema or Star Gold, the reach is not very different
from Sony's, Star Plus', Colors' or Zee TV's reach.
ad cap will bring down the advertising time the genre
currently has. The biggest problem that the genre faces
is the time spent by the viewer on the channel. The
current time spent by viewers on movie channels is around
65 to 68 minutes and on GECs it is around 122 to 130
are clear reasons: 1) GECs air original content everyday;
while movie channels air movies that have already been
2) The number of ads on GECs is limited; while on movie
channels it is far more.
cap will mean a reduction in ad time and this in addition
will tempt the viewer to stick on to the movie channel
and watch more.
ad cap will lead to a hike in the ad rates. Reasons:For
one, the time spent by viewers will get better, so we
will have a valid reason to ask for a rate hike. Then
traditionally, Hindi movie channels have been sold at
a very low rate, though the correction should have happened
many years back, it has not happened. So probably this
is the right time to make that switch.
With GECs also entering into the world TV premier league,
how do you intend to hold on to viewers' perception
that movie channels also offer them value? Sony has
recently launched MSM Motion Pictures. Is that going
to help MAX get good deals in world premiers?
The movies are bought by the network and so in reality
it becomes important to launch the world TV premier
on a GEC than the movie channel. Networks pay big bucks
to buy these movies, and the amount of money that is
recovered in the first run on GEC is always going to
be far more than what is recovered through a movie channel.
Max will never telecast the world TV premier of a big
film, having huge acquisitions (Aashiqui 2 being
an exception, since the acquisition rate was not very
high). It will always be on Sony.
Motion Pictures will help us get better deals. That
is the main or one of the objectives.
How do you see the competition in the space? Who amongst
the movie channels is the leader?
It is a very close game between the three of us.
So week-on-week you see shifts happening. It will be
silly if I or anyone else claims to be the undisputed
leader, it is a shifting game. The genre is too small
for people to take clear leaderships.
do you differentiate between various channels? What
are the standout brand characteristics of Max?
Max as a network is very conscious about the quality.
What we air has to be cutting edge in terms of the way
we look, package, present, promote and market the product.
This is not only for our film, but even the channel.
This can be seen in the way we promoted the IPL.
Max telecasts a lot of South movies dubbed in Hindi.
Do you get a good viewership for them? What led to this
trend of running such movies?
The trend started close to four years back. Close to
30 per cent of any channels fixed point chart (FPC)
is now South Indian cinema, simply because it does well.
of these films have extremely exciting action sequences
and are gorgeously and lavishly produced. The themes
of these movies are mostly revenge, emotional and social
issues. By large it is Indian cinema, so the ethos does
not change beyond a point, only the look of the people
and the way the films are packaged is different. So
that is the only reason that everybody is buying them
and telecasting them. Had it not been accepted, it would
not have survived for four years.
What strategies are being used by the channel for marketing
itself to increase its viewership?
We have now decided, as a thumb rule to tie up with
production houses for new releases. We are also coming
up with innovative marketing strategies. For example,
we roped in Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone to talk
about Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. We promoted its
theatrical release and also got them to do a channel
promo talking about new releases on Max.
We get star faces on the channel to promote the upcoming
movies. This helps us further the perception of Max
being the big channel with big faces. Max, in return
acts as platform for movie promotion for these actors.
Today, apart from the GECs, we are the only ones who
have this kind of reach. Aashiqui 2 is another
movie which is being promoted by the Lootera
have also tied up with Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai
Dobara team for promotions. We keep doing this every
Is the channel using digital space to promote its content?
How? And do you have any striking case studies?
The use of digital space became a kind of case
study for us when we did the IPL. Even post the IPL
we have some very aggressive plans. We were the first
ones to have live tweets during the telecast of Jab
Tak Hai Jaan. We got close to 2,500 responses. We
also had Twitter contests called #TalaashHunt for Talaash.
Through the contest we added around 11,545 followers
from 11 July (Thursday) to 14 July (Sunday), the day
the movie was telecast.
also have mega plans for Aashiqui 2. Digital
is a massive reality for all of us.
kind of USPs do you offer to advertisers?
Reach is the biggest player and it is a dynamic reality.
Its unbelievable to see the amount of people we
reach out to as a genre and as a channel- its
second to nobody. This is our biggest USP. Also we commit
at a very affordable price.
Max become a substantial revenue creator for Sony Entertainment
in terms of ad revenues and subscription revenues?
Yes it will, in fact it already does. With the digitised
environment that we have got into, we will get more
paid subscribers. So, maybe in the next 16 to 24 months,
all movie channels including Max will become large players
in the scheme of things within the network. Also once
the paradigm shifts from CPRP to CPT, the consideration
for ad rates will go up, because we will have numbers
to prove our reach.
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