A brand new SonyLIV was launched recently with a revamped logo, a very user friendly and more importantly an extremely promising UI and UX. With all the newness around the platform, what we also saw was its entry into the super expensive original content race in the booming Indian OTT space.
Initially what drove SonyLIV was purely catch-up TV content led by Crime Patrol and The Kapil Sharma Show, and is now expected to attract eyeballs to a slate of original shows and films which the platform promises to drop every Friday, till the end of this year!
Medianews4u spoke to SonyLIV’s recently appointed original content boss, Saugata Mukherjee – Head – Original Content, Digital Business, SPNI on their first original, Your Honor the platform’s renewed promise and a lot more.
Spoiler alert: We might see a premium new age CID on SonyLIV… all this and more…
You come with immense experience of developing content and you’ve led the supremely successful teams at Hotstar Specials… what is the mantra that you always follow and will continue to do so at SonyLIV?
The one mantra that I have been following for all these years is that we have got an opportunity, both as makers and executives to mould the way storytelling that has been happening in this country for a long time.We have had great television and films, but I think we have not had the opportunity to tell certain stories because both films and TV do not allow for certain stories to be told. And I think that has been a bit of a limiting factor for a lot of storytellers.
Once they got an opportunity, I think all hell has broken loose and when all hell breaks loose, there are lots of things which go wrong. Because you end up in your excitement and you become a little erratic. I have always been a little on the conservative side and not being erratic in the kind of choices that we have made and that is also going to be the mantra and we would love to do all kinds of shows but we will also be very mindful of how do we do these shows.
Are these shows only going to be headlined by big stars? No, I think we will have to find ways of telling stories with relatively newcomers and more importantly good storytellers,while some stories will be headlined by big makers. I think one of the big things for any executive is to know how to so no to a lot of concepts, and let me tell you, it’snot easy, because a lot of the concepts seem to be very exciting. But I think we need to be mindful of the ones we pick at the right cost with the right kind of makers.
Absolutely, being mindful of the projects you commission is one of the many important things you have to do, which also includes the difficult task of saying no to a lot of creators. While your understanding of content is not from today but from many years of experience… What type of content clicks in the current Indian OTT scenario?
So there is an explosion of content on all different platforms big and small and there has to be something distinct for SonyLIV to stand out. I think what we have been very mindful of is that we are also a broadcaster, and that too a very urban broadcaster, if you look at historically, we cater to mostly urban India, even at a time when in all the other broadcasters were going more rural.
What naturally flows into SonyLIV is a lot more of urban audience, they anyway watch a lot of our shows and at some point in time, they are likely come and want to watch what are we sort of serving on the platform which is different from the regular TV shows that we make on broadcast, that is one part of the funnel.
And secondly, I think OTT has been very mainstream and repetitive about picking certain kinds of genre. I mean, there was a time when I used to tell my team that every poster had gun and some cuss words. I said to myself that you cannot be telling just one kind of story.I love gangster stories. I love stories about warlords or drug lords whatever but this is just one side story.
We feel that those kind of stories are being told by a lot of other platforms, should we also do it? maybe not, We should find the kind of genres which are underserved. By underserved, I mean the genres, which no one is really doing much about; whether it is sitcoms, comedy per se,or even stories which are deeply rooted in the Indian ethos.We have such a great land of storytellers, such rich heritage of literature, across the nation from down south to the eastern part of the country, to the northern part of the country.
Now does that mean that I am only going to do shows which are from Indian districts? Well, no. I have been able to tell stories which means a lot and are relevant for an Indian nation today and that doesn’t necessarily need to be a fire sinner or a gangster story, but maybe because it’s forgotten as a part of history, can be picked up and give a little peek into an India.
How will the strategy differ from a pre-COVID time to time where OTT now has a lot of attention and time spent or maybe the strategy won’t change?
Something like this never happened. Of course it’s like a bit of a pit stop and we didn’t plan for this, in fact no one planned for it. We are very lucky that some of our production got over and some of the films that we acquired are in the system, so we are happy to surprise the audience till the end of the year.
- Owning Fridays till the end of the year
I think we have a very healthy pipeline, which is why we are taking time to launch and we will be mindful of the fact that every week we will have something or the other, whether it’s the new English original or new originals in Hindi or maybe original films that we have acquired. There is always something new that we are going to with come every Friday, so we want to own that Friday and be the Box Office and cope up with everything that the audience has missed in these Covid times.
- Covid-19 a wakeup call!
What COVID has taught us is that we need to be a little bit careful about how we were working and see what were we doing that we can do much better now. Can we bring in some sort of method to the madness that we have seen in all in? I think these are all wakeup calls for any industry and entertainment is not outside the universe of other industries. How can people maximize the human effort, because we are in an industry where the proximity of people is very high, we can function remotely for some time, but people are together on a set and you cannot bypass that I wish we could but not in that world.
I think technology is a big thing, they are all very keyed in to making things much more in line, bringing in better technologies that do not spend inordinate amount of time doing things that you are probably doing before.
- ‘Lockdown Shows’ – a stopgap arrangement
I know some platforms have come up with some really short series during the lockdown. But frankly, these are stopgap arrangements; these are not going to be big libraries value shows. I will be very happy some if some of them succeed but there will be little or no chance of that coming to success. We are not in the game of doing it fast and we are well planned and are hoping that in the next few months, we will be back into the business.
Coming to your first original, Your Honor… what makes the show special and unique? And I hear that you really love and admire Israeli shows…
I watched Your Honor in its original form long back and I loved the idea and you know there was a time when I wanted to do this show on the platform that I was working for. I am a big sucker for Israeli shows. I myself have done adaptations before and I am very conversant of the kind of drama that they do, I thought it was a fabulous idea why because the idea was big.The idea of honesty versus fatherly love, that is universal. A judge that is so uptight and one day his son does something that he forgets his 40 years of honest service. I think that is a great story for India.
How has your experience of working from home been? I mean you joined in February 2020 and just in a month all of us were forced to working in a new style… How interesting have been the content development sessions that must be happening online via Zoom or Microsoft teams?
I think all of us now feel and exactly know what it means to be in a zoo. And Microsoft Teams or a Zoom call is certainly a normal now. Initially we took time, all of us were struggling with all the ‘how to do this’ because in our industry, physical presence and discussing concepts over a cup of coffee is very important.
I think in the world of art it is very important to go and pat someone’s shoulder when someone does a good job. It is very important to give somebody a hug because it means something and unfortunately we can’t do it over zoom. We can’t give each other high fives or a hug. I think we all took the smaller things in life for granted.
I must say that most of my writers and my team have adapted very well and I can’t speak for the others.
When I joined in February, a lot of the stuff had already been made, but the fact is that our development teams have over-delivered by delivering 8 out of 10 shows before time, because now people are not traveling to office such as an Andheri to Lower Parel or from Bandra to Goregaon they are probably saving a lot of time.
These video meetings begin on time and end in time and that is a good thing as I am a big stickler of being punctual. So here you can’t give an excuse that I am stuck in traffic or my tire got punctured, so because of COVID time management has improved.
How is SonyLIV going to experiment with formats…Short format… long format… what are some important pillars of your original content strategy?
I think short-format content is very difficult for an SVOD audience it is very snackable. In this world people really want to sit down and invest a few hours and they want to really enjoy. I feel we are very clear that the focus remains to do very high-quality premium TV shows and some films.
When you say films it is going after films which are unique, we are not going after films which are big. Big in terms of scale and I feel for scale, all said and done, the theatre will come back soon and it makes complete sense for those ‘scale’ movies to come onto the big screen. What we should do is find really unique stories which cannot find the theatre and we should find it on SonyLIV. We are not going after that 100 crore box office films.
We are doing a film like Kadakh, which is high on concept and not high on production, it is high on execution but it is not high on production and you don’t miss the big screen there. You enjoy it watching on your own. It’s about all what can go wrong on a Diwali party. The jokes are personal. We are very clear that we want to do meaningful extremely interesting unique ideas as films.
On Series, the canvas is much bigger. We are doing sitcoms, documentaries, a couple of satires and a thriller as well. We just commissioned a love story too. So it is a much broader canvas and I truly want SonyLIV to be a platform where everyone gets everything, it should not be a platform where only a 20-year-old person says that only my type of content is available, so our segmentation is extremely wide.
How have you designed SonyLIV’s regional content portfolio?
We have already commissioned some regional shows and most of them are in development right now, I think the second quarter of next year is when we start launching Tamil and Telugu shows.Even before that, by the end of this year, we should have some Marathi shows.
How many shows in total are ready to roll out this year and what can we expect?
If you talk about films and shows together so would have about 10 to 12 shows and films this year.
A personal question: I have practically grown up watching CID… and it’s been a show that I am sure a lot of people miss… so is there a possibility to get CID back on SonyLIV as a new-age premium crime show?
Why not? I think CID is probably one of those shows which everybody, at some point in time, in this country has watched. It’s a true cult show. And if you have grown up the 90s and 2000s there is no way that you have not watched CID. Right now, I don’t have an answer for you, but it’s a very good question! We have actually discussed this internally and maybe who knows you will be happily surprised in a year’s time or maybe six months’ time.