Sun TV Network, the second biggest home-grown entertainment TV network in India, is planning to invest around Rs 25 cr each on two reality-based shows in Malayalam and Telugu to take on Big Boss.
Currently, Big Boss — the most successful reality TV franchise in India — is with Sun TV’s primary rival in the south, the Disney group, while the Chennai-based company has largely focused on fiction shows — soaps and films — to hold its own.
The fiction-focused strategy has paid dividends in Sun TV’s home market of Tamil Nadu, where it has slowly raised its prime time viewership share to 40% from around 37% or so a year ago, and continues to move up.
However, the company’s market share has eroded considerably in the other South Indian markets due to the entry of new players. In markets such as Kerala, Telangana and Andhra, the company not only faces competition from traditional rivals like Asianet, ETV and Maa, but also recent entrants like Zee and Colors; hence the need for a ‘big bang’ show.
Group CFO SL Narayanan promised that the reality-based shows the company is planning will be of international quality.
“Once those are done and we have launched, the whole industry is going to sit up and take notice,” he said, adding that Sun TV will work with international producers of high repute for these projects.
The shows are expected to be shot over a period of 3-4 months and comprise as many as up to 40 episodes each.
“We are looking at some international format non-fiction shows,” added CEO K Vijaykumar. He said the company can spend 30-40% more to ensure that the quality is up to notch.
“We want to really up the quality and give a fantastic product.”
Big Boss — which involves confining around 20 public personalities in a house rigged with cameras for two months — has been the most successful reality television franchise in India so far. Homegrown shows like Roadies by MTV have also made their mark.
The new shows are part of Sun TV’s efforts to revive its viewership growth without spending recklessly on acquiring content from the market.
Vijaykumar said he was cognizant of newer entrants splurging money on acquiring digital rights in South Indian languages, but added that Sun TV was not interesting in joining the “bidding game”.
Digital rights of video content have become pricey in recent years due to the entry of new VoD players, particularly Amazon and Netflix. Despite being in direct competition with these platforms, value-conscious Indian players — particularly Sun TV Network — have been loathe to bid against these two.
“We know some of our competitors exclusively for a streaming release have burnt their fingers. It’s very easy to get into a bidding game and have a winner’s curse,” said Vijaykumar, “I don’t want to do that.”
He pointed out that Sun TV Network’s profits have increased during the pandemic year.
“If I can use my existing content…and in a pandemic year, almost reach the same profit as we did in FY20, I think we’ve done a decent job instead of frittering away resources on opportunities which are sub-optimal. It’s best to get into [external content] when a state of normalcy returns…
“At the end of the day, every content investment has to answer certain basic financial criteria. It’s very easy to bid some outrageous amount of money and win the streaming rights. But, at the end of the day, if it doesn’t make any meaningful financial return, it’s money down the drain.
“At a time like this, it’s better to be safe than sorry. We have a treasure trove of content. There’s a time to get into an aggressive mode and acquire content when times return to normal and there’s plentiful supply of new content,” he pointed out.
At the same time, he said, his strategy is not to completely cede the territory to new players either.
“It’s not that we are not in the game, we are in the game, but we know what is the right price. We know that some of the other players are paying some outrageous money, for which there’s no value today,” he explained.
This year, the company plans to spend only around 200-250 cr on acquiring satellite movie rights, given the reduced supply of fresh content. At the same time, it will invest around Rs 1,200 cr in its movie production business.
It currently has four movies at various stages of production, in addition to others in the pipeline. Out of the four, one is almost complete and two are at 30-40% completion.
Because of COVID-19, the company said it is not sure when it will be able to release the films. “Till the end of June, we don’t expect theaters to be ready.”