Indian video streaming platform SonyLIV is set to go global by October and has a robust slate of 40 shows in the works.
In the last four weeks, the service has been given a soft launch across 28 global territories including the European Union, U.K., the Middle East and North Africa, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. In the U.S. SonyLIV was launched on Sling TV.
In 2013, SonyLIV, a division of Sony Pictures Networks India, was the first premium VOD service to launch in India. It has since been overtaken by 21st Century Fox’s Hotstar, now incorporated in Disney and rebranded as Disney Plus Hotstar.
In June 2020, SonyLIV was relaunched with a refreshed brand identity under Danish Khan, business head, of Sony Entertainment Television, digital business and Studio Next. India was under COVID-19 lockdown at the time of the relaunch and the service saw subscriber numbers rise with the launch of 17 original series including “Your Honor,” “Undekhi,” “Avrodh: The Siege Within” and “JL:50” and six films including Busan title “Bhonsle,” “Ram Singh Charlie” and “Kadakh.”
In October 2020, Hansal Mehta’s “Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story,” the true life tale of a stockbroker who gamed the system, was released and quickly became the streamer’s most watched show and subscription driver.
Unlike other streamers in the region, SonyLIV is not coy about revealing subscriber numbers. In India, the service has some six million paying subscribers, most of whom joined in the last year. The SonyLIV premium plan, which encompasses originals, local library films, Hollywood catalogue titles like “Alex Rider” and “War of the Worlds,” and a range of sports, costs INR999 ($13.50) a year.
“That has been an extremely positive growth for us, from almost zero to six million,” Khan tells Variety.
In May 2021, SonyLIV scored another hit with political drama series “Maharani,” starring Huma Qureshi (“Army of the Dead”).
The official launch in October across all the soft-launched territories will leverage a plethora of new shows, primarily in the Hindi-language. Tamil and Telugu titles are also in the works, with Bengali, Malayalam and Kannada to follow. The package will be supported by an aggressive international marketing campaign.
“We strongly believe that Indian stories have a global appeal, if made well,” said Khan. “We believe that stories are universal and Indian stories will find interest, not just among the diaspora, but also among people without any connect, or people who are not from originally from India. I strongly believe in the next couple of years, it’ll happen.”
Upcoming series include youth oriented show “Chutzpah” starring comedian Varun Sharma; video piracy drama “Tamil Stalkers” from venerable Chennai studio AVM; an as yet untitled series from Bollywood royalty Imtiaz Ali (“Jab We Met”); and medical romance “Faadu” from feminist filmmaker Ashwini Iyer Tiwari (“Panga”).
One of the streamer’s most ambitious shows is “Rocket Boys,” which boasts Nikkhil Advani (“D-Day”) as showrunner and is co-produced by Siddharth Roy Kapur. It tells the story of India’s space program and will be one of the prime drivers of the October launch.
In all, 40 shows, 20 in Hindi, and 10 each in Tamil and Telugu have been commissioned and SonyLIV is also acquiring several films across languages. The second seasons of “Scam,” “Avrodh,” “Undekhi” and “Your Honor” are among the shows in the works.
The hallmark of SonyLIV’s commissioning process is that once the subject and the show runners have been approved, the “entire focus is on enabling, we ensure that the showrunners or the maker is enabled sufficiently to follow (their) creative vision,” said Khan. Those words will be music to the ears of many Indian creatives who harbor deep resentment towards streaming sector executives. “We are not very supervisory by nature.”
As for the production budgets of these shows, they are “a little less than our competitors, but good enough to produce good shows,” says Khan. SonyLIV operates primarily in the originals and sports spaces. For sports, Khan considers Disney Plus Hotstar to be a competitor of note and in originals, Amazon Prime Video.
The most popular and therefore lucrative property among Indian sports is the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament which used to be the jewel in Sony India’s crown, until Star India, then part of Fox and now another Disney outfit, ended that innings in 2017 with a mighty bid of $2.55 billion for rights from 2018 through 2022.
When the IPL rights come up for auction again next year, Sony will be in the fray again. “We will bid, with sanity, not with vanity,” says Khan. Until then, Sony and SonyLIV have plenty of sports rights including India’s cricket tours of Sri Lanka and England this summer, Pakistan’s England cricket tour, the current Euro soccer tournament, Copa America and UEFA Super Cup soccer championships, and the Tokyo Olympics.
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