Indian streamer SonyLIV has revealed a robust slate of twenty 2022 original series, which includes its first ever Tamil-language shows “Accidental Farmer,” “Meme boys” and “Tamil Stalkers,” with Telugu and Malayalam-language shows also in the works.
Coming up on the Hindi-language slate is Nikkhil Advani and Abhay Pannu’s period drama “Rocket Boys,” produced by Roy Kapur Films and Emmay Entertainment, the story of the scientists behind India’s nuclear program. It stars Jim Sarbh (“Made in Heaven”), Ishwak Singh (“Paatal Lok”) and Regina Cassandra (“Thalaivi”).
The slate also has series from a who’s who of Bollywood including “Doctor Arora” by Imtiaz Ali (“Rockstar”), “Jehabanaad” by Sudhir Mishra (“Serious Men”), “Garmi” by Tigmanshu Dhulia (“Paan Singh Tomar”) and “Faadu” by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (“Bareilly Ki Barfi”).
The streamer’s biggest hit to date has been Hansal Mehta’s “Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story,” and the filmmaker returns to SonyLIV with two shows – “Scam 2003: The Curious Case of Abdul Karim Telgi” and “R.N. Kao.”
In 2013, SonyLIV, a division of Sony Pictures Networks India, was the first premium VOD service to launch in India. Since its relaunch in 2020, the streamer has enjoyed tremendous growth on the back of hit Hindi-language shows “Scam” “Maharani” and “Tabbar” and a wide-ranging sports offering. For 2022, several hit shows return, including the third seasons of “Gullak” and “College Romance” and second seasons of “Undekhi,” “Avrodh” and “Maharani.”
The growth is spectacular enough for the streamer to declare subscriber numbers where Indian market leaders Disney Plus Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix don’t. SonyLIV now has 17.9 million paid subscribers worldwide, according to Danish Khan, head, SonyLIV, Sony Entertainment Television & Studio Next, Sony Pictures Networks.
Current subscription annual subscription rates are INR999 ($13.40) in India, £36.99 ($50) in the U.K. and AED144.99 ($39.47) in the U.A.E. In the U.S. the service is available via Sling TV and costs an additional $6 per month on top of the $35 fee for a Sling package.
The SonyLIV approach to commissioning is to tell stories steeped in the Indian ethos, led by a passionate showrunner. “We strongly believe that India is a continuous civilization for years and the very deep socio-cultural rootedness of our country and civilization is not just appreciated by us, but the people who watch it across the world,” Khan told Variety. “When people watch a particular story, like when we watch some of the big shows, on Netflix, for example, “Squid Game” or a movie like “Parasite,” you basically get an understanding of that culture in that world. The telling is different, that’s why it appeals to you – because it’s fresh, and it brings the society presented with all its glory. So, there is no reason whatsoever when you tell an Indian story, why you shouldn’t you have an Indian ethos because it is quite rich and it will be appealing to the world.”
SonyLIV also says it does not believe in algorithms. “There are a lot of stories, a lot of first time stories that need to be told, and we needn’t actually delve into our data at this point in time to decide the story, that is one thing [on which] we are very clear,” said Khan. “It’s a brave new world and there are great storytellers and we believe that imagination is much more powerful than data and we will skew towards that in our choice.”
SonyLIV also has a deep sports package, mostly available only in India, including: Ultimate Fighting Championship; a wealth of cricket including the England’s men’s and women’s Ashes tours of Australia, the Big Bash League, the Pakistan Super League and India’s tour of England; soccer properties including the Emirates FA Cup, Bundesliga, UEFA championships and Bundesliga; and the BWF Yonex-Sunrise India Open badminton tournament.
However, the biggest prize in Indian sport today is the annual Indian Premier League cricket tournament. In 2017, Star TV won the prize over then rights-holders Sony with a $2.55 billion bid. Those rights are up for grabs again this year. Sony and Zee are in the process of finalizing a merger that would create a media giant and put them in a strong position to bid against Disney, which now owns Star. Zee CEO Punit Goenka has already indicated that sports is an area of focus for the merged entity.
Khan offered no comment on the synergies that a possible merger would bring to the bid, or indeed to the larger streaming business. “IPL is a critical part of our strategy and sports is a critical part of our strategy and IPL is a premium property. We are going to go very aggressively in terms of bidding for the rights of IPL,” said Khan.