Britbox US/Canada president Soumya Sriraman reveals how she succeeded as an exec in entertainment
Soumya Sriraman is the president of Britbox, North America – a subscription VOD service created as a joint venture between BBC Worldwide and ITV, offering viewers a string of brilliant British shows such as Inside No. 9, Coronation Street, Blackadder, Cold Feet, Cracker, Are You Being Served?, Fawlty Towers and enjoying a 400,000 subscriber base since its launch 18 months ago. Here Soumya shares details of how she made her way up to being an executive, what her job entails and more.
How did you come to hear of the opening for this position as president of Britbox?
I was working at the BBC and it was my business plan to develop a streaming service that would be BBC branded only. I was running the consumer-facing business for the BBC at that time. I’ve been with them since 2011.
I started working on this business plan in 2013/14 and, in 2014, this plan got approved. A couple of years later, we were going to launch it when ITV came along. While BBC had a large offering, it made sense to bring it to ITV and, because technically in the UK they are rivals, we didn’t think that it would be a feasible partnership but it worked out and here we are.
You already had 20 years of experience, tell me about some of the challenges along the way.
The toughest thing about this business is there are lots of personalities and lots of moving parts. On any given day, the business changes quite dramatically. Twenty years back, theatrical was it. Now it’s streaming TV. I distinctly remember when someone told me about Amazon giving it a go. I thought, "Oh, it’ll never work. People are going to want to touch and feel the things before they buy it."
Of course, you always knew that ease of access was going to make things easier in the digital world yet people still want to feel like they are part of a journey and, in the streaming world, it’s a sea of offerings. I told people, "the only thing you can do is keep doing what you're doing every single day. You know you are not going to please everyone. You know you’re not going to get everything right, all you can do is keep doing it."
As president what are some of your day-to-day duties?
I trained to be an engineer and, by being an engineer, I naturally have that technological leaning, which naturally makes me a numbers person, mentally. But I’m a content person at heart. That is what I think is the perfect amalgamation for this job.
We’re running a technical service. There is so much technology and that’s what makes my job so complicated. Something can break and you think, "was it the back end, the front end, the connection?" And then we have "ah, the numbers came back – did we do the right thing by putting Mock the Week on our service?" You're always thinking "What choices am I making creatively, numbers-wise and technically?"
What drew you to the entertainment industry?
As I mentioned, this is the only job that I know of that blends technology with numbers and content! You can be a programmer at a network and know the ratings but you don’t have to live the numbers every single day because everything we do lives and dies by that.
What shows from the US and UK do you watch?
I jump all over. For whatever bizarre reason, I was watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix, this week. My team laughs at me – there are months at a time that you can’t peel me away from British television. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that it’s any one thing because I love shows.
Speaking of Grace and Frankie, Jane Fonda has a documentary coming out.
Ah, interesting. She’s so good in Grace and Frankie! It feels so real. I was looking at John Cleese, what is it about that generation of actors that draws us to their very-real performances?
For a woman pursuing a career in the executive area of entertainment, what are some of the pitfalls, problems and what is your advice for overcoming them?
As advice to women, I’m going to say to the hiring community, "stop the way you stereotype what executives should be."
When I started my career, someone said to me, "the problem with you is that you are a foreigner. You speak with an accent and you dress like a foreigner. I don’t know what to do with you."
I was so hurt. So I thought, maybe I’ll change the way I dress. I’ve been blessed because I’ve had mentors and supporters around me that looked past that; "You don’t have to dress a certain way. You don’t have to look a certain way." Bring yourself.
I try to do that with my team because I don’t want people to stick to formulas. I don’t care what it is. The thing that worries me the most is that everyone thinks there’s formulas to everything and there isn’t.
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