Engineered for Success

NAME: Soumya Sriraman
TITLE: President
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Launched BritBox, the OTT British content service, in March 2017 and has seen remarkable growth (400,000 subs in September 2018, 500,000 in January 2019, currently more than 650K) thanks to savvy marketing, near-live North American premieres of U.K. events and programs, and great word of mouth
QUOTABLE: “You’re not going to switch to [a different service] when the thing you’ve already bought into is giving you what you want. Part of this loyalty must be marketing and the other part has to be being good at what you do.”

Soumya Sriraman

Soumya Sriraman

Ask the uninitiated to define what a traditional “military tattoo” is and they might say it’s some elaborately styled ink — perhaps reading “USMC” alongside a set of dog tags — appearing just below a person’s shoulder. However, ask the many thousands of BritBox subscribers who know better, and they’ll tell you the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a concert spectacle: a glorious, artistic annual performance featuring British Armed Forces and international military bands in stunning, parade-like formation.

They’ll also tell you the event is pure BritBox, the two-year-old specialty streaming service that channels British programming of unparalleled quality, popularity and uniqueness to the United States and Canada. The fast-growing service now boasts 650,000 happy subscribers, all of whom owe a debt of gratitude to Soumya Sriraman.

As the service’s founding president, Sriraman has been instrumental in creating a North American streaming home for BBC Studios and ITV content, featuring the likes of Agatha Christie and Blackadder, Vera with Brenda Blethyn, and Rowan Atkinson in Maigret, and John Cleese in Hold the Sunset, and the comedy classic Are You Being Served? But the OTT service goes that one better for the eager Anglophile. It combines not only the “new” and “known” shows, but offers a “Now” feature for near real-time premieres of programs such as popular British soaps EastEnders and Coronation Street, and many others.

“The ‘Now’ feature came from an incredibly creative idea of Soumya’s,” said Ann Sarnoff, the BBC Studios – Americas president who helped found BritBox before joining Warner Bros. as chair and CEO. “The ‘Now’ brings lifestyle, news, dramas, live events and much more within hours if not minutes from the original premiere in the U.K. BritBox is the only [subscription video-on-demand] service of its kind to offer this feature.”

Needless to say, such an idea, and its execution, requires a multitalented cross-platform mind to pull it off, and Sriraman is that rare talent. As she put it, “This is the first job that brings together my skills as an engineer, my natural leanings as an analyst, and my heart that cries out loud for the shows I love.”

Humble Beginnings

Sriraman’s own journey could be the stuff of award-winning drama. Her mother — raised by her grandparents because of her parents’ financial difficulties — had to set aside her dream of working in engineering. Instead, she insisted her three daughters (Sriraman was the oldest) become engineers. “I rebelled against it but it was ordained for me,” said Sriraman, who grew up in India (“We were a very lower-middle-class family,” she said) before earning her degree from Texas A&M. “But I’m grateful. Hindsight is 20/20, and in some ways it was that education that allowed me to bring a structured view to the way that I think about the world we’re in today.”

Sriraman made the most of every opportunity, notably as senior VP for theatrical marketing at Vivendi Universal (in a six-year run starting in 2004), then president and CEO at Palisades Tartan Films (relaunching the Tartan brand through notable releases), before landing at BBC Worldwide in 2011 as executive vice president, franchise and digital enterprises. While there, she grew brand platforms and broke records in expanding the home entertainment and licensing businesses (adding, among other crown jewels, Doctor Who and BBC Earth). In other words, she evolved her skills in preparation for a longtime dream of creating an over-the-top outlet for British content across the pond.

“The idea was to bring together a combination of new, now and known shows,” she said of BritBox’s origins. “And one of the things we knew was that this required equal parts content curation and technological prowess to pull off this near-live thing we wanted to do from day one.”

The rubber truly met the road when Sarnoff informed her in summer 2016 that ITV Studios content might be available in the deal. ITV and the BBC being competitors, it seemed a long shot, but Sriraman knew the tie-up was essential if BritBox would live up to its potential of the best and biggest British shows. “Getting this done was just not easy,” she said, but the partners agreed on one thing: “We have a common mission, let’s work together toward that.” By the fall, the papers were signed, and BritBox ultimately launched in March 2017.

Still, even if Sriraman knew great niche content was a “field of dreams” for North American viewers, she also realized simply building it — given a league of coliseum-like competition from the likes of Netflix and Hulu — didn’t mean the faithful would now just come. That’s where her savvy marketing came in. The “Now” feature gave viewers a sense of connection to programming most other services don’t exploit, along with an increased sense of place and even loyalty.

Analysis indicating a core audience of women age 45 and over from the South and Midwest led to expanded originality in programming and marketing ideas. A reasonable cost ($6.99 per month; $69.99 per year), strategic social media and great word of mouth have led to swift growth. And tapping the mystery genre programming Sriraman loves, The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco is both BritBox’s foray into created originals and the resurrection of a fine franchise. The future of BritBox looks bright, especially with Sriraman leading the parade.

Robert Edelstein

Rob has written for Broadcasting+Cable since 2006, starting with his work on the magazine’s award-winning 75th-anniversary issue. He was born a few blocks away from Yankee Stadium … so of course he’s published three books on NASCAR, most notably, Full Throttle: The Life and Fast Times of NASCAR Legend Curtis Turner. He’s currently the special projects editor at TV Guide Magazine. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post and his origami art has been in The Wall Street Journal. He lives with his family in New Jersey and is writing a novel about the Wild West.