Sports TV 2016: Digital explosion, player consolidation & confusion


24 Mar 2015
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2016 was a roller-coaster for
Indian sports in the truest sense.
It was akin to a Bollywood pot-
boiler of the country’s
sportspersons bringing cheer and
applause in various disciplines,
including Rio Olympics, to
melodrama and suspense of
wrestler Narsingh Yadav’s doping
issue and whether he or Sushil
would represent India to superb
action on and off the field (off the
field ones involving mostly our
politician-administrators and
their disdain for rules of the
games) to romance to multiple
climaxes in a game-changing year
that could well herald Indian
sports broadcasting becoming a
two-horse show with digital
media piggy-back riding sports in
The year began on a strong note
with Sony Pictures Network India
(SPNI) joining hands with
majority Walt Disney-owned ESPN
to launch two new English
channels, Sony ESPN and Sony
ESPN HD. The channels started
broadcasting on 17 January 2016
with the Australian Open and
going on to telecast several high
profile and popular sporting
events, both Indian and
international, throughout the
year. The co-branded Sony-ESPN
channels replaced Sony KIX.
Sony’s bouquet of sports channels
(Sony Six, Sony Six HD, Sony ESPN
and Sony ESPN HD) also broadcast
the Euro Cup, one of the hottest
sporting properties and the
second most followed event in
the football fraternity after the
World Cup. The numbers were
good with a league phase match
between Italy and Spain
garnering as much as 1.7 million
impressions on BARC ratings. A
quarter-final match between
Poland and Portugal, the eventual
winners, managed 290,000
impressions. The whole
tournament totted up a
cumulative TV audience of 62.7
million viewers . The final
between Portugal and France
witnessed 12.4 million Indian
viewers, reaching a peak
between 1:00 AM to 1:30 AM on 11
July 2016 with 7.4 million viewers.
Kolkata notched up the highest
percentage (19.3 per cent) of total
viewership followed by Mumbai,
Bangalore, Delhi and Aizwal.
For SPNI, which promoted the
event extensively and started
selling ad inventory six months
before the tournament began at a
fairly high rate (Rs 250,000 for a
10-second spot) , it was a positive
sign for the future of football
broadcasts in the Indian market as
such rates were unheard of three
to four years ago. That Sony was
building up to a climax became
clear later in the year.
Setting rest to speculations, Sony
Pictures Networks announced on
31 August 2016 that it had entered
into definitive agreement with
Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd
(ZEEL) to acquire the Ten Sports
network in a deal worth $385
million. Owned by Taj Television,
the distribution arm of ZEEL,TEN
Sports operated five channels---
TEN 1, TEN 2, TEN 3, TEN Golf HD and
As and when the acquisition is
completed--- it is subject to
regulatory approvals --- SPNI’s
bouquet of sports channels will
be the biggest in India, heralding
not only consolidation in a
fragmented sports market, but
also making the Indian sports
broadcast realm a two-horse race
(Star India on one side and Sony-
ESPN combine on the other) as
Nimbus Sports with two channels
and few premier events rights
(French Open for one) remains a
comparatively small player.
The other big gun in the sports
arena, Star India added more
channels to its sports-channel
stable with the mid-July launch of
Star Sports Select HD 1 and Select
HD 2. The channels will not only
widen the Star Sports bouquet,
but would also add marketing
fire-power to Star India as the
new channels were launched to
exclusively offer Premier League,
Bundesliga, Tennis Grand Slams
and Formula 1. What makes the
sports scene exciting is that Star
India has sunk not only billions of
dollars in acquiring strong
sporting properties, including
rights of Indian cricket, but is also
building new properties like India
Soccer League and Pro-Kabaddi
for both men and women.
But cricket ruled the Indian hearts
of Indian fans keeping them on
tenterhooks for on and off the
field activities. The most
successful Indian league, the
Indian Premier League or IPL,
despite criticism revolving
around it becoming stale,
continued to rule the waves with
addition of two new teams and
Vivo coming on board as the title
sponsor in a deal estimated to be
worth Rs. 2 billion or Rs. 200 crore,
marking a 25 per cent increase in
what PepsiCo paid earlier for a
five-year deal.
According to a few media reports,
IPL earned close to Rs 2,500 crore
or Rs. 250 billion in revenues,
which included TV and digital
rights, teams’ sponsorships, ticket
sales and merchandising. On
social media too, IPL made just
the right amount of noise, but it
lagged behind last season’s buzz,
according to media firm Maxus’
MESH report on the IPL. Overall,
IPL2016 generated 3.1 million
mentions throughout the
tournament in 2016. While IPL
2016 lagged behind in mentions
throughout the tournament as
against IPL2015, the final week of
this season saw a jump of 74 per
cent in conversations.
On the TV platform, IPL continued
setting new trends. 54 per cent of
the total Indian audience
remained glued to the event on
pay television. Mumbai, Delhi,
Bengaluru, Kolkata and
Hyderabad were the best markets
in terms of TV viewing,
cumulatively reaching 361 million
people. The final, played between
Sunsrisers Hyderabad and Royal
Challengers Bangalore, was the
most viewed match of the season;
getting about 44.68 million
impressions. Summed across the
five channels over five weeks, the
total viewership stood at 1.02
billion BARC impressions, one of
the highest-ever in Indian
television history.
Year 2016 also saw the rise of
`other alternative’ sports or those
disciplines that can be kept in a
tray where non-cricket and non-
tennis games are kept. Pro-
Kabaddi League came up with
two editions this year. The first
edition of the league saw a rise of
36 percent in terms of TV
viewership compared to last year.
The event was beamed on five
channels – Star Gold, Star Sports 2
and 3, Plus Suvarna and Maa
Movies, apart from the digital
platform of Hotstar, which also
saw a 33 percent growth in terms
of ‘total minutes viewed’ over the
first 11 days of Season 3.
The fourth season of the Pro-
Kabaddi League or PKL also
happened in 2016. The ratings
showed a growth pattern, making
PKL one of the prime sporting
properties in the Indian market.
Star Sports said that the league
had seen a cumulative growth of
51 per cent, regularly posting 10
million average impressions that
were about 2.3 times higher than
last year, turning a rural sport into
a cult hit. Time for Bharat to take a
A fairly good show by the likes of
pro boxing matches featuring
India’s Vijender Singh, Indian
Badminton League, ISL and Pro
Wrestling League convinced
sportspersons, event managers
and advertisers that if properly
packaged non-cricket sports too
can attract viewership, audiences
in stadia and generate revenues
for all stakeholders.
The year also witnessed the rise
of the digital platform, in general,
and marketing tactics by them to
further increase penetration
riding on the craze for popular
sports in India. For example,
Hotstar bought the digital rights
of IPL last year to push its
boundaries. While 35 million
people had watched the IPL play-
offs in the 2015 season, the
numbers swelled remarkably in
2016 reaching 80 million. It would
be quite safe to predict that there
were a billion views on the digital
platform this season for sporting
Throughout the year, Hotstar’s
premium services saw a huge
drive to add new members. The
registration was kept fairly simple
and all major football leagues in
Europe and Germany were
broadcast on the digital platform.
Cricket ODI matches and Tests on
Star Sports were broadcast with
an average delay of about five
minutes, which garnered a lot of
traction and spurred downloads
of the app.
With Sony LIV giving good
competition with El Clasico and
other events, it seems popular
sports can actually drive the
growth of digital platforms,
especially subscription-based OTT
services. The total watch time on
OTT platforms in 2016 went up by
60 percent, driven also by the fact
newcomer Reliance Jio started
giving away the Hotstar app free
to its subscriber

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