DreamDTH Explains: A comprehensive guide to sports channels in India

Star and Sony have ruled the show so far and Viacom18 has risen rapidly, with Discovery and Doordarshan being smaller players along with the streaming-only FanCode and Prime Video.

Estimated reading time: 36 minutes, 42 seconds

Sony Sports Network: the all-rounder

Beginnings: Sony Max, Sony Six and Sony ESPN

Sony has long had a presence in the sports broadcasting sector, even in the 2000s when it did not have any dedicated sports channel. The Hindi movie channel SET Max — now more commonly known as Sony Max, though the older name is still sometimes used — was known for airing events like the 2003 and 2007 ICC Cricket World Cups, in addition to several other cricket tournaments. Then, of course, the IPL started in 2008, and for the first four years Sony Max was the sole and exclusive channel to air the T20 extravaganza. Sony Max even had a pop-up HD feed for the 2011 and 2012 IPL seasons, when ironically it was the last of the three oldest Hindi movie channels to launch an HD feed (which it did only on Christmas 2015) — four years after Star Gold and Zee Cinema went HD in 2011. (Even &pictures, Zee’s secondary Hindi movie channel that was launched in August 2013, was quick to launch its HD version on its first anniversary!)

It was only with the start of the 2012 IPL season that Sony realised that it could do much more with a dedicated sports channel, which led to it launching Sony Six that April — including in HD, which became the broadcaster’s first full-time HD channel. Over the next few years Sony went about buying more sports rights, ranging from several bilateral cricket series to football leagues to combat sports like the WWE and UFC. But since Sony Six was its only sports channel at the time, it had to improvise during major sporting events with simultaneous matches — such as during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, when it had to launch the HD feed of the English movie channel Sony Pix in order to show certain live matches on it.

Its second sports channel, Sony Kix, was launched before the 2015 IPL season with multiple regional audio feeds, and was then renamed to Sony ESPN in January 2016 along with launching an HD feed. This marked the return of the ESPN brand to Indian TV, as the previous incarnation of the ESPN channel came to an end in 2013 with the rebrand of Star Sports. (However, Sony ESPN was unfortunately closed in March 2020, along with the Hindi music channel Sony Mix, most likely because of the acquisition of its rival Star by The Walt Disney Company — which owns ESPN — a year prior. ESPN has not been seen on Indian TV since, and there is no word on whether, if ever, it can make a comeback.)

How the ten (pun intended) Sony Sports channels came about

But despite the rapid growth of Sony in the sports sector, it was still a distant third behind Star Sports and the Ten Sports network that was owned by Zee. Zee operated a number of sports channels back in the day: Ten Sports (launched in 2002), the football-focused Ten Action (launched in 2005 as Zee Sports, rebranded in 2010), Ten Cricket, Ten HD (both launched in 2011) and Ten Golf (also launched in 2011; became Ten Golf HD in 2015). In March 2016, the Ten channels underwent a Star Sports-style rebrand and now had numbers in the names, though Ten Golf HD was unaffected. Ten 1 continued to focused on WWE and other combat sports, Ten 2 on football events and Ten 3 on cricket events, with the HD channel (Ten 1 HD) showing a mix of all three.

In August 2016, Zee decided that it wanted to focus more on its entertainment offerings than sports, so it announced the divestiture of the Ten channels to Sony. This was done in a two-step process: the Indian Ten channels were acquired by Sony in February 2017, while the international ones followed in September. This set the stage for a big rebrand of the Indian Ten channels in July 2017, and they switched to the Sony Ten brand. Along with Sony Six — which focused on cricket — they adopted the same logo style as Sony ESPN along with a new uniform graphics package. Moreover, Sony Ten 2 and 3 launched HD feeds, which meant that Sony had as many as six HD sports channels at the time (Sony Ten 1/2/3/Golf HD, Sony Six HD and Sony ESPN HD). However, the original Ten brand and logo continues to be used in other countries, i.e., Ten Sports in Pakistan (which is also owned by Sony Group Corporation through a different Pakistani subsidiary) and Ten Cricket in Sri Lanka.

Due to the unpopularity of golf among Indian audiences, Sony wisely decided to close Sony Ten Golf HD in December 2018 — along with the Hindi music channel Sony Rox HD and the English premium movie channel Sony Le Plex HD, whose abrupt closures were much more of a shock than the struggling golf channel. The closure of Sony ESPN in 2020 (along with another Hindi music channel, Sony Mix) was partly offset by the launch of Sony Ten 4 (now Sony Sports Ten 4) in June 2021, but it is a Tamil and Telugu channel and not an English channel like Sony ESPN was. Similarly, Sony Ten 3 (now Sony Sports Ten 3) is a Hindi channel, like Star Sports 1 Hindi, but the languages are not mentioned explicitly in the names.

The Sony Sports channels’ new names and graphics were introduced with Sony’s mega-rebrand in October

Much more recently, during the mega-rebrand of the Sony network a few days ago, all the Sony sports channels rebranded with a new Sony Sports brand, and the operating network was renamed from Sony Pictures Sports Network (SPSN) to Sony Sports Network. They continue to use the Ten name with the new Sony Sports Ten naming scheme — even though the word ‘Ten’ is barely visible in the logos. All their MIB broadcast licences have now been updated accordingly. Also, the decade-old Sony Six brand was replaced by Sony Sports Ten 5 for greater harmony among the channels.

Interestingly, Sun Direct is the only DTH platform to carry Sony Sports Ten 4 HD — and also Sports18 1 HD — but also the only one not to carry Sony Sports Ten 3 HD. This may have to do with the fact that Sun Direct has historically been focused towards South India and has had more Southern channels (like Sony Sports Ten 4) than Hindi ones, but the tables have turned in recent years with it adding more non-South Indian channels (such as Pravah Picture HD, where it is also the only DTH operator to carry the HD version) than Southern ones. Therefore there is no DTH operator that has both Sony Sports Ten 3 HD and 4 HD, while Sony Sports Ten 1, 2 and 5 HD are present across all DTH platforms, as are all the SD channels — though all other DTH operators except Sun Direct put Sony Sports Ten 4 in the Tamil section of the electronic program guide (EPG) instead of the generic sports category.

The below table summarises how the Sony Sports channels — including the Ten-branded channels, the former Sony Six and the defunct Sony ESPN and Sony Ten Golf HD — have evolved. Coincidentally, there are currently ten of these channels (five each in SD and HD) that all have the word ‘Ten’ in their names. While this pales in front of Star Sports’ 17 channels — of which five are regional channels, something that Sony has hesitated to launch aside from Sony (Sports) Ten 4 — it is still a wide and big range of channels.

Sony Sports Ten 1Sony Sports Ten 2Sony Sports Ten 3Sony Sports Ten 4Sony Sports Ten 5Sony ESPN (defunct)Sony Ten Golf HD (defunct)
launched in 2002 as Ten Sports (HD feed, Ten HD, launched in 2011)launched in 2005 as Zee Sports; rebranded in 2010 to Ten Actionlaunched in 2011 as Ten Cricketlaunched as Sony Six (HD) in April 2012launched as Sony Kix in April 2015 with multiple regional audio feedslaunched in 2011 as Ten Golf
rebranded on 29 March 2016 to Ten 1 (HD)rebranded on 29 March 2016 to Ten 2rebranded on 29 March 2016 to Ten 3rebranded on 17 January 2016 to Sony ESPN; HD feed launchedconverted to an HD channel in 2015: Ten Golf HD
acquired by Sony in 2017; rebranded to Sony Ten 1 (HD) on 18 Julyacquired by Sony in 2017; rebranded to Sony Ten 2 on 18 July; HD feed launchedacquired by Sony in 2017; rebranded to Sony Ten 3 on 18 July; HD feed launchedlaunched on 1 June 2021 as Sony Ten 4 (HD), a Tamil and Telugu channeladopted the new logo style of the other Sony Ten channels in July 2017unaffected by the July 2017 rebrandacquired by Sony in 2017; rebranded to Sony Ten Golf HD on 18 July
rebranded on 24 October 2022 to Sony Sports Ten 1 (HD)rebranded on 24 October 2022 to Sony Sports Ten 2 (HD)rebranded on 24 October 2022 to Sony Sports Ten 3 (HD)rebranded on 24 October 2022 to Sony Sports Ten 4 (HD)rebranded on 24 October 2022 to Sony Sports Ten 5 (HD)shut down on 30 March 2020 along with Sony Mixshut down on 31 December 2018 along with Sony Rox HD and Sony Le Plex HD

#SirfSonyPeDikhega: a wide range of sports events

On the whole, Sony Sports Network has lived up to its cheeky brand campaign, #SirfSonyPeDikhega (only Sony will show), with its multifaceted range of sporting events that have also contributed to the growth of the SonyLIV streaming service several times — though not as much as the gargantuan rise of Disney+ Hotstar thanks to the IPL. But since cricket is the cornerstone of Indian sports broadcasting, Sony has needed to ensure that it has not had to starve in the cricket department, while at the same time maintaining a multitude of other sporting rights.

Even though Star Sports has a vice-like grip on the cricketing trumivirate of IPL, ICC and BCCI, Sony still has no shortage of cricketing action in the form of several bilateral rights, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka* and more recently the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) rights, which were renewed this year. Historically, Sony Six (now Sony Sports Ten 5) has been the most cricket-focused channel of the lot. Sony also had the Australian cricket rights for a long time — including the (Women’s) Big Bash League — until Star snatched them this year. Not to mention, it was the original broadcaster of the IPL for its first ten years (2008–2017) and its claim to fame was its innovative celebrity-filled Extraaa Innings T20 show and creative advertising campaigns, which Star Sports has not been able to replicate.

All the same, Sony has a much more diverse sports offering than Star, where cricket reigns supreme. In football, Sony has the rights to the German Bundesliga league (2021–2023)* and the English FA Cup, and previously had the rights to several other European leagues until Viacom18 snapped them up. It also continues to have the rights to UEFA events such as the UEFA Champions League, and its coverage of the UEFA EURO 2020 in June–July 2021 attracted tens of millions of viewers. In addition, Sony aired the 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cups, though this too has moved to Viacom18 starting with the upcoming 2022 edition that kicks off later this month.

Another major attraction on the Sony Sports channels is combat sports, mainly WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) and the mixed-martial-arts event UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), which Sony has aired for years. They constitute a big part of the programming schedule of Sony Sports Ten 1 and 3. In fact, WWE events such as WWE SmackDown, WWE Raw and WWE NXT have even been aired on Sony Max on Sunday evenings under the name of ‘WWE Sunday Dhamaal’, proving to be a popular attraction on the Hindi movie channel. A less testosterone-filled (but no less energetic) sport that Sony also airs is tennis, in the form of the Australian Open, French Open and US Open (the latter two acquired from Star this year): these are three of the four Grand Slam tennis events, with the fourth, Wimbledon, being with Star.

In terms of four-yearly multi-sport events, too, Sony has been ahead of the others. It aired the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, which had several memorable moments, most notably Neeraj Chopra winning gold for the country. (The Paralympics were aired on Discovery’s Eurosport.) However, the Olympics are another event that Viacom18 is highly likely to take from Sony, starting with the Paris 2024 edition. This year, Sony also aired the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and was additionally supposed to air the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China — even preparing an ad campaign for the same — until they were postponed to 2023 owing to China’s multiple COVID-19 lockdowns and the general COVID-zero stance of that country, which is in stark contrast to the mass reopenings in most other countries.

All these events have established Sony Sports Network as an all-rounder that excels in both cricket and other sports, having something for every sports fan — a model that Sports18 is clearly trying to emulate. Though Sports18’s existing events tend to lean towards the football side, it is steadily building up its properties in other sports, such as the Cricket South Africa bilateral rights (including the upcoming SA20 tournament) as explained on the next page.

*Certain events’ rights are up for renewal in the coming years. While they are discussed at length at the end of Page 4, those that are currently held by Sony include Pakistan and Sri Lanka cricket as well as Bundesliga and UEFA.

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Avatar of Soham Bhadra
Soham Bhadra

Soham is a Computer Science graduate from NTU, Singapore, with an active interest in the Indian TV and entertainment industry. He publishes freelance articles and shares his insights primarily on the Indian TV industry and DTH operators. He has a passion for words and reflects that through his articles.

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Nice article from DDF. As a sports i loved it and learner a lot

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