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Can live sports thrive on the digital platform?

Can live sports thrive on the digital platform?

Author | Collin Furtado | Thursday, Oct 30,2014 8:24 AM

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Can live sports thrive on the digital platform?

During the FIFA World Cup, LIVSport.in, (Multi Screen Media’s online platform), which had secured the online streaming rights in India, recorded close to million live video steams. It was also said that it recorded 20 million page views during the month and viewers spent an average of 28 minutes watching live streaming of the matches across platforms - online, mobile and tablets via the LIVSports app. This was in spite of LIVSports.in and Sony LIV charging a subscription fee of Rs.120 to access all the matches. 

More recently, competitor starsports.com, which had started live streaming of cricket on their online platform last year, started promoting the streaming of football properties on digital platforms and released a TVC #theSEASONisLONG (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGpwx2jSbZE). As a result, during the Indian Super League (ISL) the website is said to have recorded approximately 800,000 visits each for the first two days and recorded 5 million visits in the opening week of the tournament which is 80 per cent of the average IPL viewership on starsports.com. They have also acquired the rights o International Premiere Tennis League (IPTL) and will be telecasting the matches live on starsports.com.

Not to be outdone, LIVSports.in recently announced that it has acquired the mobile and internet broadcast rights of another tennis league, the Champions Tennis League. In addition to this, they have also acquired the online streaming rights the European (UEFA) Qualifiers.

Live streaming of sports content is evidently the game sports channels are keen to play. But is there enough potential for generating revenues? 

Connectivity issue

Live streaming of sporting events can generate healthy revenues, provided we are able to overcome the bandwidth issues, says Vinit Karnik, National Director – Sports and Live Entertainment, GroupM ESP. “Currently they are only sampling it because even though mobile usage is more, the data (available for live streaming) is not so much. In fact, people in Mumbai and Delhi struggle with 3G networks. Now with 4G coming in, things would be smoother and faster and we would start consuming more data.”

This is indeed a roadblock as far as live streaming is concerned, since it needs a faster delivery of data. With bandwidth limitations faced by networks, one needs to buffer constantly, thereby disrupting the viewing experience.
 
In order to enhance the viewer experience, Starsports.com has come up with some interesting solutions.

Says Nikhil Madhok, SVP Marketing & Programming Strategy, STAR India, “I think one of the things that Starsports.com has done really well is customise content for the mobile space. While you have live streaming of a cricket match, there are also snippets of the match, a timeline that you can reverse, pause or stop, access match statistics, match highlights, etc. So what you consume on Starsports.com is much more than what you get on television. Brands are drawn to the platform because they see a great quality product with customised features for mobile. That is what is building engagement for viewers and it is doing really well.”

The Indian biz model

Live streaming of sports on digital platforms in India is yet to reach global standards. In developed markets, live streaming is subscription driven. Here, it is part subscription, part driven by advertising revenues. But the future lies in a subscription model, says Karnik. “Most of the developed markets are primarily subscription based and depend less on advertising support. India is an exception as we are more dependent on advertising, though the model is changing. Besides, globally, advertising on a marquee property or a live property whether it is a sport, movie or event it is very expensive, while in India it is one of the cheapest,” he added. 

Both Starsports.com and LIVSports.in have subscription options available. While Starsports.com charged Rs 1000 for a year’s subscription (till June 1, 2015) for web and app access for all the football properties it currently holds (EPL, La Liga, FA Cup, Serie A, ISL), LIVSports.in has a subscription option for various sports such as cricket, football and NBA. However, they weren’t currently accessible.   
 
Commenting on the business model for digital platforms Prasana Krishnan, EVP & Business Head, Sony SIX says, “Some of the services will always be subscription based, some will be free. Of course ad revenues are a significant component at this stage. But digital is more of a long-term play. Eventually there are conversions happening, and the idea is that a sport fan should be able to get whichever sport he follows on any platform.”

Krishnan also pointed out that highlights are well consumed on the digital platforms, as they are available on demand. “So even if you have missed a match, you can catch up on the highlights quickly. Normally if you are at home if you have a television along with a second screen, then it is more comfortable to watch it on television for various reasons.”

Madhok is of the opinion that the success of the subscription model depends on the quality of streaming that will win the consumer’s confidence and convince him that watching the game on a digital platform is as good as watching it on TV. “Right now, we need the ad support. But once the credibility of the service is established and people become comfortable with the idea that this is not going to buffer or hang, I guess the subscription model will work, along the lines of Netflicks or Hulu. At this stage, it’s all about building the service and consumer base and demonstrating to them that we can provide top quality service,” says Madhok.

Even as content providers wait to build traction for the subscription- based model for live streaming, the demand for watching live sports on digital platforms on the go is set to grow. 
 

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