With the countdown to the ICC Cricket World 2015 already on, digital players are gearing up to attract viewers. ESPNcricinfo is one such digital sports content provider that has launched a variety of properties with videos and analyses to get more audiences on to their site. Speaking to exchange4media, Ramesh Kumar, Head of ESPN Digital Media India & ESPN cricinfo shared his plans for the ICC Cricket World Cup, monetization of content and competition.
What are your plans with regards to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015?
ESPNcricinfo Match Point happens as a game around game programming with pre-game, mid-game and end game. So we would be doing that for the (ICC Cricket) World Cup for all the matches. In addition, we will be launching our dedicated, completely responsive video microsite, with a whole lot of content looking at the various contenders for the cricket World Cup. So essentially we are doing a preview of all the World Cup teams with the video feature, such as various men of the finals, who played in the finals with clips, 50 World Cup vignettes based on great moments, top performances in the World Cup, and once the event starts, in Australia-New Zealand we would have editorial info from various parts of the countries. We would also be launching a feature called ESPNcricinfo Insights, which essentially looks at interesting statistical nuggets, interesting analysis around the place, players, teams during various stages of the match and analysing performances. We also started our 100-day countdown of the cricket World Cup, launched the dedicated cricket World Cup site and launched the World Cup timeline, which essentially looks at the past performance at the previous World Cups. The ESPNcricinfo travel site is positioned as a one-stop shop for anyone wanting to travel to any of the venues during the World Cup.
Does ESPNcricinfo have the digital streaming rights for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015?
We have the rights for US, Caribbean and Latin America. We are looking at leveraging those rights in those markets. Historically, whenever ESPNcricinfo had the rights in the past in the US, we used to make it available through our authenticated player called Watch ESPN. That is a player available for anyone in the US who is either an ESPN subscriber or is one of the broadband or ISP, with whom ESPN has a relationship. So for the Cricket World Cup 2015 we have an option of looking at that same model or we could look at a different approach as well. So as we speak, we are evaluating various options.
What is traction of visitors that you are expecting and have already got from pre tournament content on ESPNCricinfo?
Even with all the multi-sport action happening including the football local leagues and the India-Sri Lanka cricket, we get around 15-17 million unique clicks per month. So we clearly expect an incremental unique clicks coming on to products like this, as we launch various products on the mobile as well as video features as the build-up to the World Cup. This is progressively going to grow once we are into the tournament and typically huge events deliver huge numbers on cricinfo. For instance, if you compare the last World Cup to the earlier one and look at only average unique visitors per day, we saw a growth of around 206 per cent. That is World Cup to World Cup. And in terms of daily page views it was 140 per cent and if you look at page views measured in terms of average page views, daily page views is close to 500 per cent. So these are the numbers that grow from World Cup to World Cup. This time around, we are sitting on a much larger base of mobile users as well as people through our social channels, so the percentage increase is going to be much bigger.
Has there been a real shift in viewers from broadcast towards the digital medium?
At ESPN we clearly believe that users choose the best available screen. So if you’re at home you might be watching television but they might have opened up ESPNcricinfo on the desktop to check on interesting statistics, engage on and play on fantasy. One thing that is observed, the core audience is not passive; it is not someone following a news or a soap on TV where it is a passive engagement. It is not a behaviour that is unique to this market, even in the US where there is TV, mobile plus print and all the digital platforms. Clearly one thing does not cannibalise the other. What is noticed from the various research that we have done in the market is, multi platform actually grows even the overall time a consumer spends as an aggregate across. Just purely going by Comscore if you look at statistics, we would be growing at around 30 per cent in minutes and that is purely in terms of time spent on digital. In terms of page views year on year, it is anywhere between 35-40 per cent, that is in terms of desktop audience. And in mobile it is much more with video similarly showing a huge growth.
What types of sports content is consumed the most by people on digital platforms?
The general belief is that people out of home consume more of live score updates, which is true to a certain extent. But if that was the case, by now you would have had a whole host of entities operating in the market and there would be not so much of differentiated content by the leading brands. The fact is, people want various type of content out of home and in front of the television watching a cricket match. Our core audience is the 15-35-year-olds, who would constitute I would say 75-80 per cent of the digital consumers.
How are you looking to monetise your content? What are the revenue models that ESPNcricinfo has adopted?
Unlike others who have footprints focused in India and probably an Asia footprint as a broadcaster or even a digital player, ESPNcricinfo is clearly a global player and No.1 player in each of the markets, be it India, US, UK and Australia. In some of the markets we are not just digital, but also multimedia and have the rights in markets like US and Caribbean. So the biggest thing is that, we are going to play to our advantage … and also ensure that the kind of local content options for each of the playing markets, in terms of how we present and engage with our cricket followers in UK, Australia, India and for those following from US, Caribbean and rest of Asia. In terms of commercial model, advertising continues to be the biggest source of revenue for us. We would be working with all the leading brands in each of these markets and also target brands to come in and partner with us to reach this global audience.
With ESPN and StarSports going their separate ways and STAR Sports developing its online platform, how do you think you will be able to better compete against them?
We have a clear 21- year heritage and have an early mover advantage in the digital space. We have been one of the earliest entrants, not just as a sports player, but also as an overall content publisher in the digital space. We are the largest sports digital entity. India is the technological as well as the operations nerve centre for ESPN cricket globally and it is the biggest market for us, and we clearly leverage our strength in this market. During the last World Cup, if you look entirely in terms of page views, we were around 200 per cent higher than the nearest competitor. We clearly recognise that India is always going to be a competitor market, not just for digital players but also broadcasters who would have digital offerings around cricket World Cup. But we clearly know the tricks of the trade. Generally, for any World Cup, you would have new players capitalising on the opportunity, potentially new entrants with more localised options. But if you look at players in the long run, there would only be a handful.