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Guest Column: Cricket continues to be a unifying factor: Prasana Krishnan, SPN India

22-December-2016
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Guest Column: Cricket continues to be a unifying factor: Prasana Krishnan, SPN India

As year 2016 draws to a close, Prasana Krishnan, EVP and Business Head, Sports Cluster, Sony Pictures Networks India shares the milestones that shaped the sports broadcast industry this year. 

Overall, 2016 has been an extremely eventful year for sports. This was the year in which cricket continued to dominate across various series including IPL and T20 World Cup amongst others. One of the key highlights of this year was VIVO IPL 2016 which scaled new heights with a record viewership of over 361 million viewers. This demonstrated the strength of IPL that continues to grow bigger and stronger.

Insight from Euro

 In football, this was a big year with the UEFA Euro 2016, the most watched international tournament of the year. This event also demonstrated the direction in which sports viewership is heading. UEFA EURO 2016 essentially established how the consumption of sports content on second screens has also increased substantially as consumers are eager to watch content on these digital platforms. The UEFA EURO 2016 was also a property in which social media engagement was at a significant peak. In a way, one can say that it is an interesting indicator of the future, with respect to multimedia multiplatform coverage, fans consuming the content across various platforms and the importance of digital mediums. It's also the year where digital streaming for sports has grown manifold compared to previous years. 

The consolidation

In September 2016, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) and its affiliates entered into definitive agreements to acquire TEN Sports Network from Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL) and its subsidiaries. Completion of the acquisition is subject to regulatory approvals. The TEN Sports network operates in several countries including the Indian sub-continent, Maldives, Singapore, Hong Kong, Middle East and Caribbean. 

Prominence of domestic leagues

 Among other trends, domestic sports leagues are continuing to gain momentum with viewers. What primarily started with cricket with the Indian Premier League has now spread to other sports like wrestling, tennis, football, kabaddi etc. Some have been very successful while some are continuing to grow and we are seeing clear examples of leagues that are going to work or get mass numbers. For instance, wrestling, kabaddi and football have shown great reach and traction in select markets while some of the other leagues have become more niche.  

We have also seen some effect of demonetization on sports towards the end of this year, for instance, there was a news report on IPTL tennis scaling down. So the year is ending on a slightly challenging note.

BARC’s rural data

BARC data has been an eye opener for us. Reporting of rural data has led to a better understanding of viewership in the country and has brought up trends in rural and urban centers. One obvious conclusion (which we intuitively knew) is that cricket particularly IPL rules irrespective of urban or rural audiences. Rural India has definitely shown a great appetite for sports with close to 45 per cent of viewership coming from rural India.

Select market for different sports

 A clear trend that has been established is that cricket continues to be a unifying factor and has a pan India presence. Barring cricket, we have seen that viewership of other sports often shows both regional preferences as well as an urban rural preference. International football leagues and sports like tennis have shown a more urban skew.  Local leagues (depending on the sport) and sports that have very strong Indian roots, such as wrestling and kabaddi have shown a skew in rural markets for instance the Pro Wrestling League which was launched last December on our network had a more rural connect than urban. Another interesting insight is that each of these leagues has found different pockets of support. Football, for instance, always has a Kerala, Goa, North East and West Bengal skew and that continues in the leagues. Similarly, wrestling is extremely strong in North India while kabaddi has shown strength in select western and southern markets.

Looking forward in 2017

 Something that I am really looking forward to is the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup. The big trend that I am very curious and excited about is that how this prestigious International tournament can become a catalyst and how much can it transform Indian football. I am very confident that this tournament will be a runaway success in terms of a standalone event and keeping in mind that this is the first International FIFA tournament that India is hosting. Can we really see grassroots football developing to an extent that India becomes a powerful nation in football? It is really very exciting once you comprehend the scale of this event and what it can do to transform football as a sport in this country. It not only has the potential of transforming and giving boost to football at grassroots level but also bringing in talent and professionalism, elevating Indian football to a totally different level. Once again the impact of this tournament will become clearer in the coming year. 

 And of course, I am also excited about the upcoming IPL which only continues to grow bigger each year. And the fact that it is the 10th edition of the Indian Premier League only makes it even more special.

(The author is EVP and Business Head, Sports Cluster, Sony Pictures Networks India)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com

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