If media experts believe that sports channels are extremely volatile in nature, data for the first half of 2005 confirms that further. TAM data for sports channels for 2005 so far (TAM Media Research, C&S 15+ All India market) throw up some interesting numbers.
The first 10 weeks of 2005 saw ESPN, STAR Sports and Ten Sports moving in the 20 per cent to 50 per cent market share band, with ESPN and Ten Sports seeing more highs than STAR Sports. DD Sports, on the other hand, did not go beyond a 10 per cent market share.
Week 11 to week 17, however, saw DD Sports as the clear leader, courtesy the India-Pakistan cricket series, with the channel managing almost 80 per cent of sports viewers. During this period, the market share of Star Sports and ESPN plummeted drastically, delivering lowest share for the year so far ranging between 2 per cent and 5 per cent. Ten Sports kept well above the 10 per cent mark.
Following this period, from week 18 to 25, Ten Sports ruled the charts with an average market share of 60 per cent. DD Sports slumped back to its below 10 per cent share and STAR Sports, despite the increase it had seen, did not cross the 30 per cent mark. ESPN picked up in week 25 to gross a 30 per cent share, but prior to that it averaged only 10 per cent.
The half-year ended with ESPN taking the number one slot with 52 per cent market share. Ten Sports dropped from its high perch of 71 per cent market share in week 24 to 25 per cent in week 26 and is in the No 2 position. STAR Sports is third with 20 per cent market share while DD Sports hasn’t moved beyond 5 per cent.
Zee Sports, a pay channel from the Zee Network bouquet, was launched on June 8, 2005, and hence, it is too early to give it a report card.
The consistency of Ten Sports has managed to get the channel an average of 37 per cent in the first six months. DD Sports averaged a market share of 24 per cent followed by ESPN at 22.5 per cent and Star Sports at 16 per cent.
ESPN Star Sports is content with its performance. Sanjay Kailash, Vice-President, Ad Sales and Business Development, ESPN Software India, said, “Over the last six months, we have increased popularity of sports in the country and undertaken some landmark initiatives which will have long-term impact on sports, like localisation of content and repackaging and re-presentation of an existing sport.”
According to Sharmista Rijhwani, Managing Director, Taj Television (India), Ten Sports had seen the best performance so far. “In 2005, we have retained the top position by bringing the best of sporting events for the viewers. The channel’s current reach stands at more than 35 million households and pervades through all genres of viewers,” she claimed.
However, ESPN Star Sports is certainly taking that extra measure to reinforce its position. “We have made some major acquisitions like the FIFA World Cup 2006, FIFA Confederations Cup 2005, signed a four-year deal with Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament, a three-year deal with IHF for all international hockey matches to be played by India, and acquired a leading property called the ‘TNA’ in wrestling,” said Kailash.
Localisation-of-content strategy also worked for ESPN Star Sports. As Kailash explained, Hindi commentary helped them to increase penetration in traditional soccer markets in addition to opening up new ones like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, etc. “As a company, we are ready to explore further localization, including multi-lingual commentary,” he said.
DD Sports is pulling up its socks as well. According to K S Sarma, CEO, Prasar Bharati, one of the biggest initiatives undertaken by the pubcaster was to encourage live telecast. “The production value of live telecast, which is at almost Rs 40,000 for half-an-hour, is a major problem that discourages regional sports. We have designed a proposition whereby this cost comes down to just Rs 5,000 for the first day and Rs 1,500 for subsequent days. With this, we will see more content being produced that would be of interest to the Indian viewer and can be beneficial to the channel as well,” he said.
Though cricket will continue to be the driver for a sports channel, all players are experimenting and innovating with other sports as well in the race for a pie of the viewership market.
Asked about the forthcoming strategies for Ten Sports, Rijhwani said that there were a host of programming-related marketing and promotional initiatives that would be unveiled in the coming weeks. “The aim is to create a connect with the target audience with WWE as a key ingredient,” she remarked.
ESPN STAR Sports, too, has an array of sports events planned across all categories including cricket, soccer, F1, hockey, tennis, TNA wrestling and golf.
Explaining DD Sports’ keenness to bring in more content, Sarma informed that the channel had reduced the asking price of properties like World Cup Volley Ball to Rs 7 lakh from the initial Rs 30 lakh. “The moment we brought the price down, the property came to the channel and will result in mutual benefits,” claimed Sarma. He also informed that DD was encouraging simulcast with other channels like the forthcoming Tri-Nation cricket series in Sri Lanka.
With half the year remaining, the jury is still out as to who will end the year as champs.