One of the fastest growing entities in SPN, its sports cluster has a packed calendar with the recently concluded IPL, ongoing UEFA Euro 2016 and Copa America Centenario. In addition, it has broadcast rights of LaLiga, Serie A, an exclusive broadcast rights of Premier Futsal, ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event, The Champions Tennis League, TNA Impact Wrestling and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Recently, the company acquired the digital and broadcast right of third Indian Open World Ranking Snooker tournament. Its aggressive strategy didn’t miss out on regional sports where the network had backed World Kabaddi League and the Pro Wrestling League (PWL). According to media reports it might look at airing regional leagues to cater to the sporting appetite in smaller towns and cities.
Though that’s in early stages Prasana Krishnan, EVP and Business Head, Sports Cluster, Sony Pictures Networks India talks about the dynamic market share, sports strategy, competition from Star learning from PWL, tapping the regional markets and the advertisers opening up to non-cricket sports.
How has your sports strategy been shaped up since your arrival?
From the start we took a differentiated strategy. We were the first ones to focus on non-cricket sports. Sports business has to be built on a consistent offering across the year. Our sports strategy besides cricket is built around four sports: football, tennis, fight sports and basketball. Besides this we will provide an eclectic mix of other sports which cater to niche section. In last two to three years we have strengthened our hold on each of these. We are now the home of football as we hold the rights of FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro 2016 and Copa America Centenario. We show some of Indian qualification on FIFA and the Spanish football league and English FA cup. It is based on a strategy of big events and a combination of year-long football. In tennis we have Masters Catalogue and Australian Open (around 23 out of 27 events) with us. Basketball we have been focussing on NBA in a very big way. In fight sports we have a combination of boxing and kickboxing from UFC to TNA and of course Pro Wrestling League.
Now, when it comes to niche sports, those markets were heavily underserviced. If you were an NFL fan in India the chance of you being able to view that sport was next to zero. So we kind of tried to bridge that gap. To be very honest those were my very loyal audiences. They are the ones who respect us, despite it not being a mainstream sport, they appreciate us for taking the schedule, time and effort to provide it to them. Snooker is one such initiative.
How would you describe IPL’s performance this year in terms of viewership?
It’s a very different number this year, because of BARC compared to last year there was TAM followed by blackout period. So we can’t compare strictly. But this year it had a phenomenal reach of 360 million viewers, unprecedented and highest ever for any event. On every half hour slot to slot (8.00 to 8.30, 8.30 to 9.00) IPL was the clear market leader over any other programme on Indian television. The primetime dominance of IPL on numbers continues irrespective of TAM and BARC. But this time we saw rural and urban ratings into the mix and we had that phenomenal reach. So that’s where IPL was a phenomenal success.
What’s the revenue growth of SPN’s sports cluster?
IPL itself grew 15-20 per cent this year. Sports cluster will grow that way easily may be beyond 20 per cent. But we are at the start of the year. Lot of events are lined up with IPL followed by EURO 2016 and Copa America. I will stick to 15-20 per cent.
How is the Premier Futsal shaping up?
League is working on the advertising part of it. Premier Futsal is focusing on quality of players, getting good franchise owners in place and stars etc, marketing it and familiarising it.
How are advertisers opening up to non-cricket sports in the recent past?
Market is maturing. It is visible that brands have started taking non-cricket strategy. Football is seeing that. UEFA Euro was a phenomenal success from advertising perspective because we have between 35 and 40 advertisers. This is relevant because you can make good your money. So by having half a dozen big sponsors to be able to attract so many different brands to come on to a mainstream product is useful because everyone is getting sports as part of their strategy. That will definitely benefit us all in the long run.
Are most of the brands still male-skewed when it comes to investing in sports properties?
Brands in automobiles and financial services categories tend to be male-skewed when it comes to sports. They are more active in sport relatively. Having said that; mass brands in e-commerce and telecoms are very active in the advertising space. Sports attract that combination also. What we also have been seeing is female viewership is consistently increasing. IPL garnered around 41 % female viewership. There is a bit of advertising male skew obviously in sports. But that will change over a period of time. For female skewed advertising products, there are other alternatives available for them like soaps etc. But you have to reach male audiences through sports only where the male skew happens in the advertising side.
Multilingual feed has been an important part of your strategy to tap into the regional market. Are you seeing a growth?
We are definitely seeing a growth in that market. The intention is to make the product more accessible and friendly from a viewer’s perspective. While football was always a bit more elitist in this country, research showed that European accent commentary is sometimes difficult to understand even for a fluent English speaking person. Can we broad base that to give them the choices? We decided we will give you the choices in English, Hindi, Tamil and Bengali etc. That enables more accessibility and engagement from the viewer. This trend is going to definitely continue
Coming to regional commentary, we started this trend two years ago. For 2014 FIFA World Cup we did Bengali commentary. That was the first time ever where a mega sporting global event took a language commentary outside English and Hindi. It was an eye opener for us because in West Bengal, over 50% of the viewership came from Bengali feed and the other 50% from English. That’s an astounding result, because providing them that language option in Bengali took 50 per cent of viewership that side. Also what we started doing two years before has now become an industry standard. Our competition has done that for their events. We did IPL in five languages, now Euro in six languages. We provided Bengali and Malayalam commentary as options to two core football markets. Then we provided Tamil, Telegu and Hindi commentary in market, not traditionally seen as active football. Let’s see what kind of results we get. Once that comes we will get to know if football is as elitist, as perceived, or are people very comfortable watching in their languages in markets which may not be as big football markets.
What are your insights from PWL?
It was the second most successful product. In market up north (Punjab, Haryana and Delhi) it was a phenomenal success and got numbers that were at times comparable with cricket and highest for any sport outside of cricket in that market. It outperformed Pro Kabaddi quite substantially in those markets. So local sports in sports culture is far more embedded in the country than most of us thought. It still had its share of advertisers in the first season even they were not sure. Second and third season is where you really see the impact. So I am definitely looking forward to second season.
How have leagues changed the way sports genre is consumed in India?
In a substantial way. IPL changed the way from 15-20 games a year we moved close to 100 games. In last three years between kabaddi, football, tennis, hockey, badminton and wrestling leagues we have nearly 500-600 ground events happening across various cities in the country. For instance, the Champions Tennis League took tennis into Raipur and Nagpur. That’s the best way you can grow sports. You are getting live experience, local buzz and primetime viewership in your city. This fuels the momentum of growth of sport. It’s going to continue.
Star Sports has dedicated eight channels for the upcoming Rio 2016 Olympic Games. What’s your take?
According to me these are experiments in a way. I appreciate what they are doing. Each of us are picking up selective events and experimenting to see what all we can provide. In Euro 2016 I took a six-language approach whereas they (Star) are taking a multiple feed coverage approach across Olympics. We are still in early stages of evolution of sports broadcasting in this country. They are observing and analysing my numbers as much as I analyse theirs.
What’s your market share?
Overall market share doesn’t make that big a difference. It’s an event driven thing. During IPL I had 90-95 per cent of the market. Star governed the market during World Cup. Currently it’s Sony everywhere with IPL followed by Euro and Copa America. I don’t think competition will get any substantial viewership at this point of time. Similarly, when they have a big event they will have it. Market shares fluctuate quite dramatically.