Sports broadcasting market appears ripe for some disruption: ITW's Bhairav Shanth

ITW Consulting MD Bhairav Shanth spoke about the progress made by the company and the trends in the Indian sports market

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Sep 29, 2021 8:38 AM  | 9 min read
Bhairav Shanth

Established in 2011, ITW Consulting is a global sport, media, and entertainment marketing agency with offices spread across India, UK, UAE, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. As MD of ITW Consulting, Bhairav Shanth's primary focus is to drive ITW’s growth globally along with bringing together strategic alliances with Sports Conglomerates/ Cricketing Boards around the world. He spoke to exchange4media about the progress made by the company and the trends in the Indian sports market.
Edited excerpts:

FY21 was a challenging year for most companies, and more so for companies in the sports business. How did ITW Consulting cope with the Covid-19 impact, considering very few events happened during the fiscal?

ITW has always prided itself in being ahead of the curve in the sports and marketing consulting industry and in the past 18 odd months in particular, we have been able to completely reinvent ourselves and our business model to not just emerge from the pandemic mostly unscathed, but actually stronger. We accelerated the adoption of a digital first model by launching our division ITW 360 IO which has a bouquet of digital services to offer and for our major sales pitches, we spoke to clients about specific and tailored solutions as well as longer term relationships and not just focused on the current scenario, which was clearly a disruptive outlier.
A lot of our business relationships established at the height of the pandemic, when many sports events got suspended, were about what comes next, and usually tailored for multiple seasons rather than a one-off event. We moved towards providing consulting-based selling and solutions to clients, linking them to the best properties, sporting or otherwise, based on their specific marketing and strategic objectives. We looked at leveraging knowledge and expertise to craft bespoke solutions and have moved away from the sales of plain vanilla packages of sponsorship with preset deliverables and outcomes as our primary offering.

What kind of progress has the company made in the last few years on the business front?
In the last four years, ITW's business has expanded manifold, primary owing to us moving up the value of chain of sponsorship properties and into the space of future media — from digital marketing to streaming.

What will be the key focus areas for ITW in FY22 and beyond?
We are very excited at the prospect of digital properties and the opportunities that digitisation offers in sports and entertainment, including emerging areas such as AR and VR, where the next generation of innovations in marketing and branding on these platforms will come from.

ITW provides a number of services, but on-ground sponsorship continues to be your main strength. How are you diversifying the company's revenue stream?
On-ground sponsorship is one of our main businesses, yes, but it’s also the platform from where we have launched ourselves up the value chain. Our diversification comes in the form of looking at rights and opportunities in other media spaces — OTT, digital and the like — as well as crossing over to the entertainment and tech space where we take our experience in crafting branding solutions on-ground and are able to transfer that on to other arenas — both offline and virtual. Our strength is our ability to work with cross-disciplinary teams, which create the possibility of offering truly integrated solutions to clients. We have specifically skilled teams for every separate requirement of a client brand for Sports, Entertainment, and Future Media under one roof, and cross-team collaboration powers our ability to provide these other solutions.

Take us through your cricket advertisement business and what kind of innovative work are you doing in this area?
We are driven by a mix of the core principles of differentiation and disruption. For both on-air and on-ground properties we usually either try to find channels that are underutilised but offer great value (like, DD Sports, for example, where the slots are available for great rates, and it offers access to a large rural audience that other channels don’t) or ways of planning the campaign that stands out. Back in 2008 when cricket association was known for ad hoc spends and inconsistent exposures driven by personal love for the game, we drove an inclusive packaging strategy called roadblock.

Micromax was one of the newest entrants in the burgeoning mobile handset market, but wanted to create a strong brand to drive its innovative product line. To complement the traditional marketing mix available, ITW designed a new “impact plus consistency” plan called roadblock with an 18-month runway. We blocked 18 format-wise title sponsorships for Micromax. For the duration of 2 Asia Cups (the continental cricket competition) the tournament was named as Micromax Asia cup. The thinking was not just impact, but to consistently stay TOM (top of the mind) while the product got a chance to be reviewed in the market.

A combined approach driven by new product innovation and impactful consistency in cricket advertising helped Micromax to break into the top 3 in record time. Post the runway completion we encouraged a larger push towards traditional media mix and consistency in cricket which further helped Micromax balance their brand vs product evolution.

Thanks to the internet economy, we have seen an emergence of new-age brands. Why are these brands attracted to sports in general and cricket in particular?
Tech and new-age online/internet brands by definition are usually trying to tap into a young and tech-savvy audience, and there is a huge overlap between the two. GenZ in particular are glued to their mobile and computer screens for learning and for entertainment and that often involves sport, so the trends neatly dovetail into each other which has opened cricket up for a lot of these brands, whether they are in edtech, fintech, e-learning, ecommerce, fantasy, or gaming.

Cricket continues to dominate the sports business landscape in India, even as non-cricket sports are struggling to stay afloat. When do you see other sports also becoming commercially successful?
There already are examples of sports like Kabaddi and Hockey that have commercially successful models going around. Kabaddi in particular with the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) has been able to tap into a huge and loyal fanbase which has created a fantastic platform. Its peak TV ratings are comparable to cricket.

Apart from cricket, which are the other sports that you are betting big on?
While cricket remains our key component, we have seen immense prospects in Kabaddi and Hockey, two sports that had historically been underserved in India in terms of marketing but have lately come into their own.

What is your view on the sports broadcasting business, and has the Star-Sony duopoly impacted the value of non-Cricket rights?

The market appears ripe for some disruption because currently it’s a duopoly and a lack of competition tends to concentrate market power and skew the market like it has been towards cricket for the moment. There is opportunity in non-India non-cricket rights, but the size and scope of it is relatively narrow because the audience is concentrated mostly among a small urban cluster for other sports such as say tennis or European football. There is limited space when it comes to linear TV broadcast, but there are possibilities in OTT/streaming because there is quality and differentiation play available that can be cashed in on by appealing to the more hardcore and digital savvy fans via tech innovations such as AR, VR and the metaverse etc.
How will the entry of Viacom18 impact the sports broadcasting sector from a competition point of view?
The sector due to developments over the last three odd years has effectively been reduced to a defacto duopoly and typically more competition is always good news for an industry. While the common perception is that this could also make the sports broadcast market messy. The viewers are the same as they will migrate from one broadcaster to another. I do not see how this is an advantage to the passionate sports fan. How many people watch Wimbledon in India? Or say a few more similar pedigree sporting events which may find air time in India due to multiple new payers.
From an OTT point of view, Viacom18's entry will be a drop in the ocean given this space is all about the technology and pay-per-view base. We have some big names who may be eyeing this space already. What stops a Netflix to foray into sports while Amazon Prime has already picked up some live sports content and for five years that should give us some cue. Adding to this SonyLIV, Disney+ Hotstar, ZEE5 and many more all have the stretch to dive into the race with an existing strong subscriber base.

What impact will the entry of Amazon, Facebook and Google have on future sports rights like the upcoming IPL media rights auction?
Amazon has been very aggressive lately with its sports programming acquisition and Facebook made a huge bid for the IPL digital rights back in 2017, although Star’s combined bid eventually won out. What I foresee is a case of unbundling, where the likes of Google and Amazon might come in with a big standalone bid for the IPL rights, significantly increasing the value of the total rights that the league will be able to get.

Considering the massive growth in digital audiences, the value of digital media rights might see a huge jump. Is the digital rights value justified, considering the fact that monetization on digital has still not evolved to the scale and size of TV?
For those who are bidding for the digital rights — think of the Facebooks, Googles and Amazons of the world — it’s not just a matter of monetisation (although they could offer the league for free on their platforms and run programmatic ads which in itself is a huge business) but also about building their own sports presence and inventory into which they can afford to place these huge investments. So from a larger business synergy perspective, what might look inflated from the outside is actually a rather good value proposition for these giants.

Monetization of sports content on TV has picked up both on advertisement and subscription side. Do you see a similar uptick happening for sports properties on digital as well?
It is the logical next step, but for now it’s a medium-term future where streaming subscriptions drive the digital consumption of sports for the most part.

Read more news about (marketing news, latest marketing news,internet marketing, marketing India, digital marketing India, media marketing India, advertising news)

For more updates, be socially connected with us on
Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook & Youtube