Our strategy was very high risk and we were very concerned: Uday Shankar, Star India
In an interview with exchange4media, Uday Shankar spoke about his biggest fears during the IPL bidding process and his plan to leverage this big-ticket gaming platform
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He is a man of many successes. Having recently won the IPL Media rights for the next five years for a whopping Rs 16,347.5 crore, Uday Shankar, Chairman and CEO, Star India has once again done what he does best---surprise competition.
Out of the 24 bidders at the recently held IPL media rights auction, Star India emerged triumphant. Was it the raw money power or a perfect game plan that worked in Star India’s favour, no one can offer a clear answer but the man himself.
In an interview with exchange4media, Uday Shankar spoke about his biggest fears during the bidding process and his plan to leverage this big-ticket gaming platform. Excerpts:
Having bagged the IPL media rights, what is your strategy for this sporting platform going to be from here on?
You will have to give me some time to talk about it. It’s a bit premature; we just got the rights two days ago. We are still trying to get our arms around the whole thing. So I am not in a position to tell you anything truthfully, simply because it would be a lie to say that we have already thought through what we will do with it.
During the bidding process was there any moment when you felt that things were not going according to the plan?
There was no plan or anything; it’s a bid where you submit a sealed tender. Once you’ve submitted a sealed tender, no matter what, it all is done and dusted. The thing is that when you walk into a room and you see global and Indian technology and telecom giants sitting and participating in the tender, you do know that it’s going to be a tough one. And our strategy was a very high risk strategy where we had designed our bid to lose each of the individual categories. So we were very concerned, we knew that it was something where we could either get all the rights or lose it all.
There have been talks about Star having the entire gamut of sporting broadcast rights and thus a certain kind of monopoly. How would you explain this?
Why do I need to explain that? Because you need to explain something that has factual basis and this is not something that is factually correct. When the concern is being raised by a bunch of vested interests who have competitive agenda, then you don’t need to explain. The first time this question was raised was by a platform owner who clearly has his own business agenda and that concern has been raised in the wake of a Supreme Court order that has labeled that any carriage of DD cricket signals will amount to piracy. So a bunch of people who were benefiting from that are obviously affected. So first of all, I don’t need to explain that, secondly, if you look at the landscape of cricket it’s also an uninformed argument. Essentially, we have only two major rights that we will have for a while – ICC and IPL. Within the two, ICC does not happen every year. So for instance, next year, i.e in 2018, there is no ICC tournament, there’s only IPL. Our BCCI rights which we acquired six years ago, lapses in less than six months. This is the last BCCI season that we have the rights for. Given all the aggressive competition, from media companies, telecom companies and global technology companies – social media kinds, who will have those rights is anybody’s guess. We used to have the English cricket board rights which have lapsed, we used to have the Cricket Australia rights, they have also lapsed. We don’t have the South African board rights; we don’t have the Sri Lanka rights. I am not even counting other minor rights like West Indies etc. So there is a lot of cricket that we don’t have which is out in the market or with other broadcasters. So that whole argument has no basis. The only rights we have currently for a few years and we will continue to have for a few years is the IPL rights. How do you build monopoly with something that you don’t have or something that doesn’t occur at a fixed frequency every year?
In your opinion, what makes IPL such a highly successful league that it has now become?
There are three or four very obvious things. First and foremost, T20 is the most attractive format for cricket fans – both serious cricket fans and also marginal cricket fans. It’s easy to understand, its short format, gets over in three hours etc. Moreover, outside of the World Cup, it is the only format; it is the only tournament, where the best of Indian players and the best of global players participate. Also, over the last few years it has built a deep connect. Each of the teams and franchises have built a deep affinity and connect with the local population. So people in Mumbai genuinely see Mumbai Indians as their team and people in Delhi see Delhi Daredevils as their team. So there’s that deep connect which so far was only with the Indian national team. And finally there is the fact that it happens at a fixed time, a very convenient time in the evening when most of the people are back home and want entertainment. And given that it is cricket, and T20 format, both men and women, young and old, all of them can come together and watch it. That’s what makes it what it is.
With other sporting leagues coming up and gaining popularity, do you think IPL will get impacted in any way? Also is there a fear of cricket overdose?
First of all, I think the power of cricket has become bigger, and we have seen IPL this year was bigger than any previous year. It is one of those myths which everybody built that there is too much of cricket. You know there is not that much of cricket. And there is cricket, then there is Test match cricket, which has a very niche audience. There are a few bilateral ODIs, that too just a few.
The English Premier League is just one league which goes on for 35 weeks in a year. So I think my submission is that there is not enough of cricket at multiple levels, rather than that there is too much of cricket. And the more people watch sports, the more they play and vice-versa, so it’s a very virtuous cycle. We should expect that with all the leagues, all the sports and cricket will benefit.
The digital rights witnessed a massive surge in pricing this year, was that a surprise in any way?
Exactly what you said. That is the big surprise that two telecom companies and one social media company went and chose to write such a big cheque for content. They had bought the tender so it was anticipated but still it’s surprising. I also think that people were very focused and disciplined in bidding. Most players had identified the areas of interest and they put up every dollar that they had behind that.
There are all kinds of speculations and calculations about Star India’s approach to recover the money. What is your game plan?
You have to step away from the rhetoric and look at the facts. Why do you need to benchmark IPL with the price at which it was sold 10 years ago? It was an untested property, those who got the rights were lucky to get the rights. But today a T20 game of BCCI goes for Rs 43 crore, a Test match goes for Rs 43 crore, and even those rights were tendered six years ago. Today if the BCCI rights go on a bid, they will go at a higher price for sure. So if you use the relevant benchmarks, the inflation isn’t that dramatic. It’s just that everybody is looking at the price at which something was sold 10 years ago – of course anything that was sold 10 years ago would look a lot more expensive than if you went to buy it today.
So you think 16,347.5 crore isn’t a dramatic figure?
No it is a dramatic figure but it is not an abnormal figure.
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