We will make a return on the IPL digital rights investment: Anil Jayaraj

The Viacom18 CEO - Sports spoke to exchange4media about the network's plans for FIFA WC and its acquisition strategy during the IPL and ICC media rights auction

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Oct 5, 2022 8:00 AM  | 6 min read
Anil Jayaraj

After venturing into the sports broadcasting business a year ago, Viacom18 is all set to face its first big test with the FIFA World Cup 2022, which will be held from November 21 to December 18. FIFA World Cup was the first big sports rights acquisition by Viacom18. Subsequently, the network bagged the prized IPL digital rights for Rs 23,758 crore.

Viacom18 CEO - Sports Anil Jayaraj spoke to exchange4media about the network's plans for FIFA WC and its acquisition strategy during the recently held auctions for IPL and ICC media rights.

Excerpts:

What are your plans for the FIFA WC?
The big thing that we want to say is that it's on Jio Cinema, which is our digital destination for the FIFA World Cup. What we are going to do is it will be without any subscription fees. So, marquee content like FIFA WC will be at no cost for viewers. We will have English, Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali, and Tamil feeds on Jio Cinema. We will also be doing a 4K feed, which is a big thing. It will also have a few other functionalities, including multi-camera angles which will allow consumers to choose which camera to watch it on. It will be available on all three telcos – Jio, Vi and Airtel. It will be available across devices whether it is iOS, Android, and Connected TV (CTV). For us, CTV is a big focus area. Of course, we will also have the event on television. We will only have English and Hindi feeds on our sports channel Sports18.

What kind of opportunity do you see for sports content consumption on digital?
The number of internet-enabled devices in the country is 690 million+. Just as an opportunity it is so huge that we certainly want to make a big play on digital. The ability to do things differently on digital like the 4K feeds and multi-camera angles is also a big advantage. Reimagining the viewing experience on digital is very much possible and that's what our big focus will be. Having said that, television has done sports for a number of years so in that sense it's similar but in digital we can make a massive difference. For advertisers, the obvious advantage is that they can do sharper audience targeting and work within a specific budget. But it has not happened on a big scale so it will be quite unique at this scale.

In terms of distribution, have you seeded Sports18 SD/HD on all the key platforms in the country?
It's available on most key platforms. As far as reach is concerned, it goes up when a marquee tournament is aired on a channel. That is how it works for sports broadcasters, unlike entertainment where you have a certain reach week-on-week.

Do you have plans to launch a separate sports-first digital service?
Jio Cinema is going to be the platform that I just talked about. We will leverage Jio Cinema's massive reach for FIFA World Cup. Currently, Jio Cinema doesn't do sports but it is changing completely to become a live sports destination. Jio Cinema will continue to have all the other video-on-demand content but we are also putting live sports on it. Jio Cinema will be the destination for FIFA WC. As far as IPL is concerned, we are still on the drawing board.

Experts say that the split in IPL media rights will pose a major challenge for the rights owners. Do you see it as a challenge or an opportunity?
We were conscious of how we will bid and we were conscious of how the business will stack up. We are not in this for an ego game. We believe that we will make a return on the investment we have made in acquiring the IPL digital rights asset. Yes, it's different from having both TV and digital rights but we are ok with having just the digital rights.

What was Viacom18's strategy for ICC rights?
Just like in the case of IPL, our strategy for the ICC rights was how can we build a profitable business out of any rights that we have because that is the objective of any business and we had a certain benchmark around which we believed that this can happen. Obviously, the ICC media rights winner (Disney Star) had a different point of view. We want to build our business on the assets that we have and even if we don't have ICC so be it.

How do you plan to build your sports channel in the absence of any marquee cricket property?
We have a lot of other properties across sports like Football, Badminton, Tennis and other sports. We don't see that as a challenge and to be honest, we are looking at it from the point of view of audiences. Whether these audiences are coming on digital or TV is immaterial. The fact that we have digital rights for most of the properties that we own is good for us. It's not a challenge, it's a question of how much live stuff we have and I believe that we have enough.

You have got IPL digital rights while the ICC rights went to other players. Will you bid aggressively for the BCCI media rights to get the right volume of live cricket?
It's not about being aggressive or defensive. You have a business case and you want to make the business case work. That's the way we will go about it. It has to make business sense for us. There is no ego involved in these decisions otherwise it will not be the best way to do it. Whether it's TV or digital, we are focussed on where we can make a return.

Even the FIFA rights which we won, we believed that it's actually a good business case. Going by the interest shown by advertisers, it looks to be quite good especially if you look at the fact that there are 50 million+ consumers who are watching content on CTV. It's a massive thing that has never happened before. That is a big audience that we can target especially through digital. We want to build a business that is more sustainable in the long run. We will build a sustainable business and we will do whatever it takes to achieve that. Our intent is to get all the consumers who have internet-enabled devices to watch the FIFA WC.

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