Can the network supported by Mukesh Ambani undermine the duopoly reigning in sports broadcasting in India?
Leading media conglomerate Viacom18 does not own a sports channel. But it recently acquired the rights to broadcast the matches of the first division football league of Spain, France and Italy, in India. He already has the broadcast rights to the Carabao Cup, a knockout club competition in England. Then he has Abu Dhabi T10 cricket and ATP Masters tennis. Along with these live sports properties, it also broadcasts the Legends Cup, featuring Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Shaun Pollock, among other cricket legends.
It’s safe to say that aside from the Legends Cup, the rest offer virtually no monetization opportunity. Why else would India’s sports broadcasting duopoly – Star and Disney India and Sony Pictures Networks India – ditch these live sports properties?
With VOOT, its digital video on demand (VOD) platform, emerging in the pay space, Viacom18 can attract subscribers at the expense of sports properties. El Clasico, Madrid Derby, Barcelona, Real Madrid etc. remain renowned sporting extravagances, despite the loss of stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. In fact, Viacom18 may bring the latter (Messi) to Indian fans as he soon makes his debut for PSG in the French Ligue 1.
Viacom18 owns youth and music channels, like MTV and VH1, and the Rishtey Hindi mass entertainment offering. By not launching a sports channel yet, it has saved itself from having to have a large portfolio of live sports content, which can be very expensive.
In 2018, when the rights to the Indian Premier League (IPL) went on sale, historic broadcaster Sony opposed Star. No one predicted the price of Viacom18 of Rs 16,348 crore for a period of five years, to outbid Sony’s Rs 11,050 crore. Star had also written a check for Rs 11,880 crore to own the rights to broadcast International Cricket Council (ICC) events like the World Cup etc.
“There is no certainty that Viacom18 will not bid for the IPL next year, or for the ICC matches in a few years. We must not forget that the network is supported by the company of Mukesh Ambani . The fact that it has parted ways with a possible merger with Sony Pictures Networks India means it is going to place big bets, ”says an industry veteran, who previously worked as CEO of a company. media.
Cricket commands high acquisition costs due to its popularity in India. It is by far the biggest distribution engine in the country. In terms of advertising rates, a 10 second slot in an India vs Pakistan World Cup match, or when the Mumbai Indians face Chennai Super Kings in an IPL match, can cost brands around Rs 12 lakh.
Most general entertainment channels (GEC) spend as much or less to produce a 20 minute episode that sells 10 seconds ad space at Rs 1 lakh. Unlike cricket, football still struggles to find announcers.
Viacom18 is optimistic about the opportunities offered by these football properties. According to figures shared by the company, attributing them to Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, La Liga’s opening week had three times the reach this time around. Viewers spent at least 30 minutes watching the game. According to Anshul Ailawadi, Business Manager – English Youth Music & Entertainment, Viacom18, what was surprising was the 55:45 male-to-female ratio on MTV.
Going forward, the network is ready to use its regional channels, or at least provide multilingual feeds on MTV. This, according to Ailawadi, can open doors for distribution in crazy football markets, like Kerala or other southern Indian states. In Kerala, the average time spent (watching) a La Liga game is 41 minutes, higher than the overall average of 30 minutes.
“We are talking with the leagues to assess how we can deploy multilingual commentary,” adds Ailawadi. In fact, only 27% of La Liga’s first week viewers were from the Hindi Language Market (HSM). Thirty-eight percent of viewers were from rural areas and 51 percent from urban cities, with a population of 10 lakh or less.
The network is already planning to mount El Clasico on a large scale. What is lacking in La Liga, which is mainly broadcast on Facebook in India, is the marketing power that the TV channels have. MTV has an in-house studio that provides advertising solutions to brands ranging from FMCG to retail and edtech. The channel unveiled a campaign to promote La Liga, which was created by the same internal team. He follows discussions on social media and has the ability to improvise in no time, whenever needed.
Experts believe the missing piece of “marketing power” to the puzzle will help the league become popular in the country. Ailawadi also shares that the network plans to send fans to Spain so they can connect with the league.
The owners of the league have opened an office in India and want to increase market income. The biggest contributor has to be media rights revenues, which La Liga grapple with. Viacom18 says it wants to increase the league’s fan base by at least 10. La Liga want Ailawadi and Viacom18 to pay more for the rights in three years. For this to happen, both sides will need to take a big step, and a single step will not be enough.