Sony Sixs first innings starts on back foot

Written by Sohini Mitter | Mumbai | Updated: Apr 7 2012, 09:12am hrs
Indias second largest television broadcaster by viewership Sony Entertainment Television's new sports channel Six may end up cluttering the sports broadcast by filling up its telecast itinerary with less attractive non-cricket sports as it lost the Board of Control for Cricket in Indias (BCCIs) right to telecast 96 circket matches to be played between July 2012 and March 2018.

Sony Entertainment Television, the broadcaster owned by Multi Screen Media (MSM), will now have to depend on non-cricket sports like martial arts, basketball, badminton, boxing, tennis, etc., to gain viewership.

The broadcaster lost out on BCCI's media rights to rival Star India, which paid R3851 crore, R151 crore higher than Sony offered on Monday. The channel is now banking on India's growing interest in non-cricket sports. Media buyers and consultants say without cricket's muscle power, Sony Six could end up only cluttering the sports broadcasting space.

"It would have been the perfect launchpad for Sony Six if they had won the cricket rights till 2018," says Jehil Thakkar, head media & entertainment at consulting firm KPMG India. "But they have a significant pie to grab in the non-cricket segment as well."

Sports channels occupy 3.5% of the viewership pie, according to the data of TV audience measurement agency TAM Media Research. Cricket receives roughly 70% of yearly advertising budget on sports channels, which amount to anywhere between R1,200-1,400 crore.

Non-cricket properties never command very high ad rates because viewership is significantly lower, said media buyer Anil Sathiraju of Mudra Max in an earlier interaction with FE. "The absence of big cricket properties makes it difficult for channels to make profit."

The launch of Sony Six sports channel, India's eleventh, faces its biggest challenge of a cricket vacuum. Most sports tournaments are already broadcasted by rivals ESPN-Star Sports (ESS), which owns ESPN, Star Sports and Star Cricket, Taj Television, which runs Ten Sports, Ten Cricket, Ten Action+ and Ten Golf, Nimbus Communications, which has Neo Sports and Neo Cricket. and the government-owned Doordarshan Sports. MSM now holds the rights to telecast Indian Premier League (IPL), New Zealand cricket, FA Cup and NBA. The cricket games are aired on Set Max, while the football and basketball matches on Sony Pix.

"IPL is the cake of cricket and we own it," says Man Jit Singh, chief executive officer, MSM. "The BCCI rights would have been the cherry on it, but we are confident of attracting eyeballs for other sports as well." Hailing digitisation as one of the biggest drivers of non-cricket sports in India, Singh says, "It will increase the availability of a variety of sports besides cricket. With Indian athletes performing better in sports other than cricket, viewer interest will only grow and Sony Six should be able to break even in the second or third year of its operations.