Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc. have joined a bidding war for rights to stream Indian Premier League cricket matches, seeking to tap into the nation’s growing online audience, people familiar with the matter said.
Twitter Inc., based in San Francisco, confirmed its participation in the bidding process, saying that the IPL tender is part of its worldwide push to deliver live sports experiences for its users. “Globally, there were more than 10.6 million tweets related to the IPL in 2016, a 56 percent increase over 2015 and 9 out of 10 Twitter users in India are fans of cricket,” Suresh Vaidyanathan, a spokesman for Twitter in India, wrote in an e-mail. “We see this interest growing,” he said.
Amazon and Facebook declined to comment on the bidding process in the cricket-crazy country of 1.2 billion, which is on the brink of a digital-streaming boom. India will have 730 million internet users by 2020, according to a report in August by India’s IT industry body Nasscom and Akamai Technologies. Much of that will be fueled by people accessing web-based services on smartphones. Live streaming cricket, the most popular sport in the country, would be an effective way to reach a wide audience.
“The hunger for cricket and the real possibility of consuming it live on a personal device makes for a hugely engaging combination, and that’s what the global companies are going for,” said Shabir Momin, managing director of of Singapore-based ZengaTV.com, one of the largest over-the-top and digital video services in India.
Mathew Joy, a spokesman for the Board of Control for Cricket in India, didn’t respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment. Officials of the governing body of the Indian Premier League, including Rajeev Shukla and Anurag Singh Thakur, also didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Digital media rights for IPL’s Twenty20 cricket league are up for bids for five years starting in 2017. The tender deadline is Oct. 25, with the winners to be announced soon after. Over a dozen companies are bidding for the rights, including STAR TV and Sony Entertainment, according to local media.
Meanwhile, Facebook said it is experimenting with a variety of sports content, including behind-the-scenes interviews with athletes and live games.
“We have seen great results when we’ve streamed games live – and continue to be interested in testing the viability of this content,” Facebook said in an e-mail.
Facebook Live has streamed soccer matches between Manchester United and Everton, letting fans chat with other fans, and also greet star player Wayne Rooney and donate to his foundation. This summer, the Menlo Park, Calilfornia-based company streamed nine U.S. basketball exhibition games live.
Even Amazon announced two content licensing deals last month with leading Bollywood production houses Dharma Productions and T-Series, as the Seattle-based online retailer moves to entice users to join its Amazon Prime subscription service.