For Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN), the sports bouquet is shaping up as one of the largest in the country. With nine sports channels post the acquisition of Ten Sports, the network launched two more HD channels recently, taking the count to 11. With the duopolistic sports broadcasting space getting competitive and expensive, the fight seems to be between Star India and SPN. Over a quick chat, Rajesh Kaul of SPN India shares with BrandWagon’s Chandni Mathur SPN’s plans for its sports cluster and how the market dynamics have changed. Edited excerpts:
With 11 channels in the bouquet, how is the sports cluster shaping up for SPN?
With 11,000 hours of content just for the next one year, we have tried to position our channels differently so that consumers don’t get confused and know the destination (channel) for each sport. We have also tied up with IMG Reliance to set up a studio, which will help us create a lot of content in-house — whether it is talk shows or wraparound shows, etc. Our strategy is to create our own content over a period of time, apart from acquiring content. We have the opportunity now to create a destination for the consumer — so if you want to watch football, you can go to Sony Ten 2 and so on. There is an opportunity because we have the volume now, which wasn’t the case earlier.
Is SPN planning to continue with a separate HD channel for niche sports like golf?
Sony Ten Golf HD was already a golf-centric channel. It is a niche sport but we don’t want to change it because there is an audience for niche sports as well. We thought of continuing with the channel as our other channels are one sport-centric.
What is your regional language strategy for the sports cluster?
Initially, we are starting with Hindi but in the past, we have shown a lot of content in different languages. Last year, the Euro Cup was aired in Tamil, Telugu and Bangla apart from Hindi and English. Similarly for IPL, last year and this year, we had a Tamil and Telugu feed and it did pretty well in those markets. So the way forward for us will be, for next year’s FIFA, we might once again go with the same strategy of different regional languages. We want to start with Hindi and then, based on the content, we will evaluate the way ahead.
With sports broadcasting getting competitive and expensive, was an inorganic route the best way for the network to expand?
With more channels, there is no or very little possibility of the pricing coming down. However, as both players — SPN and Star — have a lot of content now, there is no desperation to go for costly content. So in a way, we are not dependent on one piece of content, which was probably the case before the acquisition of Ten Sports. Today, I can let go of some properties because there is so much available. Acquisition costs for sporting properties have been going through the roof and that has been a concern. And both players have been making huge losses because of that. With just two of us now in the game, we genuinely believe that some sense will come to both of us and there will be some correction in prices.
Are there chances of players like Discovery, Neo, etc to consolidate and become a meaningful third? Or do you see a new player entering the scene?
I don’t see the possibility of a new player coming in immediately because most of the content has been acquired by either us or Star for the next couple of years, barring IPL. So there is nothing much available. There is a difference when compared to launching a GEC where you start working with producers and acquire content; in sports, you have to wait for the rights to expire, so it is not easy for a new player.
What potential do you see in an FTA sports channel? Star has recently gone down that route…
That is still to be tested — we will have to see what happens to the market. We can look at it for some local sports in the future but at this point, we are not looking at the FTA model. Our channels today, due to digitisation, reach every nook and corner of the country. So distribution of the content is not an issue; the sampling of the content is happening and availability is there.
What sort of growth in HD channels are you witnessing, having recently launched two more?
HD is a really important space now, especially for sports because people want to watch sports in HD and one cannot ignore that. We didn’t have HD channels for Sony Ten 2 and Sony Ten 3 and as observed in the last four months, it was a challenge. Thus, we launched two HD channels. That market is definitely growing — there would be around eight-nine million HD subscribers right now and the potential is to go up to 25-30 million in the next five to six years.
How did the recently concluded IPL season fare for you? Tell us about your sports strategy beyond IPL…
We saw a reach of over 400 million households and that is the highest any tournament has seen. It was the highest even for IPL, so it was fantastic. The time spent, reach and ratings have gone up. With 11 channels, we are a very serious sports player now. We will keep acquiring whatever it takes to maintain that leadership.
Besides cricket and football, which other sports are witnessing high traction/potential?
Cricket is undoubtedly number one. If you want to be a serious sports player in this country, you need to have a good portfolio as far as cricket is concerned. Besides that WWE rates very well across the country. Now, football is also catching up in numbers and we see it doubling. We also see a huge traction for properties like UFC or NBA. We have seen a huge jump in the viewership of these sports in the last one year and it is very encouraging that more people are sampling different sports — that is our aim.