By Venkata Susmita Biswas The live-streaming of sports content is a key contributory factor in the growth of Indian over-the-top (OTT) platforms. Recently, advertisers have shown a degree of interest by deploying campaigns to reach viewers, but there still looms one major concern \u2014 that of return on investment (RoI). Currently, live sports streaming is led by Hotstar and SonyLIV in India. Hotstar holds the consolidated rights to stream key cricket tournaments (ICC World Cup, Indian Premier League, T20, one-day international and test matches, and BCCI\u2019s domestic competitions), Pro Kabaddi League and Indian Super League, among others. SonyLIV\u2019s streaming rights are concentrated mainly on non-cricket sports, ranging from LaLiga, NBA and UEFA Champions League to WWE, MotoGP Racing, Pro Volleyball League and even the PUBG Mobile India Series. Hotstar this year has signed on a total of 10 exclusive digital sponsors for Vivo Indian Premier League 2019, whereas SonyLIV has three exclusive digital sponsors for the currently streaming UEFA Champions League. These digital sponsors are in addition to the several other brands that advertise on the digital platforms. \u201cTypically, OTT platforms charge a minimum of 50% premium on video ad rates for live sports events,\u201d says Sahil Shah, VP, operations and media (West & South), WATConsult. Such a premium can go as high as 100% for big-ticket events and layers of targeting can take the costs even higher. However, the number of takers is questionable. For brands, OTT platforms are typically a secondary channel that delivers incremental reach of only around 20% on average. Therefore, often, they do not see value in shelling out monies on such a premium cost model just for the incremental reach, according to experts. In addition, premiums of this scale can be afforded only by few brands that have deep pockets. If the platforms are to expand their advertiser footprint, there is a need to make advertising more affordable. It is no surprise then, that Hotstar has slashed its video ad rates for IPL this year. \u201cThis strategy has resulted in a number of long-tail brands coming on board this year,\u201d says Nishant Singh Didawat, business head \u2013 media strategy and operations, Social Kinnect. Hotstar\u2019s CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) for Vivo IPL 2019 stand at `120-200 for a 10-second ad spot. These rates are comparable to YouTube\u2019s video advertising rates, media experts say. Ad formats on OTT platforms are either pre-rolls or mid-rolls. These plain formats that mimic television ads, have very little to offer to advertisers. \u201cUnless there are innovative ad formats that can help me drive ROI and conversions for my brand, advertising on OTT platforms is not very different from advertising on television,\u201d says Pawan Sarda, head, digital, Future Group. Apart from a few digitally native brands, most brands that advertise on OTT platforms during live events use these occasions to create awareness and execute high reach campaigns. The FIFA World Cup 2018 streamed on SonyLIV had 36 advertisers, and for the recently concluded India-Australia series the platform had roped in over 40 advertisers. \u201cOnly 30% of these advertisers are in the e-commerce or digital category. Most are FMCG, auto, mobile handset manufacturers, etc. These brands use our platform for brand building,\u201d says Uday Sodhi, business head, digital, Sony Pictures Networks India. Innovation in ad formats holds the key to monetisation on these platforms, say experts. In an attempt to offer better solutions to advertisers, Hotstar has introduced two innovations for the IPL. In 2018, it launched Watch N\u2019Play, a prediction game that allowed users to earn coupons and redeem points for every right guess. Brands like Big Bazaar, Yatra, PhonePe and Domino\u2019s utilised this feature last year. Hotstar has introduced another ad format \u2014 branded cards \u2014 to woo advertisers. This is a display ad format that can be layered with a call to action or contextual messaging to target users during the game. According to Hotstar, digital viewership has risen from four million for the first match of the Vivo IPL 2018 to 12.7 million for the Royal Challengers Bangalore versus Mumbai Indians IPL match on March 28, 2019. Also read: Netflix, Hotstar, other OTT players eye bottom of the pyramid customers However, despite technological advances, OTT streaming still lags behind broadcast by 15 seconds. "Fans value real-time telecast. The next game changer in live sports streaming is to reduce this lag,\u201d says Sandeep Reddy, country sales head, Akamai Technologies, a cloud delivery platform that assists both Hotstar and SonyLIV to stream content. Reddy says that reducing the lag by even a margin of two seconds would enhance the digital live-streaming experience. This is particularly important as users in India view the handheld personal device as the second screen when it comes to live-streaming sports. This reduction could also enable OTT live stream to compete directly with TV broadcast for a share of the ad pie.