Star Sports brought Gautam Thakar on board as CEO in January, 2018. He speaks to Anirban Roy Choudhury about the company’s plans in the India, the need to proliferate sports beyond cricket, and more. Edited excerpts:
Which areas is Star Sports investing in?
We believe it is still early days for sports in India and it is at the cusp of growth. From our perspective, cricket is massive, kabaddi is becoming really big and we are investing in soccer — these are the three big sports. Our long term goal is to grow sports in India by investing in multiple sports. It is not about this year or next year but a seven to 10 years’ play for us in order to grow sports consumption in India. If one takes an aggregate, less than 4% time on TV is spent on watching sports. In a more mature and developed market, it is 15%, indicating how much runway there is.
Is it because of heavy cricket dependence that the time spent on watching sports is low in India?
India has been cricket dominated while there are three-four big sports in the US or the UK. The more other sports get popular, the more the overall time spent on sports will increase.
PV Sindhu’s recent success made badminton a lot more popular; kabaddi and soccer have been growing for some time now. The moment there is heroism and we start creating and telecasting pride, consumption will grow.
Why is your regional expansion cricket-centric?
You need enough critical mass before you can segment, slice and dice. But if I take a 10 year outlook, I think such experimentation is possible with other sports too. Potentially, there should be a kids sports channel, because what and how children watch and how they want to consume sport could be different. They may not want to know all the nuances of the game and stats, and instead might like a
Can regional sports leagues like Karnataka Premier League and Tamil Nadu Premier League grow cricket viewership and inventory in India, like university tournaments do in the US?
It is still relatively new for us and we are learning our way. We believe that leagues have the potential and we continue to believe in the property. We invested on high quality commentators — Dean Jones and Mitchell Johnson are making their expert comments, so it is not like we are relegating it because it is regional. The viewership grew by 60% across India and 20% in Karnataka after the first few matches of KPL. One problem we face is that domestic cricket has never got that mileage in India. All main players have a busy calendar whereas internationally, a university level tournament, etc are a picking ground for NBA and other sports. Because the best players are playing there, it is very popular; in India, the under-19 team is becoming the hotbed from where players are coming up.
The acquisition cost is going up significantly. Are ad revenues matching the investment?
Let us take IPL — a massive property. BCCI and Sony did a tremendous job bringing it up to such a level. After we acquired the rights, everybody said it cannot grow further, but it grew — both from a viewership and advertising spend point of view.
Our job is to grow consumption and engagement and if we do that, advertisers will pay more. Talking about ad rates is very misleading. For example, let us say the ad rate per slot during a general entertainment show is Rs 50,000 and for sports it is `2 lakh; one can say that is four times that of the GEC. But then again, it is six times the audience gained, so it is better value for the advertiser. Another reason why we do not talk about rates is because we customise packages and integrate the brand across broadcast and ground activation, etc.
Will you monetise regional feeds of marquee tournaments separately?
As a business decision, both for advertisers and us, 90% of such tournaments are leveraged by national clients.
Sports is a limited inventory product; there are only limited spots I can air on a T20 game, which may not be affordable for a small advertiser in, say, a regional market. Thus, the Tamil Nadu Premier League and KPL can be great opportunities for regional advertisers to leverage. We will also have local, non-live shows crafted around big tournaments for our regional channels; regional advertisers can associate with these.