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‘Fifa World Cup is an integral part of our identity-setting exercise’

2014 has been quite a year for Multi Screen Media’s (MSM) sports channel Sony Six. After a successful season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the sports broadcaster is now televising the crown jewel of world football—the Fifa World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

Sony Six business head Prasana KrishnanSony Six business head Prasana Krishnan spoke to TelevisionPost.com’s Javed Farooqui about the value of the Fifa World Cup for the channel in general and its marketing and programming strategy in particular.

Edited excerpts…

Q. Strategically, how important has been the Fifa World Cup acquisition for the channel?

We are in the process of setting up an identity for the channel. The IPL of course is there and it gives us a significant traction. It’s the biggest event in cricket. Over and above that, we have positioned ourselves as the more youthful alternative in the world of sports and the intention has been to bring the best possible sporting content from each segment. We have a lot of international football matches that include the Fifa World Cup 2014 and 2018, first ever Fifa U-17 World Cup in India, Euro 2016, the entire European qualifiers leading to both Euro 16 and Fifa World Cup 2018. Therefore, we have positioned ourselves as home of international football. Similarly, our intention with NBA and fight sports is to get the best of whatever is available in any category. In that sense, the football World Cup is an integral part of this identity-setting exercise.

Q. The fact that the Fifa World Cup has closely followed the IPL must have helped the channel from a distribution angle?

As it is, TheOneAlliance is one of the strongest distribution platforms in the country and has the IPL, Fifa and lot of other content. So Fifa has definitely helped in strengthening the platform. In the last few years, there has been a great level of affinity for the non-cricket side of content. So, yes, we need to have attractive live content that draws the audiences. We are targeting 125 million viewers sampling. The previous world drew in around 65 million viewers. It’s an aggressive target, but that’s what we are aiming at.

Q. Are you concerned about the impact of late-night matches on viewership?

Our telecast starts at 8 pm every day. Then we have a 9.30 pm match excluding the opening day and the finals. The second match starts at 12.30 pm. In any case, 9.30 and 12.30 have become the standard time for football viewing these days, be it tournaments like Euro or UEFA Champions League. There is a third match everyday which is a late-night one.

We are, therefore, starting at 8 pm to get in viewers for the first and second matches. The core football viewer will still try and wake up for the third football match. If not, then there will also be a live breakfast show called ‘Football Extraa’ every morning and highlights followed by that. Hence, viewers who are not staying awake for the third match can have a wrap-up of the previous evening in a live studio format.

Q. You are experimenting with Bengali feed on Sony Aath. Why didn’t you experiment with Hindi?

Typically, when everyone talks about language strategy, they talk about a Hindi feed. For cricket, Hindi is definitely important because there is a huge market for that. In this particular case, we thought of trying to cater to the core audiences in markets which are extremely passionate about football. I don’t think too many people observed it in the previous World Cup in 2010. The Fifa World Cup final drew a rating of 23 among male audiences in Kolkata. So the idea is that why shouldn’t we cater to the audience which is there. It is also an experiment to see what kind of sampling can be done through regional feed.

Q. What has been Sony Six’s programming and marketing strategy for the Fifa World Cup?

Our whole programming and marketing strategy this time around was about inclusiveness and the main reason for this was that the Fifa World Cup gets a significantly higher viewership than a typical football match does. Week in, week out if you compare the ratings, you’ll find that the ratings for the Fifa World Cup are 15–20 times higher than the average ratings of any European football league match. Just to give an example, the final of the Fifa World Cup 2010 got a rating of 3 TVR on an all-India basis, while the highest rated EPL match got 0.15 TVR.

So, the football World Cup draws a lot of viewers who are not regular football watchers. Everything we did was meant to address this segment which comes in once in four years because of the whole attractiveness of the event. Consequently, our marketing also had to reach the non-traditional market. This applies to our programming also, right from John Abraham as a celebrity anchor to flying in Peter Crouch, Robbie Fowler, Peter Shilton, Mikael Silvestre and Ellyse Perry as football experts. So, the intention is to have a programming mix that caters to purist as well as the fringe viewers.

Q. What about the programming strategy for the event?

For studios, we are having ‘Cafe Rio’ which is a wraparound show. The tone and tenor of the programme will be on the lines of what we typically do for the IPL. What ‘Extraaa Innings’ does for the IPL is that it treats cricket in an entertainment format. Hence, ‘Cafe Rio’ is going to cater to and address all the images that come to your mind when you talk about football and Brazil. The panel we have chosen is diverse in terms of composition. It has the celebrity element in John Abraham as one of the hosts of the show, an Indian football star in Sunil Chhetri, and a combination of present and former international footballers. Then we have Australian Ellyse Perry who has played football and cricket for Australia. She gives an altogether different perspective on the game.

Q. Has the marketing campaign succeeded in building buzz around the football World Cup?

I think this has already become one of the best promoted and one of the most awaited events. The amount of buzz this event has created is tremendous. The marketing campaign was one of the most intensive that we have ever embarked on outside the IPL. We promoted the event on around 30 channels outside the Sony network, in around 50 cities for radio, around 10 publications for print, around 12 cities for outdoor, besides digital and on-ground activations. The campaign ensured that the reach was maximised and I think it had worked quite well.

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