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NP Singh talks about the IPL and Sony’s sports business

MUMBAI: Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) chief executive officer NP Singh gets emotional when talking about the Indian Premier League (IPL), a property he has nursed for over nine years since its birth and will do so next year as the television broadcaster of the cash-rich tournament.

NP-Singh_CEO_INSIDE01“When the BCCI conceived of the IPL, we identified it as a potential game-changing property. Since then, we have worked productively with the BCCI to grow the IPL,” Singh said in an interview to TelevisionPost.com.

The IPL has since become the crowning jewel of Sony’s media empire in India and a global brand. With a gross on-air advertising revenue of close to Rs 1,100 crore (Rs 11 billion) in the ninth edition, the IPL is easily the highest revenue earner for any cricket property.

Duff and Phelps, a global valuation and corporate advisory firm, has also valued the IPL brand at $4.2 billion, growing by 19% over the last five quarters.

Singh is keen to secure the next cycle of telecast rights for the IPL and has started negotiating with the BCCI. Sony’s 10-year contract as official broadcaster of the IPL ends next year.

“Our intention is to retain the rights. We have worked really hard to bring the IPL to where it stands today with the support of the BCCI and the franchisees. We would like to carry this value-building exercise forward into the future as well,” he said.

IPLWith Star India going to make an aggressive bid, indications are that the IPL will be pricey this time. Singh, however, did not give any indication of where the price could climb to.

“Only time will tell what the price will be, but I just hope there will be reasonable aggression on all fronts,” he said.

Singh, of course, has the right of first refusal as well as the right to match the counter offer made by anybody else.

But if the rights fee is too high, will Sony let it go?

“It is a business decision that we have to take. If it makes business sense, then we will take the aggressive step forward and retain the rights. If it is completely unreasonable, then we will have to sacrifice it to somebody who is willing to take it at that price,” he said.

Will ESPN come into play in a joint kind of bid?

“We had invested in the IPL several years ago, and we will make all the investments that will be required going forward too,” Singh said.

Sony will also bid for the digital rights of the IPL, which will come up for grabs next year.

Will Sony be interested in acquiring TV rights of cricket boards, including the BCCI, if it comes up for grabs?

Sony-Pictures-Cover“Yes. Cricket has always been part of our strategy. In the past, we have had the broadcast rights for ICC cricket from 2002 to 2007, including the World Cups. We have been a strong cricket broadcaster and we will continue to be so. Obviously, we will look at other options as well,” said Singh.

Star India has the India cricket rights till 2018, for which it paid Rs 3,851 crore (Rs 38.51 billion). This translates to around Rs 43 crore (Rs 430 million) per match.

Besides the IPL, Singh has been busy acquiring other sports properties to build the sports network and give it depth of content. Sony has invested in multiple sports properties over the last three years, including international football, the NBA, UFC and the Australian Open. On the local leagues front, Sony has the rights to Pro Wrestling League, Premier Futsal, Champions Tennis League and more.

“We will continue to make investments in our sports business,” he said.

Singh has also stitched an alliance with ESPN, and the partnership is working on the television and digital properties. Two sports channels, Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD, have been launched. The future channels that Sony launches in sports will be branded Sony ESPN. ESPN has also introduced a localised app and a website in collaboration with SPNI. ESPN app and ESPN.in are carrying rights video content for sporting events from Sony Liv, SPNI’s digital streaming platform, and SPNI’s new Sony ESPN sports channels.

Singh expects the sports segment to contribute 30–35% to SPNI’s total revenues in the next 2–3 years. Currently, it accounts for 20–25% of SPNI’s business. “This growth will come from all the investments that we have made,” Singh said.

{Read Full Interview on Tuesday}

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