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Soccer portfolio in Sony’s sports broadcasting biz

MUMBAI: Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) initially got into sports by acquiring cricket rights, including the ICC World Cup. A little over a decade after that, it decided to go after soccer in 2012 as it saw potential in the game’s growing appeal. Hence, it started airing soccer even before launching its first sports channel Six.

In those days, the FA Cup aired on the English movie channel Pix. Over the years, it has built up its soccer portfolio and has identified it as the second-biggest sport after cricket in the country. With the broadcaster now having a partnership with ESPN, one can only expect more aggressive activity in this area.

The media company has pushed itself as being the home of international football and it has helped its cause by getting the big-ticket properties FIFA and Uefa.

Rajesh KaulOutlining the strategy to TelevisionPost.com, SPNI president, distribution & sports business Rajesh Kaul said, “Since the inception of the sports cluster of SPNI, our vision has been to establish the sports cluster as a destination for the best sports content from around the world. Football is the second most-watched sport in India, and over the years we have strategically worked on the acquisition of marquee international football properties like FIFA 2014, FIFA Qualifiers, Euro 2016, FIFA 2018, FIFA U-17 in India, 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and Africa Cup of Nations, to name a few.”

Sony’s plan has been to expand its presence in the sport. So when Star decided to let go off La Liga and Serie A, Sony happily stepped in. In 2015, the broadcaster further expanded its footprint to Copa America as well as international domestic leagues and tournaments like La Liga, Serie A and FA Cup. This year it acquired Copa America Centenario and Premier Futsal.

“We are the one-stop destination for international football up to 2018 as well as the premier destination for unparalleled football viewing experience,” Kaul added.

La LigaThe plan is to combine domestic events like La Liga with international tourneys like the recently concluded Euro 2016. It also took Premier Futsal, which was a one-of-its-kind event for India. “We have international domestic leagues and tournaments like La Liga, Serie A, FA Cup and International Champions Cup 2016. In addition, our portfolio includes all FIFA events till 2018 including FIFA WC 2018 and FIFA U-17 WC 2017 to be held in India, all European and South American qualifiers for FIFA 2018, friendlies involving England, Germany and France.”

The league football season takes place every weekend between mid-August and mid-May, guaranteeing over 75 days of live action. “Add to that the international football windows, which we also cover, and this year there will be a minimum of extra 10 days of international football on our channels. So approximately, we will be showing about 85–90 days of live football on our channels and over 500 games live,” Kaul said.

The distribution benefit

Football has grown multiple times over the past few years and is enjoyed by the youth. Many premium and well-known brands want to associate with the youth through football as a sport.

“From the distribution point of view, international domestic leagues and tournaments like La Liga, Serie A and FA Cup give us live programming every week. Additionally, we have marquee properties including all the major FIFA events until 2018, which will also give us a distribution spike,” Kaul said.

Languaging

UEFA Euro 2016Regional-language commentary was a pioneering initiative of SPNI. Kaul referred to the Bengali commentary for the FIFA World Cup in 2014 that received a positive response. “We have seen that fans prefer the choice of commentary in their native language, if available. This helps us expand the market and reach out to more people since not every viewer is comfortable with the language options that are provided.

“All trends seem to suggest that our language feeds will get a good reception and is a good move to better the viewership experience. For the first time ever, Uefa Euro 2016 was covered in six languages in India—English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu—and a substantial portion of viewership came on the language feeds. This tells us that language feeds are enhancing the viewership experience.”

Adding further value

Sony SixWraparound content is an integral part of SPNI’s strategy as could be seen from Euro 2016. Wraparound shows feature analyses of the various teams, top players, team and player stats and records, Swot analysis, predictions, opinions and views on strategy that promise to enhance the viewing experience for the audience.

“We have locally produced this content with shows like ‘Café Rio’ and ‘Football Extraaa’ as well as ESPN FC, which is a part of our efforts to bring international content with local appeal. The in-depth analyses aim to increase the fan base and viewership for football properties on the network,” he said.

Timings

The good news on this front is that since most games take place in Europe, the broadcaster gets to show a fair amount of games in the primetime in India. However, the ratio of primetime games changes from league to league.

“About 60% of games in La Liga air in the primetime in India (5 pm–12 am), but this figure reduces to about 45% for Serie A. For the FA Cup, again 65% of the games air in the primetime.

Likewise, for the FIFA qualifiers, about 60% of the European games air in the primetime, but that figure is less than 20% for the South American fixtures. Ratings for past-midnight games do get impacted but only if there is less relevance attached to the game in question. For example, we saw healthy ratings for El Clasico fixtures that were played past midnight or Euro 2016 games that kicked off post mid-night,” Kaul averred.

The HD push

Sony-ESPN-mainLive sports are best enjoyed in high definition, and HD is becoming increasingly popular and dominant in the broadcast industry. “Viewers want to see their favourite football stars and teams playing the tournaments on HD screens. This results in a much better viewing experience.”

Going beyond the metros

Football, Kaul noted, has definitely seen its viewership expand in the past few years. “Last year, football was seen by over 375 million viewers across India, which is testimony to its viewership base. Markets are also expanding with viewership being derived from the Northeast and newer markets like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra,” he stated.

Future properties

SPNI, like its competitors, constantly keeps a watch on properties coming up for grabs. “The Uefa Euro 2020 rights should probably come up sometime soon, followed by the Uefa Champions League rights (mid next year),” Kaul elaborated.

In terms of the parameters looked at when deciding if a property is worth going after or not, Kaul mentioned that a property is looked at holistically from its past performance, popularity of the league/clubs and its future potential in the Indian market. “Fundamentally though, we first evaluate any property from a perspective of whether it fits in our overall sports strategy.”

Exorbitant rights prices see a cooling off

On this front, Kaul said that every market would see ups and downs.

“Rights prices went up exorbitantly over the past three–four years, and such appreciation is not sustainable. Broadcasters are looking at rights prices very pragmatically and if market speculation were to be believed, EPL saw a correction of around 40% this year,” he explained.

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