Sony renews TV, digital rights deal with Australian Open for three years

MUMBAI: Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) and Tennis Australia have extended broadcast partnership for another three years. The new partnership was unveiled at the official Australian Open 2020 Media Launch in Mumbai.

SPNI was selected as the exclusive television and digital rights holder for India and the subcontinent and will provide more than 200 hours of extensive coverage for each edition of the Australian Open.

It will now be the home for the Australian Open and all the lead-up events including the Adelaide International ATP 250 event. Sony’s broadcast will be on a minimum of two English language linear television channels, along with streaming of all 16 match courts on video on demand (VoD) service, SonyLIV.

“We are delighted to not just extend but also expand our relationship with Sony Pictures Networks in India from 2020,” Tennis Australia CEO and Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley said. “This year’s Australian Open attracted record audiences in India which saw the key international market rise to our eighth biggest worldwide, and the third in Asia behind Japan and China.

“Sony Pictures Networks’ commitment to providing their most comprehensive coverage allows us to engage with Indian fans in a deeper and more meaningful way by going beyond the on-court action to tell the story of the Australian Open from all angles,” Tiley said.

SPNI Chief Revenue Officer, Distribution and Head – Sports Business Rajesh Kaul said, “One of the most coveted titles for any tennis player, the Australian Open has been the most-watched Grand Slam in India for the past two years. We are proud to extend our relationship with Tennis Australia and will be providing over 200 hours of live and non-live content for each edition of the Grand Slam for the next three years. Our coverage will include the live matches, studio shows, highlights, build-up thematic shows, Australian Open classics and more along with a dedicated AO section on SonyLIV.”

In addition to producing all matches live from each tournament, Tennis Australia will also provide quality Indian-specific, original programming content year-round, including match highlights, player, tournament and city profiles, best-of, behind the scenes and more. Select matches will also be broadcast in Hindi during the Australian Open.

Sony Pictures Networks India head – Marketing and On-Air Promotions, Sports Channels Neville Bastawalla noted that the sports cluster has grown by more than 39% over the past year.

“We have embarked upon a mission to grow niche sports. Tennis is a niche sport and we want to grow it year on year. There will be experimentation. We will build a lot of relevance for the next edition of the Australian Open coming up in January. For the finals, we are exploring a Hindi feed. The promotional and marketing push for the event will start four to five weeks before the event,” he stated.

Bastawalla added that Tennis is quite a niche sport in India but there is potential to grow. One way to grow is to have India specific shoulder programming which will be done. “Our communication will use certain cultural assimilators and we have certain massification, communication strategies in place in order to create relevance. One aim is to grow the sampling of the event. Last year the cumulative reach was 41 million which was the highest across the Grand Slams.”

Tennis Australia head of media rights Alfonso Medina noted that India was the third biggest broadcast market for the Australian Open in Asia last year after China and Japan. Globally, India is the eighth biggest broadcast market. He noted that the woman’s final last year created a viewership record in Japan. This time SonyLIV will cover several courts.

He noted that a significant portion of Tennis Australia’s income comes from media rights but declined to give percentages. “We have a very good spread of revenue. We have media rights, sponsorship, ticket sales, merchandising and food, and hospitality. Our revenue streams are very diversified. Media rights are very important. In the rest of the world, we are completing our current rights cycle. The Indian cycle was different.”

Highlighting the importance of digital platforms, Medina said that on television one can only show so much but on digital, you can show a lot more and also slice and dice content in different ways.

He also said that the sports broadcast market in India is competitive despite the fact that there are only two players. Medina also said that the tender process for allocation of in India was very competitive without disclosing the names of interested parties.

Tennis Australia, he explained, looks at the value in different ways. “One is the financial return another is the audience and reach. Then there are the commercial opportunities that come on the back of it. While there may be two major sports linear broadcast players there are also many digital and social media platforms who see in Grand Slam tennis great value. We had great conversations with them.”

Globally, Tennis Australia works with one main broadcast partner who also gets digital rights. But in some countries, one partner has television rights while another party has digital rights. For example, in China CCTV is the television partner but digital-only rights are with another party.

To make the event bigger and attract more interest, Sony has planned entertainment content around the event. The Australian Open he noted, has an A.O. Live Stage which is a huge music festival. The aim is to take a few Indian acts there. “The tennis we offer is in a great place. The top players come to Australia for a month. But if we only focus on tennis then we are going to miss out on other opportunities.”

Medina said that the Australian Open is a wholesome experience for fans as it also offers music concerts, world-class restaurants, a huge kids area. “We want to create content around this to take to our fans around the world so that they know that the Australian Open is more than just hitting tennis balls across the net.”

The aim behind these activities is to attract a wide base of audience. “We know that the tennis fan is a niche demographic who are very affluent but the aim of the entertainment lifestyle content is to appeal to a wide spectrum of audiences including the young, families. While we will be super-serving the niche demographic through this content we will also be reaching out to other people who may have an interest in travel, fashion, food, music and games. This is a big focus area for us.”

He noted that being a Grand Slam the Australian Open has television partners in every country. “In many countries, we are on free to air. But in tennis, there are so many matches. On digital where you can show more, it is growing every year by over 100%. Our live viewership on digital is growing significantly. Our highlights packages are also very popular. But our global audience on television is still more at this point of time compared to digital.”

He said that social media platforms offer the event the chance to engage with the audience in ways that are different from television. He said that the aim of Tennis Australia is to showcase the event as being not just about sport but also being about a social opportunity, an event that promotes great values, personal values. “Tennis is all about equality with equal prize money for men and women. It is an all-inclusive sport that gives people in wheelchairs the opportunity to play.”

On the sponsorship front, he noted that the Australian Open has around 30 official partners in several categories like travel, hotel, fashion, beer. Infosys is a partner and they support the event’s website and app and one focus area is to see more Indian companies tying up with the event. “Conversations keep taking place and it takes time to find the right partner at the right level.”

Known as the ‘Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific’, the Australian Open is held in January in Melbourne, Australia every year and is among the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world.

The world’s top players, including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and many more put forth their strongest performances to start off the year on a high note in this tournament. Australian Open 2019 also became the highest attended Grand Slam event, with more than 7.8 lakh people watching the matches live onsite.

Australian Open 2020, presented by Kia Motors in association with Luzhou Laojiao and Rolex, will take place at Melbourne Park from 20th January to 2nd February.

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