Star India's Rs 20,000 crore sports gamble

MUMBAI: That Star India is betting big on sports is well-known. How big the bet it is placing is now becoming clear.

The News Corp-owned media and entertainment leader in India today announced that it is committed to invest Rs 20,000 crore in building the sports business in India. The investment will be used to fuel the expansion of sports coverage in the country as well as in building exciting new leagues including the Indian Super League in football, the Hockey India League and the Indian Badminton League over the next few years, it stated.

Simultaneous with this announcement, the network today unveiled a new brand for Star Sports across six TV channels - Star Sports 1,2,3,4, HD1 and HD2 and its online portal

The new logo is a metallic silver star with an incandescent swoosh of colours symbolising the authority and passion of sports with the powerful slugline - “Believe.”

“Cricket is too big to be confined to just one channel. Today, we are redoubling our efforts to showcase the best of Indian and international cricket to the sports fan. We will cover more of it, have wider coverage, go deeper, use multiple languages and take it beyond television,” says Star India CEO Uday Shankar in a press release. “The new brand is also about showcasing our commitment to other sports. While cricket will be central to our approach, we will also be faithful to our role as a sports broadcaster and bring in the best of local and world sports to India, whether in soccer, hockey, badminton, tennis, F1 or the many other sports that fans in India are deeply passionate about.”

Uday Shankar is investing big in building a sports ecosystem in India

 He adds: “For us, this is not just about being the country’s leading sports broadcaster. We want to build a platform that will help nurture heroes out of the millions of passionate, young sports fans across India. We want sports to be the trigger for creating and nurturing outstanding new opportunities for India’s youth. And today, we are signalling that we are deeply committed to making this transformation happen, through our investments, our ideas and our efforts.”

As of midnight 6 November, the six channels under the erstwile ESPN-Star Sports umbrella will give way to new brands. Star Sports will be called Star Sports 1, Star Sports 2 remains Star Spots 2, Star Cricket will become Star Sports 3, ESPN will be rebranded as Star Sports 4, Star Cricket HD will become Star Sports HD1 and ESPN HD will be renamed as Star Sports HD2.

The big change really is with Star Sports 3, India’s first 24x7 Hindi sports channel with content, graphics and shows in Hindi.  It hopes that this push into Hindi will dramatically increase the reach of sports in India where it says less than 10 per cent of the populace understands English and a much smaller number are native speakers. Star Sports has seen success in Hindi commentary with Hindi now accounting for 70 per cent share of all viewership in the recently concluded CLT20 series.

A high decibel promotional campaign has been drawn up featuring MS Dhoni as its first brand ambassador

In addition to this, the Star Sports network said that it will be showcasing new non-live programming and new shows and formats which will run into more than 5,000 hours of content, including around 200 days of live cricket annually.  Amongst these is a half hour show called Star Power which will give comprehensive updates, insight and analysis and will be telecast twice a day at 8:00 pm and 10:30 pm on Star Sports 3 all seven days of the week.

On the digital front, Star India is aggressively reaching out to young, ardent sports fans who want to access sports across screens. The digital service offers a variety of sports including cricket, soccer and F1, in HD quality streaming. The service has received exceptionally positive consumer feedback for its revolutionary timeline (a first for cricket anywhere in the world) that gives the fan complete control of how he wants to view his favourite games, whether for live or catch-up.

A high decibel promotional campaign has been drawn up featuring MS Dhoni as its first brand ambassador. The campaign, says the network, urges India to “Believe" and it outlines the beliefs that have made M S Dhoni one of the most iconic heroes of our time. It will run on the Star network’s 33 channels and rolls out on 6 November when India tunes into watch Sachin Tendulkar play the last series of his career.

Star has the right pedigree to pull off healthy returns for the huge investments it is putting into sports says Ashish Bhasin

Star’s sports gamble is getting praise from senior media professionals.

“It is a very professional and calculated move to get deeper into sports and into developing niche sports.  The channels are already established with viewers as they have been around for a long time and the rebranding and promotion will only deepen the connect with them,” says Aegis Group chairman India & CEO south east Asia Ashish Bhasin.  “Star is putting its money where its mouth is and it has the right pedigree to pull off healthy returns for the huge investments it is putting into sports.”

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