|Interview with Managing Director ESPN Star Sports
is one of the biggest interactivity drivers"
|Posted on 30 April 2003
It's been a while out of the spotlight for ESPN
Star Sports, what with the Champions Trophy last September and the
World Cup in March. On the level of bread and butter programming
upstart Ten Sports and its WWE wrestling is proving a tough opponent.
apart, ESS still remains the most powerful sports broadcaster in
the country in terms of distribution strength and advertising muscle.
Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Ashwin
caught up with ESS' Managing Director Manu Sawhney on the sidelines
of the announcement for the inaugural edition of the Electrolux
Wisden International Cricket Awards. Sawhney spoke about the current
impasse with Hinduja Group MSO, CAS, the leverage ESS is hoping
to gain from the Wisden alliance, and programming innovations, among
Is there a slim chance of a resolution in the near future to the
ongoing impasse with InCablenet?
we genuinely believe that there should be a resolution. As you are
aware there is a contract in place. There is a contractual obligation
between both the partners. The contract was signed in January 2002
and it was valid till December 2003. It very clearly lays down the
monthly subscriber base, the price and the monies that are to be
paid to us.
much has happened from our end. We have not asked for any escalation.
The terms of the contract have remained unchanged and over the last
couple of months InCablenet has stopped honouring the contract.
It is clear case of a signed and agreed to contractual obligation
not being met by InCablenet.
don't understand what the matter is. The fact of the matter is that
they are charging their consumers. It is unfortunate that an organisation
that talks about being at a certain stature is not willing to fulfil
contractual obligations despite receiving money from consumers.
The discussions are open. We have tried to open the lines of communication
but have still not heard any firm commitment from them in which
they would like to come and make sure that consumers are not deprived
of the channels they have paid for.
aren't the consumers pressuring InCablenet?
The consumer needs to ask InCablenet, 'What right do you have to
charge when you do not show?' I think that consumers have called
up our and Incable's offices. Unfortunately cable monopolies exist
wherein the consumer is held to ransom. He has to pay and there
is no other option for him to get other services.
cable operators are not able to provide services. It is these monopolies
that InCablenet is today using against its consumers. They continue
to charge the consumer the same amount of money while at the same
time refusing to offer services.
that such kind of reneging of contractual obligations is a matter,
which will hold even more importance in the coming environment of
conditional access wherein the cable operator, or MSO is charging
them the fee and is not willing to part with the contractual obligations
which he has entered into. Unfortunately consumers are caught in
the middle of this. On one side they have to contend with a monopoly.
On the other side you have a situation where a subscriber has to
pay InCablenet because they are the only service providers in those
a CAS environment we are very confident that consumers will pay
the money for our channels. ESS represents the leading sports network
in the country. We have managed to build a very strong brand equity
with the Indian consumer by showcasing the best of international
sports from across the world. With the kind or programmes we will
have for years to come we are confident that it will give us an
opportunity to extend the brand equity with our consumers.
there any other distribution hiccups?
We are in over 30 million homes at the moment. We do not face any
hiccups. Besides I wouldn't call the InCablenet situation a hiccup.
It is about a person not wanting to honour his obligations.
Wisden international cricket awards adds on to our great line
up what we bring to the Indian consumer"
a CAS environment what extra revenue streams do you see accruing
for ESS and how do you see it faring?
A CAS environment and the possibility of other new distribution
avenues, platforms opening up like DTH, Ethernet based distribution
networks provide a huge opportunity for sports networks, which are
interactive in nature to come out with niche products. We could
have interactive features around our programming which will have
a strong viewership.
are examining all the possibilities that exist for us like pay-per-view.
We are at the stage where we are examining our plans, which we will
share in the near future. Just by the nature of sports as a genre
and the amount of content we have the future holds great promise.
Sports is a driver in a conditional access environment across the
world. If you examine the US, UK, which are mature markets, sports
is one the biggest interactivity drivers. Consumers and channels
participate in value additions rather than just viewing and showing
the differences between the FTA channels like Sahara and pay channels
like ESS been ironed out?
The different members of the Indian Broadcasters Foundation are
all united. Collectively the first issue that faces us is reduction
of duty on the set top box. We are all in the process of working
out with the different constituencies, be it MSOs or the consumers
to see that CAS implementation happens in the best possible manner.
As far as to whether the cost of the set top should be split between
the subscriber, operator and broadcaster there are various business
models that exist internationally. It depends on what elements are
put in place. Today the relationship is between the cable operator
and consumer. Since the provision for interoperability is not available
it really is in terms of who is able to put the box there.
wouldn't call the InCablenet situation a hiccup. It is about
a person not wanting to honour his obligations."
leverage does ESS hope to gain form the Widen alliance?
The Wisden international cricket awards adds on to our great line
up what we bring to the Indian consumer. It is a great platform for
Wisden to be on as it gives them access to the millions and millions
of ESS fans.
are having discussions to build a microsite on espnstar.com wherein
people can vote. The beauty of the site is that it has been very
well integrated in line with our overall plans. It has developed
a huge viewership and it has been successful in terms of our integrated
marketing approach. The consumer should be able to experience, touch
and feel the brand not only on air but also online, on-ground and
on press. Innovations like Super Selector have made the site
the look, graphics of the channels used for interstitials changed
in any manner during the past year?
We constantly look to innovate and come out with the best graphics
that are available. ESS today clearly stands out year after year for
setting benchmarks in sheer production qualities.
the formats for your news bulletins like Jason Dacey's SportsLine
been changed in any way?
Programmes like SportsCentre, SportsLine have achieved
a huge amount of consumer branding. We have tried to make them far
more interactive, faster and pacier. We have also made a conscious
attempt to increase their relevance. These are easily the highest
rated sports news bulletins in Asia. Our aim is to give the consumer
all the information he requires in the most comfortable manner.
you looking at increasing coverage devoted to other sports besides
cricket? What are the prime properties you'll are looking at to
hook viewers this year?
ESS is not a cricket channel. It is the best sports network in Asia.
Our football coverage covers a wide area be it the English Premier
League or the Spanish League or UEFA. In Tennis
we showcase three out of the four Grand Slams. We are showcasing
all Formula One races including pre and post programming. For Basketball
we have the NBA, for Golf we have the Augusta Masters, US Open,
the whole PGA Tour.
This year alone we are showcasing 257 days of live cricket. This
is huge. However it is also important to note that today the Indian
consumer is very discerning. He wants the best of international
sport. He has matured. His interest has moved from just India specific
cricket to cricket of the highest quality from all over the world.
In addition the viewership in Indians for Golf, Tennis etc has been
growing year on year. We believe that this trend will continue.
pre and post coverage for sports like soccer has been boosted
in terms of analysis, panel discussions. The aim is to extend
the viewership band that exists beyond the live cricket into
non-live programming "
you satisfied with the response that Star Sports' football soap
has received? I am not sure that many Indian football fans would
also take to the soap like a housewife.
is a programme innovation we are trying for the first time. We want
to gauge consumer reaction and also see if there is scope for the
soap concept to be extended to other sports including cricket and
tennis. The response till now has been positive. I am sure that
while programming like this takes to grow if it is successful can
give rise to resilient viewership on a day to day basis.
other innovative show formats can the viewers look forward to?
Harsha Online will come in a new format. It has been edited
down to half an hour. The ESPN School Quiz saw an increase
in the number of centres and we reached 2000 schools. Also our pre
and post coverage for sports like soccer has been boosted in terms
of analysis, panel discussions. The aim is to extend the viewership
band that exists beyond the live cricket into non-live programming.
have a whole lot of marketing and communication plans, which
will build up towards India's tour of Australia"
the amount of investment that the channel has sunk in I am surprised
at the lack of visibility of brand ambassador Sachin Tendulkar apart
from the birthday celebrations of course. How are you'll going to
We have showcased a huge amount of programming apart from just his
birthday show. We started with Harsha Online. Then there were two
shows India Vs and Sachin Speaks which was geared
around the pre World Cup build up we were doing. This is not the
end just the beginning. As far as cricketers are concerned (read
Saurav Ganguly?) we are in talks with various players in terms of
the value that they add to the brands and the relation that exists
between the brands and them.
year Doordarshan will benefit immensely with teams like Australia
visiting India. How does ESS plan countering this?
This is a question of the ICC calendar. This year we
will air India's tour of Australia in December. Like I said earlier
the viewer has matured and has gone beyond just India cricket. Cricket
out of South Africa, New Zealand will reinforce our cricket programmes.
As to the possibility of eyeballs shifting to Doordarshan from
us I do not think one can look at a single month in isolation. You
have to look at the year as a whole and what cricket properties
are there. Over the next five years we will showcase 1,100 days
of live cricket.
much research went into creating the animated cricket characters
Anda Bhai, Gilli Swamy, Yogi and Runjeet Singh? Which companies
are sponsoring these characters on screen?
They have generated a lot of interest. A lot of research was done
in terms of how we would integrate the characters vis-à-vis the
Indian diaspora. Which region should we integrate them from and
what values would they bring in that the local consumer would appreciate?
Perfetti has sponsored them and interest is also coming in from
decision on whether or not to create an animated Tendulkar or Adam
Gilchrist character would be based on the extent to which it adds
to the overall production viewing experience that we offer consumers.
It is a question of how the consumer gets matured into a particular
taste. We will do further research to see how we can build upon
where we are right now..
plans are afoot regarding ground promotions to give a better spin
There are a huge amount of marketing and promotional
activities being done both above and below the line. For below the
line we are doing activities across markets in the regional languages.
For above the line there are contests. For the ESPN School Quiz
we went through a huge amount of series in terms of doing that quiz
on ground in six centres. For the India, South Africa, Bangladesh
triangular series we had done that. We have a whole lot of marketing
and communication plans, which will build up towards India's tour
the ad revenue front who are the major spenders category wise?
We have all the top spenders in the country
in all categories be that in beverages, automobiles, two wheelers,
white goods. So whether it is TVS, Bajaj, Hero Honda, Pepsi, Coca
Cola, Samsung, LG, Perfetti we have all the large Indian advertisers.