interview with ESPN Star Sports managing director Manu Sawhney
are the biggest investor in the game of cricket'
on 29 September 2008
Star Sports has pumped in a whopping $2.25 billion to acquire
the rights for ICC including the two World Cups, the Champions
League T20, Cricket Australia and England and Wales Cricket
board. The mix includes cricket across the three formats of
T20, ODIs and Test matches.
mark of aggression has spread to other sports including the
Fifa World Cup soccer rights and the Olympics.
over a year, Manu Sawhney has been shepherding this drive
to crush competition and establish leadership position as
a sports broadcaster by acquiring driver content rights over
a longer period of time.
is the best in cricket that could be there in the market and
places us in the position of matchless leadership not only
in Asia but on a global scale," he says.
an exclusive interview with Indiantelevision.com's
ESS managing director Sawhney elaborates on how the ESPN-Star
joint venture company is gearing up to be not just a TV brand
but also dominate in the digital new media space with its
comprehensive content across sports, platforms and markets.
The Indian Premier League was touted as the biggest prime
time reality show on Indian television. Why didn't ESPN Star
Sports buy into that hype?
We wanted to first evaluate how the T20 format of the
game would evolve as a product cycle. Remember, we were the
first to recognise the power of this new format at the international
level when we acquired the ICC rights which include the two
the IPL doing well, we have now bagged the Champions League
T20. It will involve the best of the best where the top teams
from various domestic leagues including the IPL, Australia,
South Africa, England and others compete to win the title
of Champions of Champions. The IPL also becomes a feeder league
for this global tournament.
recognise that various formats continue to get developed and
broaden the appeal of the game across new markets and demographics,
providing increasing number of platforms for leverage and
Was the IPL miss a reason why ESS paid higher ($975 million)
for the Champions League T20 when it could have got it at
a much lower price with DIC's $751.3 million bid being the
second in race?
When we are in a bidding environment, we do not punt but
go ahead with an amount which we believe adds value to our
business. We thought $612 million for the BCCI rights was
too high for us, but somebody else thought it made business
sense. We make a bid thinking what value the property can
bring to us, how prepared we are today to leverage it, and
how well placed are we for the future to fully realise the
Our investment in content follows this strategy and allows
us to present a sound proposition to our partners. The acquisition
of Champions League T20 has been done with this focused, planned
and future oriented approach backed by a solid business plan,
ensuring our profitability and long term growth.
a property, CL T20 has all the necessary ingredients of a
blockbuster property, not only on the national level but on
a global scale.
the inaugural edition this year in December, the tournament
is to be scheduled right before the festive period featuring
more top quality international teams and increased number
of matches spread over a longer duration. This amplifies the
opportunities around the property.
But aren't you also risking on the most expensive cricket
property (calculated on a per game basis)?
Tell me one property today which is available across the
globe with all commercial rights - and that, too, for a period
of 10 years! CL T20 is the only such property. This allows
us multitude of opportunities to build, develop, customise,
and fully realise immense value around the property. And it
makes CL T20 most unique and premium as compared to any other
domestic or international property currently around from the
if we were to compare it with a property like IPL, we have
tremendous advantages. The rights around IPL do not include
title sponsorship, umpire sponsorship, stadium advertising,
official sponsor, ticketing and licensing. These rights amount
to sizeable contribution and are expected to grow manifold
over the next 10 years as the CL T20 further develops as the
most premium tournament.
domestic nature of the tournament also limits IPLs appeal
internationally. This affects international syndication and
other related rights. On the other hand, we have had significant
success with the ICC on the international syndication front
and today are better placed than anybody else to fully realise
the value of this premium property in the global market.
others, we are not just a broadcast brand but today the most
comprehensive sports content provider in the region and the
biggest cricket content provider in the world. With our three
strong TV brands (ESPN, Star Sports and Star Cricket), two
robust mobile brands (mobileESPN and Star Sports Mobile) and
the most comprehensive online offering in form of www.espnstar.com,
we are better placed than anyone else to fully leverage and
exploit multiple opportunities across platforms for building
our business on the back of CL T20 across the region and globally.
Even in the ICC bid, ESS's winning punt was $1.1 billion while
the second highest bidder with $900 million was way behind.
Are we seeing a more aggressive ESS?
We are today the biggest investor in the game of cricket
in the world with the ICC, Cricket Australia, England and
Wales Cricket board rights and the newly acquired CL T 20.
This not only provides us with a good mix of all forms of
cricket the new age blistering Twenty20 format, the
popular ODIs and the ever-green Test matches, but along with
the ICC it also gives us a very strong lineup of top quality
cricket with a World Cup every year for the next 10 years.
This is the best that could be there in the market and places
us in the position of matchless leadership not only in Asia
but on a global scale.
IPL has been a successful property, in ICC we have the pinnacle
of international cricket while CL T20 gives us the very best
of the international domestic competition. With the acquisition
of CL T20, we have enhanced our driver content portfolio for
cricket and our leadership position as a sports broadcaster
not just for few years but a longer period of time.
you see the high rise in cost for cricket properties a function
of competition or is it based on a realistic projection of
The escalation in the rights cost is because of competition
as well as growth in the market that you are able to reach.
The T20 format, for instance, has expanded the demographic
profile from a male skew to young and female audiences. The
emergence of new platforms is also playing a part in defining
the value in the marketplace.
is no longer a low-cost media economy. As the market
matures, there will be consolidation. There is, after
all, a limited amount of driver content that is available'
ESS enjoyed high revenues from DTH operators as it was carried
on the basic tier. But this year Tata Sky and the new DTH
operators like Reliance ADAG's Big TV are not willing to put
the three channels on that package. With MSOs (multi-system
operators) also consolidating, do you see growth on subscription
revenues being hit?
There is a huge opportunity for sports broadcasters like
us and platform providers to work together in building the
subscriber base. In global markets, digital subscribers grow
on the back of HD, interactivity and video-on-demand; the
driver content is live sports. In India, the market is still
in infancy. New technologies like DTH, IPTV and mobile are
bringing in paradigm shifts. With the power that we have on
content across sports, we see tremendous scope to increase
With the ICC Champions Trophy, which was scheduled to be
held in Pakistan in September, being deferred, will you be
re-negotiating the bid amount with ICC?
The ICC Champions Trophy is a showcase of games
best elite players from the worlds top national cricketing
sides. It was, therefore, important to ensure full and committed
participation of the best teams from all qualified nations
for ICC Champions Trophy to retain its premium status. Unfortunately,
too much ambiguity existed for many months about the realistic
possibility of the event being staged in Pakistan, which led
to the current situation where the options available were
the global broadcast and production partner of the ICC, ESS
was fully committed to producing and broadcasting the ICC
Champions Trophy in a truly engaging and entertaining manner
for fans across the globe. Accordingly, all necessary broadcast
arrangements were made by ESPN Star Sports as per plans agreed
with ICC for covering the event in Pakistan.
late decision to defer the tournament did come with its own
set of difficulties for various organisations involved in
the tournament, and this affected ESSs business commercially
too. Various questions have arisen as a result of this postponement,
particularly issues relating to ensuring teams participation
in the tournament when it is eventually played as well as
the knock-on impact of the rescheduling on the overall cricket
is expected from the ICC to decide on these critical matters
in the near future. We will only be able to assess the overall
impact on our business based upon the way in which these issues
are resolved and after we are able to study the short and
long term implications of ICCs actions for ourselves.
We reiterate our commitment to working with the ICC in evolving
a mutually satisfying solution.
Isn't ESS's aggression spreading to other properties as well
including the Fifa World Cup where ESS is said to have bid
$40.5 million (up from around $8 million)?
We have been aggressively mopping up content. In football,
we have the exclusive television rights to broadcast Fifas
stellar lineup of international football events including
the 2010 World Cup for the Indian sub-continent. We have the
exclusive rights to show over 275 international football games
including the Fifa Confederations Cup. We have a multi-year
exclusive agreement with The Football Association (The FA),
for broadcast rights to The FA Cup, England Internationals
and The FA Community Shield on multimedia platforms for the
2008/9 2011/12 seasons for 20 countries across the
region. This, coupled with the existing partnership with Premier
League with which ESS holds BPL rights for 22 countries in
Asia through 2010 and rights of UEFA Champions League in key
markets, places us as the single largest football content
provider in the region.
motorracing, we have renewed partnership with FIA for another
5 years across the region and for the first time, secured
rights across various platforms and in many key markets acquired
terrestrial rights as well. This flagship racing property
along with other leading properties like A1, MotoGP and WRC,
sets ESS apart from any other network or broadcaster in the
have also renewed our partnership with Tennis Australia for
another seven years, acquired French Open for India, and continue
partnership with NBA and key Golf majors including Augusta
Masters, The US Open and The Open, among others.
have acquired the Olympic rights. The partnership with the
International Olympic Committee will allow us to show the
Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 Olympic Games for 22 countries
across the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia.
This is the first time that IOC has awarded the rights to
one single pay-TV platform across the region.
Have your programming hours also gone up?
In addition to the acquired content that we have the rights
for, we produce over 3650 hours of original programming per
year, which is probably the largest quantum of original programming
around these sports.
give you an idea, we produce over 1500 hours of original football
content and over 1000 hours of cricket content. In addition,
our flagship studio show, SportsCenter, offers the best round-up
of sporting action around the globe with five localised editions
in Asia on ESPN. And along with our entertainment-focused
sports bulletin show Score Tonight on Star Sports, we produce
over 1000 hours of original sports news programming every
year. This lineup of content makes us the prime choice of
over 310 million passionate sports fans and business partners
and associates across Asia.
content strategy is to build a sustainable and scalable
biz across sports, platforms and markets'
How important is the Indian market for ESS?
It is a very important market for us and continues to
contribute to the overall growth of our business in Asia.
The media industry in India itself has seen rapid growth in
the last few years. There is appetite for quality content
and so are the opportunities to leverage and further build
cricket has been, for many years, the most popular sport in
India, it still continues to grow. This popularity is growing
beyond India playing cricket to other international cricket
as well as growth of strong female TG for cricket. The dedicated
24x7 cricket channel, Star Cricket, quickly reached penetration
levels of 90-95 per cent after its launch last year.
India is also steadily developing into a multi-sports market.
Other sports like soccer, motor sports, tennis, hockey and
golf are increasingly becoming more popular and gaining viewership
as well. With that in mind, and considering the huge viewership
base, India will continue to be a key market for ESS.
India offers a lot of potential in terms of ESSs new
media initiatives. ESS has invested in a focused manner in
the Indian market. With our multi-platform capabilities on
the back of some of the most premium content in the form of
ICC, CL T20, Fifa and F1, ESS is better placed than ever today
to fully exploit the opportunities from the emerging media
scenario in India.
Do you see consolidation in the sports broadcasting space
India is no longer a low-cost media economy. As the market
matures, there will be consolidation. There is, after all,
a limited amount of driver content that is available. We hope
to leverage our leadership position as and when such opportunities
throw up. We are not just TV dependent but have grown our
presence in the new digital media space. And we are not just
an India product.
What have been your focus areas since you took charge as managing
director of ESS one year back?
My focus has been on four key areas. The content strategy
is to build a sustainable and scalable business across sports,
platforms and markets.
continuing to acquire and develop the strongest, most comprehensive
and relevant content, we have enhanced our multi-platform
television is the biggest format in which consumers want to
watch sports, new media platforms are growing in importance.
Growing ESSs presence in the digital space is a key
thrust area for the company and we have invested huge resources
to provide a new improved platform.
We have launched the sharp new version of www.espnstar.com
and are offering advertisers an expansive range of customised
and creative advertising opportunities. The new Star Sports
Mobile complements the mobileESPN offering through entertaining
and engaging content with exclusive video highlights from
Arsenal and Liverpool FC and Star Sports' original programmes.
is a new business management system that has been successfully
integrated between internal systems across functions to provide
competitive advantage and smoother operations.
have also made significant investments in improving our business
and operational processes through adoption of new technology
over the last one year with an aim to scale up our operations
more efficiently for future expansion. Our focus has also
been on human resource development and I have worked towards
creating project teams within the organisation spanning across
departments and markets entrusted with an objective to scout
for new ideas to help grow our business.
has the last one year been for ESS?
We have seen growth in bottomline and topline across the
region. Our task is to take ESS to the next level in scalable
business across sports and markets.
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