Sony Pictures Networks' sports cluster's year in review, road ahead

The network has rights for some prime football properties and some cricketing events.


MUMBAI: In the tough two-horse race of Indian sports broadcasting, Sony Pictures Networks has had a slight edge over Star India when it comes to football events, while the latter holds the sway in Indian cricket. Currently, the NP Singh-led network is in charge of premier football properties like La Liga, Serie A, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, FA Cup and UEFA Super Cup. 

SPN India has also invested in domestic leagues, firmly believing that such products are not only gaining prominence but are bound to witness a formidable growth in the future. One such success story is the Pro Wrestling League (PWL), which will return to SPN for its fourth edition. Besides this, the network will also broadcast the inaugural edition of the Pro Volleyball League that has gained considerable steam of late.

Multi-sporting destination

2018 was a successful year for the broadcaster in terms of multi-sporting properties, with big-ticket events like Commonwealth Games, FIFA World Cup, NBA and Asian Games helping it differentiate itself from others.

“Multi-sports viewing is on the uptake and we will continue to provide our viewers diverse content across different sports categories along with innovative programming initiatives to increase our penetration in both urban and rural markets,” SPN India chief revenue officer and head - sports business Rajesh Kaul said.

SPN has been the home of La Liga for the past four seasons in India. However, last year Facebook won the media rights for the top tier of Spanish football for the Indian subcontinent for three seasons starting 2018-19. The deal with the social media giant was the first of its kind for La Liga.

While the 380 matches were to be available for free to people on Facebook in eight countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Facebook and SPN reached an agreement wherein the broadcaster earned the right to air over 100 games via its sports cluster.

The deal will allow SPN to broadcast key clashes including the El Clasico and Madrid Derby across its sports channels as well as SonyLIV.

Record-breaking show

The headline act for SPN in 2018 was the FIFA World Cup. There was a humungous buzz around the tournament this time as it aired during primetime in India after almost two editions. The broadcaster had four language feeds for the showpiece event, which was telecast on Sony Ten 2 in English, Sony Ten 3 in Hindi and Bengali and Malayalam audio feeds on Sony ESPN.

A total of 110.5 million viewers in India watched the quadrennial event, according to the broadcaster. The tournament had 64 live matches aired across Sony TEN 2, Sony TEN 3, Sony ESPN channels and their HD versions.

The broadcaster, which had managed to attract more than 40 advertisers on television, is estimated to have pocketed close to Rs 200 crore in advertising revenue. The 2014 edition had fetched the network Rs 100 crore in ad revenue.

70 million viewers across India tuned in to watch the World Cup on SPN’s OTT SonyLIV. The average time spent per viewer was 15-16 minutes per match.

“Sports’ viewing as a trend is becoming participative and we saw an opportunity to launch interactive engagement for our viewers in both entertainment and sports. Second screen engagement and interactivity is moving to the forefront and we will continue with his trend as it gives viewers deeper insights and a more immersive experience. While TV is still the preferred choice for sports viewing, we have observed trends of a growing user base on digital platforms for sports viewing in 2018 and we see it strengthening its position further in 2019,” Kaul added.

Cricket rights play

When it comes to cricket, SPN currently holds the broadcast rights for eight boards - Cricket Australia, England and Wales Cricket Board, Pakistan Cricket Board, Sri Lanka Cricket, Cricket South Africa, Cricket West Indies, Cricket Ireland and Zimbabwe Cricket Board. 

It had acquired exclusive media rights from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for the Indian subcontinent for a period of five years from 2018 through 2022. This agreement with ECB gives SPN the rights to both televise and digitally broadcast within the Indian subcontinent, men’s and women’s international matches, including Test matches, T20 Internationals and ODIs, played in England.

SPNI also acquired the media rights for T10 Cricket League for three years (2018-20) for the Indian sub-continent and Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The broadcaster also had the rights for T10 Cricket League in 2017.

The broadcaster currently has 10 channels in its sports bouquet after the network pulled the plug on Sony Ten Golf HD in the wake of TRAI’s new tariff order.

The Prasar Bharati problem

In October, MIB proposed to amend the Sports Act 2007 to offer ‘sports events of national importance’ on Prasar Bharati-owned free-to-air Doordarshan Network, an extended reach via private direct to home and cable TV Networks.

The move to amend the Sports Act 2007 has been necessitated due to a Supreme Court verdict which held that the public broadcaster Doordarshan cannot air events of national importance on private distribution platforms.

In the same month, MIB issued a notice for receiving feedback/comments from general public/stakeholders on the draft bill, 2018. The deadline for submitting the feedback was 15 January 2019, but there is no update on the date extension. The earlier deadline was 31 December 2018.

This may result in a preference change of the consumer, thereby pushing them to unsubscribe private sports network channels. This will also give the distribution platforms an opportunity to negotiate harder with the sports broadcasters.

A move of this nature could adversely impact the revenues of sports broadcasters, throwing the entire ecosystem into a tizzy.

Challenges in 2019

India’s historic win over Australia ensured that SPN kicked off 2019 to a rather glorious start. With the immensely popular Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni delivering match-winning knocks, SPN is likely to have posted big viewership numbers on its channels as well as OTT. However, the remainder of the year isn’t going to produce a lot of fireworks for the broadcaster especially when it comes to Indian cricket. Barring India’s tour to the West Indies, SPN does not have a lot to offer to Indian fans. Rival Star India, with the rights to the IPL and the World Cup, is bound to be the home of India’s cricket-crazy public in 2019.

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