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Has KPL opened a new door for cricket crazy broadcasters?

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MUMBAI: Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) India (erstwhile Multi Screen Media) with its recent foray into regional cricket league has given the sports industry an alternative to mainstream international cricket. The network tasted success with the Karnataka Premier League (KPL) telecast live on Sony Six and Sony Kix, which fetched good viewership.

Cricket in India has become an expensive proposition for broadcasters with acquisition costs soaring sky high. Even as the number of sportcasters with heavy purses increase in the television ecosystem, the 365 days calendar is turning out to be too small for them to accommodate all the cricketing action through the year.

While kabaddi showed the nation that cricket was not the only sport that created the all-pervading excitement, in a country where cricket is as big as a religion, nothing can suppress it.

Sports channels in India without cricket in its portfolio are still considered as wingless birds. The sport-broadcasting ecosystem is going to see a tsunami of developments in the near future. The ESPN - Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) India (erstwhile Multi Screen Media) deal has already prepped the industry for what’s in store. The price tag attached to the broadcasting rights of the cash rich Indian Premier League (IPL) is being speculated to double if not more when they come up for fresh bidding in 2017. The rights currently vest with SPN India and were acquired after signing a $1 billion deal for 10 years.

What’s more, it will be a tad too optimistic to assume that one of the fastest growing media conglomerate in India, Viacom 18 will not enter the sports space in the near future. Speculations are rife that the Peter Hutton led Eurosport has a keen eye on the Indian market and is planning an entry as early as sometime next year. Star India, which holds the rights to BCCI and ICC sporting events, is also likely to aggressively bid for the IPL. Star recently acquired IPL’s digital rights for three years for a mammoth sum of Rs 302.2 crore.

Media mogul Subhash Chandra’s love for cricket is a well known fact. Chandra’s Ten Sports holds the broadcasting rights of multiple international cricket boards. Nimbus Communications’ Harish Thawani has also been taking baby steps towards cricket. Recently his sports channel Neo Sports acquired the broadcasting rights of Bangladesh Premier League.

At a time like this, KPL has come as a new and lucrative avenue as far as cricket is concerned. Sony Six and Sony Kix business head Prasana Krishnan is of the opinion that the seriousness of the Karnataka State Cricket Association plays a vital role in garnering high viewership. “KPL is actually a very sincere effort from the association. They have been doing it with precision. Despite it being a low budgeted affair, it is being executed with sheer class,” he tells Indiantelevision.com.

The timing of the league is also a vital factor as per Krishnan. “It is played post the monsoons and during that period there is neither much international cricket featuring India nor are there many big leagues scheduled. At a time like this, when you add good production value, it makes for a good property,” he informs.

However, it does beg one vital question: Are there enough monetising avenues available? “KPL for us is an experiment. More than revenue, it’s a matter of extending our portfolio. The revenue will depend on quality. It depends on the players available. For now, it’s a portfolio formation for us. We will look into other aspects with time,” says Krishnan.

Neo Sports EVP programming Mautik Tolia also feels that regional leagues can be a good prospect for broadcasters provided the expectations are realistic. “Regional cricket leagues helps broadcasters in reaching out to a new audience. Our foray into Bangladesh Premier League has given us a new set of audience from the West Bengal region. If there is an opportunity to acquire rights of any such regional cricket league, we will aggressively bid for it,” Tolia says.

A senior media planner feels that if broadcasters package and promote regional cricket leagues, it can be a profitable proposition. “There are a good number of regional advertisers, who cannot afford the high ad rates of international cricket tourneys. If there is good return on investment, advertisers will like to be there. But the broadcaster will have to take the sport seriously,” the planner asserts on condition of anonymity.

In the west, school and college championships in NBA and Rugby garner a huge traction. What’s more, sports broadcasters too back it aggressively and produce it with serious energy. However, the scenario is a little different with cricket in India as per Krishnan. “NBA or Soccer scout for players from schools and colleges. There is no other tournament involved in the system. With cricket, a cricketer has club and Ranji commitments, which are all 365 days engagements. So it will be unfair to compare this to the west. We will evaluate all possibilities and if we find a regional league, which has quality players involved in it and is played at a time when team India is not in action, we will go for it,” he affirms.

It was recently reported that Chandra was planning to start a cricket league in Chandigarh. It remains to be seen how broadcasters react to SPN India’s start. One this is certain that channels need to look beyond international cricket to have the sport in their portfolio without burning a hole in their pockets. Who does it and on what scale is only a matter of wait and watch.

Ratings of KPL 2015

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