“Our niche properties might very soon see a hike in the ad rates”: Rajesh Sethi

Ten Sports, one of the few sports broadcasters in South Asia recently extended the broadcast rights for the premium football competitions: UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for the next cycle of three seasons starting 2015-16.  

The network also bagged the rights for the 2018 Gold Coast Common Wealth Games. Overall, it will be seeing a major revamp in early 2015 which could see new channels either being added or existing ones being removed.

Heading these path breaking changes is the network’s CEO Rajesh Sethi.’s Herman Gomes talks to the enterprising man who took over his new job in July last year and finds out  not just about  the acquisitions but also about India’s new found sport-Kabaddi.

How has Ten Sports progressed in the past 12 years since its launch in April 2002?

Ten Sports was launched in April 2002 and our offering mainly revolved around India-Pakistan series. In this, we had the opportunity to host some of the best matches in the history of India and Pakistan cricket (including the legendary Sharjah series). We have grown from one channel to eight channels and a dominant sports broadcaster in the sub continent.  We have a significant presence in international markets like the middle east/far east and the Caribbeans.

But sports industry witnessed a gradual shift in terms of audience preference and tastes since early 2010. Generation Y started picking up interest in other sports like soccer, tennis, hockey and badminton. Also this era saw an emergence of a niche audience which focused on sport like Golf. In this context, it was imperative for us to break out of the clutter and honour our viewer’s preference. 2010 marked the launch of Ten Cricket and Ten Action which were dedicated cricket and football channel respectively. Next in line was a dedicated golf channel - Ten Golf - which was launched in the year 2012.

Also sports as a genre saw a rapid increase in its aspirational quotient. Individual sports also started flaunting its plush green outfields (as is witnessed in football, golf and LFL) and picturesque landscapes (as is visible in Tour-de-France). Sports’ viewing was no more watched just for its adrenaline quotient but also for its ‘awww’ moments. Hence in the year 2011, Ten HD was launched to enhance the overall experience of the sports audience by broadcasting the content in the HD format.

In your previous interview you said that as a strategy you have never completely rested your fortunes on only India cricket. Is there any change in your strategy now? How are you approaching football?

Taking cue from the previous statement, it is true that we completely do not rest only on India cricket, we believe in bringing content across genres in terms of football, cricket, tennis, golf, multi sports events, wrestling etc from across the world to our viewers to enrich their viewing experience.

Football is world’s most followed sport, while India is considered as the sleeping giant of the game. We have always been the propagator of this beautiful game since inception as we bring across best of football content and experience to our viewers which include UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, Super Cup, Copa Del Rey, Capital One, Skybet Championship, French Ligue, A-League and I League.

Do you see the HD feed as a value proposition for your channel Ten HD? And what has been the audience response for your Ten Golf channel?

With growing HD TV penetration every year, it is imperative for us to bring value proposition before the market gears up.

HD households in India is approximately 10 per cent, while, Sports HD viewing share in the overall pie is close to 8 per cent.

Unlike GEC, sports broadcasting is all about being able to replicate the real ground experience. In this context, HD (with its power packed Dolby Sound offering) channel plays a critical role in ensuring the quality of the content is top notch and brings home the real ground experience. Our HD offering in the form of Ten HD is rapidly gaining traction and we are extremely happy with the uptake of the same by our distributors.

With increasing HD demand even MSOs are gearing up with a stock of HD boxes for installations at customer end.

Ten Golf responses have been very encouraging as we offer almost 80 per cent of exclusive and premium content. Ten Golf is niche offering in our product portfolio and it is still in the nascent stage of its life cycle. We view it as a long term investment in our portfolio. In the context of 400 million sports viewing TV audience, the current golf viewing audience of more than half a million in India, is touching only the tip of the iceberg. In such a scenario, channel distribution plays a pivotal role in providing the channel to as many MSO and DTH platforms. Clearly, change will not happen overnight. It will require a lot of effort to break the status quo. We believe that electronic medium can shape this change, provided all the cable and satellite operators make it available for their subscribers to discover and develop a habit of consuming golf. Our intent is to get more amateur golfers involved with the game which in turn leads to greater viewership when golf is reintroduced as an Olympic sport in 2016.

Ten Sports went big with its efforts to promote the 2014 Commonwealth Games. How did the property fare for your channel? Why did you decide on extending your rights for the 2018 Commonwealth Games as well?

As a sport network, we truly believe that it is our duty to bring best of sports in the market. Carrying our faith forward, we decided to be the broadcast partner for CWG in the Indian subcontinent.

As a measure to promote CWG and to support the Indian contingent, we brought in the proposition of “Saare Jahan Se Aacha, Hindustan Hamara” via a 360 degree marketing approach which united the sports fans in the country and helped in the uplift of multi sporting events and sports persons from various parts of the country.

As a result of our initiatives and the good performance of Indian athletes, the sporting event was highly accepted and engaged by the fans, sporting personalities, journalists, media houses, corporate and other non sporting fans.

The Asian Games are scheduled to begin on 19 September 2014. How are you planning to telecast the sport in India? Will there be language commentary? Any special marketing initiatives?

Asian Games is one of the most popular multi sporting event in Asia. We intend to enhance the experience of viewers via broadcasting on dedicated channels in our network in tandem with live streaming of the event on our digital platform “

We developed our marketing campaign drawing insights from Indian athlete’s performance in the just concluded Commonwealth Games, to carry forward the quest for the medal hunt, where we intend to motivate them via our communication theme “Go for Glory”. To amplify the theme we have done tie ups with Mary Com – the movie starring Priyanka Chopra. And dedicated Asian Games promos featuring Priyanka Chopra.

We have exploited all the marketing collaterals like billboards, dedicated e-mailers, digital media activations, with our centralised theme.

Ten Sports has extended the broadcast rights for the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for the next cycle of three seasons starting 2015-16. How have these two properties performed for your network?

UEFA champions’ league is the biggest and most prestigious football club competition on the planet. Top teams and best players compete in this tournament.

Both UCL and UEL are popular in our country and have been very well received by the Indian audience.

Also, with increased football fan following, we intend to bring best of football action for our viewers. The popularity of the league is also reflected on the TAM numbers where in UEFA is head of all other competitive country leagues.

MSOs and DTH operators are creating separate sports packs for their subscribers. How do you view this trend and how does it affect you?

MSO, currently do not have fixed packages in place. They are still in the process of freezing their packages, while, DTH players are bringing different packages for retaining their existing customer base and to attract new potential customers.

We see creating sports packages as an opportunity, positive move to bring in sports enthusiast. It will help in bringing quality viewers (the core audience of sports), loyal and passionate follower of sports.

What is the growth in subscription that you foresee with the completion of digitisation in phase I and II?

Digitisation offers great benefits for viewers by giving them a choice of what they want to view and also gives a choice to broadcasters to provide them with a wide range of content by giving them multiple ways and means by which he can consume the content. With our differentiated sports offering (in terms of dedicated channels for each of the major sport) we have ensured that each group of individual can avail the sport of his/her choice. This is in-line with how TV viewership has shifted in the developed markets. Globally, sport broadcasting is gradually shifting from B2B to B2C. B2C helps you connect with your audience in a much more refined manner and increase the overall quality of your content.

Beyond enhancing the content quality, digitisation also helps in bringing transparency to the overall subscription business enabling better clarity on the number of subs. This enhances better revenue realisation with minimal revenue leakages. 

All in all we feel digitisation will have a definite positive impact in the growth of the subscription revenues and we are very hopeful of a healthy double digit growth in our year on year subscription revenue.

Your new website was re-launched on 27 March this year. What is the amount of traction you have been able to receive since it was launched? Is your content sourced from bloggers or created in house? 

Our approach for the development of the new website was to focus more on sporting events. The whole architecture of the website was redesigned to enable users to easily access the information to their desired sports or event. This approach has proved highly successful; our dedicated pages for sporting events are attracting good traffic and are engaging the users. We have seen more than 40 per cent increase in the “time spent on site” since the re-launch.

We also observed that traffic on site was diversifying with various devices contributing with mobile devices rapidly increasing the share. The site was made responsive across all platforms, to give users an enriched experience. This resulted in increased consumption of content from site, highlighted by 40 per cent increase in page views / session and a staggering 70 per cent increase in stay time on site from mobile devices.

The blogs and content is created by our brilliant team of in-house sports writers, who churn out insightful articles. We plan to reach out to sports bloggers and enrich with more user generated content.

Are you seeing an increase in your ad revenue?  In terms of your competitors what is the position of Ten Sports currently?

We are witnessing incremental growth in revenues from niche sports (like Golf) and other non-cricket sports.  This is a positive trend change for us, where as in cricket we still witness a steady growth in revenue with respect to non-India cricket.

Ten is number one in non cricket properties and also have leading properties in Wrestling (WWE), Football (UEFA), Athletics (CWG, Asian Games). There are several other non-cricket properties which we have closed recently and are awaiting final completion of paperwork.

We witnessed record ad sale rates in our recently concluded Commonwealth Games. We were able to charge ad rates which were good 20-30 per cent higher than our previously concluded athletics events. We are seeing similar level of built-up for the upcoming Asian Games. We are currently in the process of analysing each of our properties and some of our ad slots for few of our niche properties might very soon see a hike in the ad rates.

Unlike GEC business, sport broadcasting is an event based business and purely dependent on what event we have in a particular year. So competitive benchmarking would not be the right thing to do.

Sports analysts feel that India may soon have a second sport which is Kabaddi due to the fact that two Kabaddi Leagues came up this year and one of them did well in terms of response and production values. What are your thoughts? Do you see other Indian sports having a similar future?

India, being a growing market for sports, has a very bright future with Indianised sports content. With increasing opportunity in different genre of sports like Football, Hockey, Badminton, the participation and performance of Indian players have grown tremendously.

Hockey India League which was introduced was considered successful in its first year of inception, but it didn’t grow as expected in its second year. We still have to conclude - is hockey a dawn for Indian sport.

Kabaddi, which is very popular in rural and tier III urban cities of our country, Indian audience has been very receptive for Kabaddi league. We wish the sport to grow with the Indian audience, though it’s at a very early stage.

Now, Ten Sports is being marketed along with Taj Television. How do you view this business move helping Ten Sports channels?

It definitely helps our business to grow. With a bouquet of 47 channels of Zee, it becomes much easier for us to reach to the audience in lesser developed parts of the country. This move has given us an opportunity to reach sports followers.

It has helped us to explore and identify certain lesser known or rather unknown spots.

Is Ten Sports looking at acquiring any new properties in the future and which are these? Are you also looking at a revamp?

Acquisition is an ongoing process. We intend to acquire best of sporting properties on continuous basis.

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