Television

Sony ESPN & Sony ESPN HD to launch on 17 Jan; two more channels in the pipeline

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MUMBAI: Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) is all set to launch its two sports channels namely Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD in collaboration with ESPN on 17 January. The Sony ESPN channel will replace Sony Kix and hence will be available on all the platforms that the latter was. Sony ESPN HD will launch by marking its presence on all direct to home (DTH) platforms and gradually will roll out on cable TV too.

With this, SPN has extended its sports cluster to four channels namely Sony ESPN, Sony ESPN HD, Sony Six and Sony Six HD.

What’s more, Sony and ESPN will also launch more co-branded channels in the near future. “At least two more channels are there in the pipeline and if the content demands more, we might launch more. But at this stage, we have two channels launching on 17 January and two more in the near future,” reveals ESPN India and South Asia vice president and head Ramesh Kumar.

The Nature of the Association

ESPN had a long time association with one of Sony's rival broadcaster Star India and the duo operated in the Indian subcontinent till they separated in 2012. The three-years non-compete ended in 2015 and ESPN’s began discussion of a second innings in India. ESPN was clear with its strategy that it wants a long term association with an existing sportscaster and that's where Sony came in the picture. 

Both Sony and ESPN refused to divulge the commercials or the nature of association between them. Speaking to Indiantelevision.com, ESPN Asia Pacific vice president Michael T Morrison said, “We wanted to have a partner in India and Sony turned out to be the best for us and hence we associated with them. We were evaluating various possibilities since the last one and half years and are very happy to be with Sony.”

Reiterating Morrison’s point of view, SPN India CEO NP Singh adds, “ESPN is the leader when it comes to sports broadcasting globally. They have their expertise, which will use to add value to our existing content. We would like to keep the commercials confidential, but yes what we both were looking for, was in alignment and hence we decided to get together. It took close to six months to close the deal.”

Singh further asserts, “As a part of the deal, we will have 1000 hours of original content from ESPN.”

While ESPN did not have an India presence on television, it continued the operation of ESPNCricinfo, which has grown by leaps and bounds in last three years. The portal has an internal team, which creates original content. However, ESPNCricinfo is not a part of the collaboration between the two entities. “The ESPNCricinfo expertise can be used if needed but it will not be a part of the collaboration. There are matrices, which we are working on and we will see how the three can complement each other,” informs Kumar.

Why the Association

“India is too big a sports market to not have a presence. Moreover, our motto is ‘To Serve Sports Fans Anytime Anywhere.’ We have never left India. For us, we were always there and now we feel we need to have a bigger presence and that’s why the association,” says Morrison. Recalling the sportscaster’s association with Star India, Morrison adds, “We had a wonderful time with Star where we worked together not only in India but also in the subcontinent, but now we feel we will have a better time ahead with Sony.”

Sony, in the recent past has made a few big non-cricket acquisitions, but is yet to unfold special pre or post original programming. The feed of a SerieA or an El-Classico match begins with the whistle as there is no studio content available with them. “Now with ESPN coming in, we will have access to their studio shows and we will use the shows, which complement our existing portfolio. Using their expertise we will create new programming too. This Australian Open we will have access to their global studio feed, and hence analysis and opinions will be there for fans. With this association, we will be enhancing the experience,” adds SPN sports cluster EVP and business head Prasana Krishnan. 

Many said that once the Indian Premier League (IPL) goes under the hammer for telecast rights renewal, the price is going to at least double to that of the previous deal. Rumours were rife that Sony and ESPN came together to jointly bid for the renewal and strengthen their possibility. Thwarting any such rumours as well as refraining to give them any credibility, Singh says, “Our association with ESPN is not to have an upper-hand in the renewal bidding procedure.” 

What’s next

In next few months, Sony ESPN will launch a new multi-sport mobile app. “The revenue model of the app is yet to be decided, but whatever we do, we believe in monetising it to the maximum. We will evaluate together the best possible way forward and come to a consensus on revenue model,” says Morrison.

SPN already has a digital presence in Sony Liv, which live streams the network’s existing sports portfolio. So what happens to Liv when the co-branded app launches? “The content of that platform will be available in Sony Liv too. We have done well with Love Bytes and will continue our digital innovations,” informs Singh.

Apart from the two additional channels in the pipeline, which will be launched in the near future, there could be many leagues coming in too. “Pro Wrestling League was an experiment that we did and now I am in a position to say that we are glad that we did it. The numbers in the Hindi Speaking Market were great and I see it growing further with time. So we are exploring and if we see an opportunity we will aggressively forge ahead with more leagues,” says Krishnan.

Marketing Plan and Channel Positioning 

The 360 degree launch campaign will be clubbed with the campaign of the Australian Open, which will make its debut on the new channel. “We have 17 channels of our own through which we will promote and announce the launch of the two co-branded channels. Also we will have our digital and print promotional activities. We are starting with the Australian Open and then we will then go to Euro 2016 and run campaigns around the sport,” informs Krishnan.

Sony ESPN will have a global sports portfolio with football, rugby, basketball, tennis, whereas Sony Six will have the fight sports and other sports that Kix used to telecast. “We will continue to evaluate various permutations and combinations as we go forward and enhance our sports portfolio,” concludes Krishnan.

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