Television

Star Sports-Sony spar over World Cup, IPL performances

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MUMBAI: Even as the national sides are battling it out on the pitches in Australia-New Zealand to decide who will take home the World Cup in the quarter final stage, a behind the scenes slugfest is taking place between two rival broadcasters, which have both laid big bets on the sport. We are referring to Star India and Multi Screen Media (which runs the Sony Entertainment Television network in India).

The former is telecasting the World Cup and has the rights to India cricket internationally, while the latter is gearing up to telecast the cricket league – the Indian Premier League (IPL) in the next two months, apart from Euro 2016 qualifiers, FIFA International friendlies and various Fight sports. At stake is close to Rs 4,500 crore that is likely to be spent by advertisers on sports television this year. Of this ginormous pie, approximately Rs 2000-2,200 crore is estimated to be spent on the World Cup and IPL. It’s no wonder then that the two are resorting to sledging within the confines of advertisers’ and media agencies’ cabins and to journos.

Star India began its World Cup innings just about three weeks ago - rather shakily. A Sony spokesperson reveals that the Star ad sales team had just about managed to raise Rs 100 -150 crore or so in ad and sponsorship deals before the once-in-four-years tourney began. “They were really desperate,” he says. “India were performing abysmally on their tour overseas.”

The Star spokesperson is quick to respond, “In the first two weeks only, the advertiser as well as sponsor count for the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup was 50 per cent higher than 2011 edition as well as the IPL.”

The Sony spokesperson’s rejoinder to this is that India’s stupendous display against Pakistan in their opening encounter helped bail out Star Sports. Advertisers flocked to its doors, cash in hand ready to pay premium to air their TVCs. Estimates are that Star India will raise anywhere from Rs 800 - 900 crore from this year’s contest, which ends late in March.

And even as Star has been screaming that this year’s edition has generated the highest ratings ever, and in its trail ad revenues, Sony’s spokesperson has been rubbishing the numbers. Says he: “The ratings in this edition have seen a substantial decline when compared to the 2011 edition. Moreover fans had to wait for a week to witness an India match; the decline is constant in the non-India matches too. Whereas in IPL, each and every match is entertaining and is showcased on prime time.”

He adds, “After 31 matches, the bouts involving India are generating 6.1 TVRs, which was 10.3 during the 2011 edition and the decline is constant in non-India matches too wherein it has dropped from 3.6 TVRs to 1.3 TVR.”

Terming those figures as absolute no-balls, the Star India spokesperson asserts, “The cumulative reach of the ongoing World Cup touched 534 million viewers after the first 29 matches (TAM data CS4+ extrapolated to the universe using a standard conversion factor). In terms of TVRs, the India vs Pakistan match garnered 14.9 TVR, India vs South Africa got 12.7 TVR, and India vs West Indies managed 13.1 TVR and the non-India match ratings are fluctuating from 2 to 2.5.”

Media observers also point out to the fact that the reporting of the ratings has also changed since 2011. “In those days, LC1 towns were not factored into the ratings. Hence, a pure comparision is also not possible,” says a media expert. “It’s like comparing apples and oranges.”

The Star India spokesperson in turn takes a dig at MSM’s telecast record of the IPL, saying the trend is clear. “The IPL reach has declined continuously since season one and sharply in the last three years. Post World Cup in 2011, the tournament suffered as both foot fall and engagement dropped.”

Terming these allegations as “baseless,” the MSM official shared the cumulative reach of IPL since its inception.

The official also added, “Not only in terms of cumulative reach every year but also in terms of ad revenue we witnessed an eight – 10 per cent increase.  IPL is an established entity and considering the fact that the tourney has survived through many ifs and buts in past years, the asset is now beyond question.”

The Star spokesperson says that MSM has a major challenge on its hands over the next few weeks. It is going to telecast the IPL very soon after the World Cup ends; at a time when the sports ad spends appetites of some advertisers may have been satiated courtesy the World Cup. However, to MSM’s advantage is the fact that most big spenders are beginning new financial years (the year end for most large corporates in India is 31 March) and hence will have fat wallets. Nonetheless, Sony has to raise anywhere from Rs 900 to 1,200 crore to make this year’s IPL outing pay off.

The Sony spokesperson quickly reverts that this is a given. “While we don’t comment on internal financial figures, we will meet and maybe even beat the revenue target we have set for this year’s IPL,” he says. “Advertiser interest is rising thanks to the excitement that is building around cricket.”

Even as they are taking digs at each other’s performances, the fact remains that both broadcasters are well aware of the importance and valuation of the two flagship tournaments. Moreover the fact that Star's Hotstar platform is the digital partner of IPL and Max was the destination of the World Cup not long back, proves that the two desire both the tournaments equally. Star India probably is hungry for growth in sports. Its CEO Uday Shankar has outlined the broadcast network’s intentions very clearly: it wants to pitch in a big way to grow the sports ecosystem in India. And in the process, also bring in mountains of revenues for his network.

When the next bidding process for the IPL begins by next year or so, you can be sure Shankar and his team will be on the frontlines making a definitive attempt to acquire its rights. Of course MSM’s NP Singh will be up front too. The rivalry will continue.

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