Why Star sponsored Indian cricket for 2013-14?

MUMBAI: It came as a bolt from the blue - actually in this case the greens on which the sport of cricket is played. The BCCI has decided to award the title sponsorship of all domestic and international tournaments in India for 2013-2014 for a reported price of Rs 2 crore per match, around Rs 1.5 crore less than that paid by the previous sponsor Airtel.

What goes? Why is Star going hell for leather putting money behind the game? One can't but forget that the Star Group beat competition from Multi Screen Media (Sony) to bag the six-year broadcast and digital rights of India's international cricket matches at home and domestic events like Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and the Irani Trophy. The Rupert Murdoch-owned company's six-year contract is valued at Rs 3,851 crore and will cover 96 matches in all.

One of the reasons, Star India COO  Sanjay Gupta says is that the network is going all out to promote not just cricket but also other sports. Says he: “We are betting big on sports and even more betting on cricket. Currently we have the rights to telecast the matches on television as well as on other multi-screens.”

As a strategy the Star group, he says, is ideally looking for something similar to what it did for IPL, Star sponsored IPL through its brand - Star Plus. Plans are focused on deepening its relation with cricket and also using cricket to promote its brands in a big way.

“So looking from the Star brand point of view we would like to use this sponsorship, for obviously Star Sports and also Star Plus and Life OK,” expounds Sanjay.

He further states that Star will use its entertainment network to build the awareness and enthusiasm for cricket likewise. And then conversely use the cricket platform to build awareness for other sports in the country. “So when people are watching cricket we should be able to sample other sports to them, and thus give them more to watch, so that is the strategy we are putting in place,” says Gupta.

Telecasting the action on the field in different languages is another tack. “One of the major challenges of sports in the country has been that for the last 10 years, sports were being telecast in only one language and that’s English, but that is not the primary language for consumption in most of India.”

Research has revealed that TV viewers would be better served if they get to consume sports coverage in either Hindi or their local languages. “As we know that in entertainment the language used makes a big difference, so our attempt is to build content for both key sports - cricket and football - in Hindi, so that people are able to consume the content in a much better manner,” exults Gupta.

Star will continue the English commentary for both cricket and football as it has a great panel of commentators for both these sports and the content is enjoyed by a huge chunk of its viewer base. “But we are equally building affinity with the content in the Hindi speaking markets (HSMs) and the response has been really encouraging and proves that our strategy is working well with our loyal fan base,” Gupta explains.

With digitisation still an ongoing process what kind of changes can be witnessed in the near future? Reveals Gupta, “It hasn’t really brought about a fundamental change, but people who were in analogue had limited access to content as they could only see 20-30 channels, and some of the sports channels were hit at that time as many of the operators would replace it with some other channel if a live match was not on, may be a movie channel or something else. But with digitisation kicking in not only sports but the content for overall channels has improved dramatically and that’s a welcome change as people will be able to watch the sports channels everyday rather than on a need-be basis.”

Star is striving to build its sports portfolio, and that is the reason that it is trying to get in other sports like football with the Barclays Premier League, motor-racing through F1 and several other sports.

Giving his view on HD as a format Gupta says, “It is very powerful, and we initiated it a couple of years back, as the quality of experience goes up, and with roughly two million HD households consuming HD content across different platforms, the growth of HD will only accelerate.”

Star has recently also launched Star World Premiere HD only strengthening the fact that it believes that is a very big opportunity for all premium content including sports. “We are going to be investing heavily in HD content across genres as we seriously believe HD is the way ahead,” says Gupta.

Bringing about interactivity with the audience is also something that Star plans to bring about in the near future. “We have already seen that with when we put cricket, there is a lot of interactivity even in content consumption and not only commenting & social networking but people can see the match and equally see the players' performances and enjoy highlights even as the live action is going on in the field. So we do see interactivity as a very big tool for the younger generation of the country to connect with sports,” ends Gupta.

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