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Star India awaits cricket bonanza in 2019 after solid sports growth in 2018

Star to further strengthen its regional presence in 2019

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MUMBAI: Uday Shankar, who was recently promoted to president of The Walt Disney Company Asia Pacific and chairman of Star and Disney India after the Fox-Disney units combined, has disrupted the Indian sports broadcasting business in the last couple of years. From scooping the media rights of the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL) to bolstering his sports networks’ regional offerings with the launch of Telugu and Kannada language, Shankar has thrown caution to the wind on more than one occasion in his bid to change the rules of the high-stakes game. Shankar’s grand vision and appetite for big bets has now placed Star India in a rather enviable position with a stranglehold over cricket properties this World Cup year.

Tightened grip on Indian cricket

Star wasted no time in setting the tone for the year as it appointed Gautam Thakar as the new Star Sports CEO on 15 January 2018. Thakar was roped in to fill up the void left by the exit of Nitin Kukreja, Shankar’s blue-eyed boy, who left the organisation in March 2017.

The broadcaster tried to alter the IPL timings (8 pm game to 7 pm and the 4 pm match to 5.30 pm), a controversial development which was confirmed to Indiantelevision.com by then IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla. Despite the IPL governing council on board with the idea, opposition from team owners stalled Star’s plans.

In February, Star won the rights for IPL’s audio-visual production as well as the BCCI domestic circuit for 2018-19, further tightening its grip on Indian cricket.

In April, Star kept its foot on the pedal as it retained the BCCI rights, conducted via an e-auction for the first time, until 2023 for mind-boggling Rs 6,138.1 crore. Star came out on top after a fierce bidding war, which lasted three days, against Sony Pictures Network India (SPNI).

The broadcaster paid Rs 60.1 crore per match for the 2018-23 home rights across five years which, a 50 per cent increase from the Rs 40.1 crore it shelled out for the 2012-18 cycle with a bid of Rs 3,851 crore for 96 matches.

Kicked off IPL with a bang

Star couldn’t have asked for a better start to its IPL reign, firing on all cylinders. The IPL final, aired live on 17 channels across eight different languages, powered the network’s growth by 34 per cent with 52.9 million average impressions. The title decider was produced with 11 live feeds across the TV network and Hotstar.

Super streamer Hotstar, then led by Ajit Mohan, hit a world record for concurrent online viewing with 10.7 million viewers for the final. The final witnessed a sudden hike from eight million to 9.1 million and then to 9.7 million before hitting the 10.7 million mark.

The television viewership for the tournament was 1.4 billion impressions with a growth of 15 per cent. With a total of six regional languages contributed to 22 per cent of the overall viewership.

According to industry sources, the network clocked close to Rs 2000 crore in advertising revenue for the first season.

For the first time, IPL was also aired on public broadcaster Doordarshan. According to the agreement, Doordarshan could telecast a select number of matches with a 60-minute delay along with some highlights.

Another potential Star-Prasar Bharti face-off

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the broadcaster. In October, MIB proposed to amend the Sports Act 2007, which will provide ‘sports events of national importance’ on Prasar Bharati-owned, free-to-air Doordarshan Network an extended reach via private direct to home and cable TV Networks.

The MIB has now proposed to amend the act to make such events available on DD through all mediums of distribution. This may result in preference changes of the consumer and would not subscribe to costly private sports network channels. This will also give the distribution platforms an opportunity to negotiate harder with the sports broadcasters.

The move to amend the Sports Act 2007 has been necessitated due to a Supreme Court verdict which held that the public broadcaster Doordarshan cannot air events of national importance on private distribution platforms.

In the same month, MIB issued a notice for receiving feedback/comments from general public/stakeholders on the draft bill, 2018. In a recent update, the ministry has extended the deadline to give feedback on the draft sports broadcasting signals (Mandatory sharing with Prasar Bharti) (Amendment) Bill 2018 till 15 January 2019. The earlier deadline was 31 December 2018.

A move of this nature could adversely impact the revenues of sports broadcasters, particularly Star given its big bets on Indian cricket.

Bolstered regional play

Star India launched three channels in 2018, in line with its commitment of fostering a multi-sports culture in the country. Star Sports 3, a multi-lingual channel, was launched on 15 September and the first big event to air on it was Indian Super League (ISL) Season 5 in Hindi.

Star Sports launched its third regional channel Star Sports 1 Telugu after Star Sports 1 Hindi and Star Sports 1 Tamil. The channel went on-air on 7 December.

The broadcaster added a fourth regional channel, Star Sports 1 Kannada, on 29 December. Star India’s attempt at securing an exclusive sports channel for its Kannada viewers didn’t see the light of day for the 11th season of IPL. Regulatory hurdles made the broadcaster switch the Kannada feed to Suvarna Plus.

According to FICCI- Re-imagining India’s M&E sector 2018, the sale of broadcasting and media rights is the biggest source of revenue for most sports organisations, and can account for 55 per cent to 70 per cent of total revenues. The global sports media rights is expected to breach the US$50 billion barrier in 2019 and could reach US$54.3 billion by 2021.

2019 cricket bonanza

2019 is loaded with marquee cricket events with Star India owning rights to most of them. The summer has four key series or tournaments - New Zealand versus India, India versus Australia followed by the 2019 IPL and the all-important ICC World Cup 2019. Barring two series, Star is bound to be the home for Indian cricket lovers this year. That’s not all. The broadcaster intends to further dominate the regional language market play with the launch of three additional sports channels in Bengali, Marathi and Malayalam. 

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