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Star to focus on school-level games via FTA sports channel

NEW DELHI: A sports war may just be brewing between India’s pubcaster Prasar Bharati and private sector TV channels. Close on the heels of  Doordarshan announcing its intentions to start sports leagues involving indigenous sports for viewers of FTA channels, Star India said it would launch a FTA sports channel Star Sports First showcasing non-cricket games with emphasis on school-level sports.

What’s more, though Star’s FTA Star Sports First could be made available to all distribution platforms, it would debut on DD FreeDish, a satellite-based TV platform comprising mostly FTA channels belonging to the pubcaster and those from private sector media companies.

“Our FTA channel’s aim would be to highlight indigenous sports like kabaddi and also games like hockey with extra emphasis on school-level sports,” Star India MD Sanjay Gupta said, adding sports is an under-exploited sector in India and advertisers have shown interest in such a FTA offering.

According to a recent Ernst & Young (now, E&Y) report on India’s FTA TV market, only one percent of viewership of sports channels came from the FTA market, while the pay TV market cornered the lion’s share of viewership and, also, probably, advertising. According to media experts, the FTA ad market too is likely to go north clocking approximately Rs 10 billion in 2017.

The move by Star India comes close on the heels of DD director-general Supriya Sahu telling media that the pubcaster is working on a blueprint to launch indigenous sports leagues on a FTA channel to largely cater to those TV viewers who access FTA channels on DD FreeDish, apart from making further inroads into the regional markets with more offerings.

Meanwhile, Star’s Gupta while earlier on Thursday delivering a keynote address at CII-organised sports conference `Scorecard’ here said despite the strides India has made in the business of sports, it’s still an under-exploited market.

“Despite this glitz and glamour of viewership and money, the reality remains that sports as an industry is just at a $2.5 billion size today (in India). Whereas, in a country, like, the US, this sector is over $80bn. We have all been celebrating the (sports) leagues that have come up, but again US has more than 30,000 league games happening in a year and we aren’t even at a 1/50th of that number,” he highlighted.

Highlighting the reasons for slow growth of sports and businesses related to it in India, which was also a reflection on the country’s outlook towards sporting culture in general, Gupta said in a recent survey done across the country it was found Indian kids on an average play 20 to 30 minutes in a week, which is much low to their counterparts in developed markets like the US and Europe. Compared to Indian kids, children of the same age in the US and Europe played roughly “an hour a day”.

Pointing out that there was an urgent need to “challenge the current mindsets of parents, schools and businesses” regarding sports in general, Gupta said, “There is an initiative being run by the sports committee of CII where they are working with a group of 1,000 schools to redefine the perception of parents and school administration toward sports. But we can’t expect such initiatives alone to move mountains. Such a mammoth shift in mindset and behavior requires a movement.”

Gupta’s vision is to unleash the power of sports, with the help of the government and corporate sector, to “inspire, to unite, to teach things the way nothing else possibly can” and for which the country needed to “get 300 million kids to play for at least an hour every day.”

Tough task? Well, India too has some shining rags-to-glories sporting icons in games like cricket, badminton, squash, snooker, hockey, football and, lately, basketball too.

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