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What the MSM-ESPN deal means

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MUMBAI: When the enemy looks extremely threatening, you bring in allies to help you do battle. And if your ally is a friend-turned-foe of your enemy, it makes the war that much more interesting. And combative.

We are referring to what’s about to happen in the Indian sports television ecosystem. Multi Screen Media India (Sony Entertainment Television India) has struck a deal with the US-based mega sportscaster ESPN Inc under which it will be helping bring in the brand once again into the country as its partner. 

ESPN was Star TV’s former mate in Asia until 2012 wherein they ran and distributed channels in several Asian countries jointly including in India.

The current MSM-ESPN agreement is for the long term and will be for India and the Indian sub-continent. The joint venture will see new co-branded sports channels, a multisport website and an app rolling out over the next few months. The companies will also be working together to develop original sports programs, something which has been sorely lacking in India, with the exception of a couple of them on Star India’s sports channels.



 

As a first step of the union, MSM’s sports channel Sony Kix is being rebranded as Sony ESPN.

It’s interesting that the two are exchanging vows at the time they are.

The IPL bids are slated to take place next year and the buzz is that Star India is likely to take the bidding to close to the $4 billion mark for all rights. With Sony-ESPN combining their resources and putting up a common front, they are quite likely to put up a stiff fight against Star India. (Others who could throw in a bid include Zee Telefilms and Discovery’s Eurosport). And not just at the IPL auctions but also for all the other sports rights when they come up for renewal.

“However,” a high ranking Sony International Television executive told Indiantelevision.com, “there is no way pricing for the IPL could go up four times. A multiplier of two times or three times over the previous bid is conceivable but above that will make it a big losing proposition.”

What’s also of interest is how Disney is shaping its presence in India. Its family entertainment initiatives got a leg up when it invested in acquiring Ronnie Screwvala’s UTV a few years ago. This deal gave it access to UTV Motion Pictures as well as channels such as Bindass and Hungama.

Disney India recently severed its distribution alliance with IndiaCast Media – part of Viacom18 and has been reaching out to satellite and cable TV platforms to strike deals with them directly.

Now with Disney’s sports offshoot ESPN partnering with MSM, one will have to see whether the latter’s distribution arm MSM Media Distribution resources will be used to shore up the efforts of the distribution team at Disney India. Or will the two work totally independently?

Sports programming in India is likely to also get a shot in the arm. ESPN is renowned for its studio-based shows and live coverage of events. Live sports content in the deal includes major US college football (including the College Football Playoff and comprehensive coverage of the college football bowl season); major US college basketball (including the March Madness NCAA Championship Tournaments); NCAA college sport championships from baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer; Boxing (including Premier Boxing Champions and ESPN’s Big Fights Library); X Games; ESPN Films Emmy-Award Winning 30 For 30 documentaries amongst others.

What’s also relevant is the fact that both ESPN and MSM are going hell for leather after digital content properties too. The duo has its eyes on developing a co-branded localized multi-sport website and app, which will provide coverage of cricket, football, tennis, the NBA, badminton, field hockey and more. The sports content – both video and text – will be delivered on MSM’s OTT platform Sony Liv, and sonyliv.com as well as highly popular cricket portal espncricinfo.com.  

Each of these websites, television channels and OTT platforms will be used to cross promote each other, giving it tremendous marketing heft.  Additionally, their social media presence is to be beefed up in order to give sports lovers a destination to engage with each other and with their sports stars.

 

 

The whole in this case is going to be greater than the sum of the two parts. With the entry of a rejuvenated ESPN into India, the entire sports broadcasting ecosystem is likely to see rapid improvements as more money will be pumped in by both Star and the American sportscaster along with MSM.

And this is going to be a win-win for the various administrations, associations, players and professionals,   team owners, and vendors involved in sports and sports broadcasting - and ultimately the sports fan.

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