Multi Screen Media's sports channel, Sony Six, has never been a cricket-only channel. However, it is now looking to create a audience for basketball with new initiatives. It is also looking at revenues from fight sports as well as football.
The newly-appointed business head of the channel, Prasana Krishnan, tells Urvi Malvania why he is optimistic about non-cricket sports, while explaining why cricket will continue to dominate
Do you think non-cricket sports will grow in India?
While cricket does give you the market share, reach and revenues, it has a flip side. There is only so much cricket that can be played in a year and there are at least four players fighting for the bid at any given time. There is too much competition. Also, cricket is an expensive game to invest in. While it does give returns, one cannot say it is cheap.
If you see global trends, as a country develops economically, it grows towards being a multi-sport nation. There are examples in US where you have American football, baseball and basketball and UK where there is rugby, cricket and football. India is moving towards this trend. I see a lot of potential in other sports. There is a latent demand for non-cricket sports in the country. It just needs to be identified and exploited.
What are the non-cricket sports that will ensure good viewership?
Schools and colleges, at least those in urban and semi-urban areas, have basketball courts and football, cricket grounds. There is infrastructure, and there is interest. We are definitely looking at these basketball and football seriously. We have an association with the National Bassketball Association and we are in the last leg of the NBA Jam activity (multi-city basketfall festival). We also have some other events planned around basketball in association with the NBA.
In football we got the rights for the Scottish Premier League and also have the rights to UEFA EURO 2016 and 2018 FIFA World Cup European Qualifiers.
Tennis and badminton too have scope in India are. Players in both these sports have been in the limelight off-late and the authorities and broadcasters are doing their bit as well. The other avenue is contact and fight sports. By fight sports, I don’t only mean WWE or TNA Wrestling. India also has a tradition of wrestling and the sport is quite popular in certain pockets. Our players have also started performing well, internationally. The idea is to provide a combination of the foreign and domestic Indian fight sports formats. In a nutshell, I would say that we at Sony Six are betting big on fight sports and basketball, and of course football.
Is there an Indian sport for which it is tough to gain eyeballs?
The only problem I see is with hockey. Hockey grounds are fast disappearing and sadly, the youth doesn’t seem excited about it. At least that is what we have observed in the markets that we are present. I think Star did a good job with the hockey tournament and there are viewers for sure. But the sport lacks infrastructure and glamour.
Cricket is already the most popular game. What opportunities do you see there?
Cricket will always be there. All the four broadcasters have some Indian and non-Indian cricket on their channels. With direct-to-home and digital cable picking up, sports broadcasters will only benefit as they can now reach a wider audience. In the analogue market, I would have said cricket is a necessity. With digitisation and evolution of the audiences, I say that cricket is necessary, but not like before. Having said that, cricket still accounts for around 90% of the total broadcasting revenues. In a market which is between Rs 2,500 to 3,500 crore (depending on the properties in the year), a 90% share is significant.
If you compare, the cost of a non-cricket property will be around five% of the cost of a cricketing property. The revenues also will be around five%. Cost factor is a major consideration in this case.
What kind of advertising interest do non-cricket sports generate?
Advertisers are attracted by the volumes that cricket has to offer. There is no doubt about that. But, there comes a time when everyone flocks the same option and one feels the need to break the clutter. Advertisers are now willing to explore new sports and that's a good thing. Also, investing in sports is more expensive than other sports. So if the property works out, advertisers don't mind investing in non-cricket sports.
Regulator's 12-minute advertising cap will be implemented in about a week. How do you think it will affect your channel?
I feel that sports as a category, will not be much affected by the 10+2 rule. In our case, the advertisement timing, duration and placement is governed by the format of the sport. One cannot have an ad during 45 minutes of a live football match. The only problem that sports as a genre may face is that some of the ads may have to be compensated in the next hour. But that bridge we can cross when we reach it. As of now, I am not too worried.
What was the response for your NBA Jam initiative?
We are very happy with the response we got for the NBA Jam events. We had participation from 500 teams in mind, but twice as many teams registered. The response has been wonderful on ground. We have brands like Adidas and Sprite which have partnered with the initiative. What is also heartening to see is the support for the participating players. We have seen friends and relatives pour in to the venue to support the players. This also says a lot about the popularity of the sport. For us, this kind of response is a validation of our confidence in basketball.
How will the the current economic downturn affect the business of sports?
Sports is a business that needs a well thought out, tactical approach. The properties are acquired as much as a year or two in advance. This gives us time to plan the various aspects around the property well in advance. In a way, it is about risk management and having long term commitment helps in the planning. We know the expenses in the pipeline and can manage finances accordingly, especially in times of economic crisis. The long term deals provide predictability and hence, a sense of preparedness.