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After two-and-a-half days of intense bidding, it was Star India that prevailed and won the media rights to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for the 2018-23 tenure for a whopping Rs 61.38 billion. With Star already holding rights for IPL as well, what does this mean for the landscape of cricket broadcast in the country? The author answers that.
When Anirudh Chaudhry, Treasurer of the BCCI tweeted, “Congratulations @StarSportsIndia on bagging the BCCI Media Rights @ 6138.1 crores at an average of 60.1 crore per game”, at 4.07 pm earlier on Thursday, he set the entire world of Indian cricket aflutter. Star India had once again worsted all competition including the mighty Reliance Jio to take home all of Indian Cricket for the next five years.
I had always expected Star to beat Sony. Somehow I felt it all along in my gut. Then there were rumours that Sony had partnered with a content-hungry Facebook. But I still thought somewhere deep down that Star would win. But when Reliance Jio, with the deepest pockets in the world, joined the fray in right earnest on Day 1 of the bidding, to be honest, I wasn’t any longer so sure of the outcome. Jio was quite capable of running up the bids to win at all costs. They have done it in telecom. They can well do it in television.
The auction started on Day 1 with an initial bid of Rs 41.76 billion, which subsequently went up to Rs 42.01 billion, Rs 42.44 billion, Rs 43.28 billion and finally Rs 44.42 billion. The teams at Star, Sony and Jio must not have slept that night. The bids continued to climb on Day 2 ending at 6 pm on Wednesday at a massive Rs 60.32 billion after eight rounds of bidding. The finishing line did not seem anywhere in sight. Given the aggression that had been witnessed over the previous two days, there were feverish rumours that the final number would go past Rs 70 billion! For a total of 102 matches (22 Tests, 42 ODIs and 38 T20 Internationals) spread over 2018 to 2023 (2018-19: 18 matches, 2019-20: 26 matches, 2020-21: 14 matches, 2021-22: 23 matches and 2022-23: 21 matches) this was going to be a windfall for the BCCI and yet another feather (rather festoon) in the cap of its young, dynamic and aggressive CEO Rahul Johri.
Therefore, in a manner of speaking, if Star got the rights at (a mere!) Rs 61.38 billion, after the frenzy of the first two days, then the closing figure is actually a steal.
For Star India, which already has the entire IPL rights for the next 10 years, and has all the ICC rights too, the favourable outcome on the India rights for the next five years gives it a clear monopoly over the domain of cricket. After struggling a bit in the initial few weeks against a common front put up by a ginger group within the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) (where I too played a small role on behalf of Star) Star India (to their credit) have managed to push up the effective rate for a 10-second spot from last year’s Rs 600,000-650,000 to upwards of Rs 900,000 this year for the forthcoming IPL that starts this Saturday. After initial hesitation and hiccups, Star had already signed about 35 clients by early March. That number could well be doubled by the time the first ball is bowled at IPL-11. This is despite some very bearish posturing by the large media buying agencies who tried very hard to keep the IPL cricket rates down. Finally, they blinked. Star triumphed.
While the battle was in progress with the media agencies, in past weeks Star India also had a big war on its hands with the distribution part of the television business. Star’s rivalry with Zee’s Dish TV is already well-known. And Dish now has Videocon DTH too. Both upped the ante in past weeks refusing to carry Star TV’s sports content. But the biggest dispute surfaced with Airtel DTH with a nasty round of ads and warnings issued in the public domain by both sides. Once again Airtel blinked. Star triumphed.
The biggest win by far for Star, however, has been the absolute monopoly its Hotstar OTT platform will have in the digital space. Competitors like Facebook and Google were expected to compete for rights this time but chickened out. Last time Amazon had been expected to be in the fray. But they too kept away from the IPL bidding and did not even surface for the India rights. The likes of Airtel had also put in an appearance at the time of IPL bidding. This time they too were conspicuously absent. Ajit Mohan, the CEO of Hotstar, has done a fabulous job over the past few months building Hotstar into a really hot property with over 100 million live subscribers.
Last but not the least, the 100% monopoly that Star India now enjoys will also help it grow ROW (Rest Of World) markets, especially for pay-TV. The large amount of Indian diaspora around the world is a veritable goldmine waiting to be exploited and monetised. For the first time ever, with a single window to the world, Star can control both distribution as well as pricing. Hitherto, no broadcaster has ever been actually able to make money from brand advertising on cricket in any serious kind of way. By offering a combo of Star + Hotstar to these overseas markets, Star India can create a viable and visible revenue stream.
To be honest, for advertisers on cricket, the Star monopoly is possibly not such good news. No longer can their media buying agents either play divide-and-rule or defer decision making on sponsorships and spots till the broadcaster starts to sweat. Star’s position is impregnable. It is Advantage Star all the way.
While it is good news all the way for Star, it is equally if not more good news for BCCI. They have raked in the kind of moolah they perhaps never ever expected. That too through the world’s first sports rights e-auction, which is 100% transparent. For that once again, kudos to Rahul Johri. He has proved once again what a good CEO is all about.
For now, Cheers Star! I hope Uday and Sanjay invite me to the celebrations. After all, I have been their most bullish well-wisher. Before I close, I believe advertisers on cricket should really not feel sad or threatened. For those for whom cricket is important, now is the time to make long-term commitments and build bonds of friendship with Star TV. I am sure they would welcome genuine supporters of the game, and create lasting value for such partners over the next five years. It could be a win-win for all.
Sandeep Goyal is a keen watcher of the sports marketing space and has been closely involved with cricket buying during his years at Zee and Dentsu.