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MSM sets goals with FIFA rights

Airing football's largest event will give a fillip to Sony's network in branding and distribution

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The has the potential to lift up the network brand Multi Screen Media (MSM). Acquiring the broadcast rights for the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia has been nothing short of a coup. From a Bengali feed, to tap the football-loving population in the east, to wielding negotiation muscle in distribution, plans to make the most of it.

The tournament kicks off on June 13 in Brazil and airs on MSM's channels Sony Six, its HD feed and Sony Aath. The product will also be available on its digital platform, Sony Liv. While the rest of the channels will carry it in English, N P Singh, CEO, MSM India, says of Sony Aath: "We will be airing the FIFA World Cup in Bengali on Sony Aath. The region is passionate about football and it is a logical way to strengthen our brand there."

MSM's Bengali channel currently airs a mix of regional takes on hit shows on Sony Entertainment Television (CID Kolkata Bureau, Adaalat, Crime Patrol and Aahat) and movies (a library of over 1,000 Bengali titles).

The network also has elaborate plans for wrap-around shows during the tournament that will include match analysis and replays, with the prominent participation of brand ambassador John Abraham. The network has got the actor-producer on board as the face of its FIFA campaign.

"The idea is to use John selectively. He is a football enthusiast and that makes him a good choice as a brand ambassador. He has knowledge about the game and we plan to carry out some on-ground activities with him in order to engage the fans and expand the scope of the game," says Prasan Krishnan, business head, Sony Six.

MSM has already launched its FIFA media campaign featuring Abraham. With the tagline Live the Magic, the campaign for one of the most anticipated international tournaments, intends to rope in the fence-sitters among the audience. "While there are viewers who are purists and follow the game with passion, there is also a section of fringe-viewers.

Our aim is to include both these categories and expand the viewership base," says Krishnan.

The campaign is the brainchild of the creative agency, Havas Worldwide, and has been directed and filmed by Prashant Issar from Tubelight Films. It recreates the carnivalesque atmosphere in Brazil, and features Abraham donning a huge mask of Brazilian striker Neymar Jr. He is joined by other players wearing masks of Portugal's superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Argentina's soccer maestro, Lionel Messi and France's lightning bolt, Frank Ribery, as he dribbles his way to the beach, gathering an audience enroute.

Apart from the 2014 tournament's broadcast rights, MSM also holds the rights to broadcast the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament (to be held in Russia) and the FIFA Under-17 World Cup 2017 (to be hosted by India).

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the broadcaster will be paying around Rs 530-540 crore ($90 million) for the rights over five years. MSM executives have refused to disclose the financials to confirm the amount.

Since launch, has tried to create a niche for itself as a youthful alternative to cricket-heavy sports channels. The channel has acquired broadcast rights to sports properties like TNA Wrestling, National Basketball Association and the Australian Open.

"The FIFA World Cup will definitely help in familiarising our brand. We have been players in the non-traditional (sports) market. After all, the FIFA World Cup is the biggest event outside cricket (in India). We have placed our bets on basketball, fights sports, football and now, tennis," says Krishnan.

Krishnan says that with the FIFA rights in its bag, MSM's distribution arm, One Alliance (a joint venture with Discovery Networks) may look at leveraging the presence of the football property to offer special deals in distribution.

The broadcaster has roped in handset brand Xolo as a sponsor and is looking to sign up seven-nine other advertisers. While Krishnan says it is too early to divulge details, the network may court official FIFA sponsors, looking to reach an Indian audience, as well. The FIFA World Cup official international sponsors include Budweiser, Castrol, Continental, McDonald's, Johnson & Johnson, Marfrig, Yingli Solar and Oi.

The broadcast revenue for FIFA (the organiser) is $4 billion (around Rs 23,400 crore) and European broadcasters account for $1.7 billion (Rs 10,000 crore).

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