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Sony warms up for new game plan

By winning FIFA broadcast rights and focusing on new genres, Sony Six hopes to create a niche

Manu Balachandran  |  New Delhi 

Sony Six, the sports and entertainment channel from Multi Screen Media (MSM) is gearing up to take on Star Sports in a bid to emerge as the leading sports broadcaster in the country. The channel launched almost two year ago, recently won the lucrative rights to the FIFA World Cup, which is expected to rake in revenues of Rs 100 crore for the channel, according to industry estimates.

The upcoming FIFA World Cup to be held in June, 2014, in Brazil, is not the only heavy-duty football event it has bagged. It will also air the FIFA World Cup 2018 to be held in Russia and its qualifiers, as also the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup. It will also air the qualifiers for the UEFA EURO 2016.

"The youth is following a lot of football now," MSM CEO N P Singh had said earlier.

The channel has bagged a slew of rights to other events that include the cricket juggernaut Pepsi Indian Premiere League (IPL), Total Non-Stop Action (TNA), the ongoing Australian Open in tennis, the NBA, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) as well as The Indian Open Super Series and The India Open Grand Prix Gold in badminton. These could see the brand emerge on top in domestic sports broadcasting in the next few months, the channel claims.

Sony has one all-sports channel compared to six channels of STAR TV and four of Zee Entertainment. "Of course, Star has an advantage since it has been around for long. We have been establishing ourselves strongly over the past year and are focusing on key properties such as the IPL and FIFA. We will possibly see results a few months from now," says business head of Sony Six, Prasana Krishnan.

Arch rival, STAR, had earlier said that the company would invest Rs 20,000 crore in the next three-five years to revamp its sports offerings. It recently rebranded all its sports channels, retiring the ESPN brand. It wants to buy equity stake in non-cricketing sports as well, especially hockey and badminton. Even then, it has the title sponsorship rights for all the 13 international cricket matches to be held in India between October, 2013 and March, 2014, and would double the cricket content in 2014 on its channels.

Singh had said that while properties like TNA Wrestling are popular with the older generation, sports that are finding favour with the Indian youth are basketball (NBA) and football.

Observers say that the FIFA Under-17 World Cup slated to be held in India would give football a fillip in metros, besides the soccer-loving states of West Bengal, Goa and Kerala.

"The portfolio for the current year started with India's tour of New Zealand, followed by the Australian Open. India has a market which is big enough for multiple players. There is also potential for multiple sports in the country. We have identified specific areas for ourselves. Therefore, it is not that we are taking someone head on, but rather carving out a niche for ourselves," Krishnan says.

Sports broadcasters in India usually earn 60 per cent of their revenue through subscriptions unlike the general entertainment channels (GECs) who earn from advertising. But sports channels comprise just 4 per cent of the market, compared to 50 per cent share of GECs.

With the FIFA 2014 World Cup spanning two months, Sony Six could look at a spike in its subscriptions. However, given that MSM would have paid a large amount for the FIFA rights, the margins for the event would be muted for the channel.

While nearly 80 per cent of sports viewers tune in for cricket, events such as the Indian Badminton League and football tournaments are gathering up fans. Cricket comprises over 10 per cent of the annual Rs 14,000-crore TV ad pie. But the high cost of acquisition of cricket properties is making channels look to other sports to differentiate.

"At this point cricket (broadcast) is not making any money and broadcasters are suffering since the cost is high and the feed needs to be shared with Doordarshan. We are hoping that in the next three-four years as digitisation spreads, sports broadcasting in India will fare better. Sony will need to start many more properties if they have to become relevant, something STAR and Zee have done in the past few years," says Abneesh Roy, associate director at Edelweiss Securities.

"The years 2014-16 are going to be exciting for sports broadcasting. Now, we can sense that sports other than cricket, like football, hockey and badminton are getting sponsor support. Lower dependence on cricket is a great positive for all sports channels in India", says Shailesh Kapoor, CEO at Ormax Media.

First Published: Wed, January 22 2014. 21:30 IST