It was cricket – in the form of the Indian Premier League – that made the most noise amongst all other sports that were being aired on sports channels in India during April-May. But the tide has now turned and has switched partners in the form of Neo Prime, which may now be leading the viewership race by not airing cricket but three different live action sports in India – Azlan Shah Hockey, French Open and Euro Cup (starting next week). For those unaware, Neo Prime is the rechristened channel from Nimbus which earlier went by the name Neo Cricket.
While most broadcast networks have been contemplating launching a channel solely for airing cricket, it is surprising to see Neo take a turn on the same. Then of course, there was the ugly episode that saw the channel losing its rights to host India matches. Explaining the rationale, Prasana Krishnan, COO, Neo Sports said, “We were one of the first channels to go in for cricket and are probably the first one to be going away from it. When we had the BCCI rights, it made sense for us to do that as you had a lot of domestic cricket that was available; there were a number of days that were available at our end. So we kept the channel for the volume of the game that was available with us. But then it is also about reacting and responding to the change. Though we have lost the BCCI rights, we will continue to take part in the bidding process for other cricketing properties as and when the opportunity arrives. As of now, we have our hands full with a lot of live actions sports and are the only channel that has so much on its plate currently.”
In fact the network carried out a vital evaluation exercise months ago before it decided to go in for the change. And it had some interesting facets to throw up apart from just cricket. Explained Mr Krishnan: “The basis for our evaluation was that we have five other sports apart from cricket – tennis, football, golf, badminton and hockey, and what really happens is live sports is played mostly during weekends where you have multiple sports being aired simultaneously. So we were faced with the problem of having more than one event at the same time and therefore airing a certain sport and not being able to relay the others. If you look at the sports being aired right now on our channels, one channel is showing Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey while the other is showing French Open tennis. And next week, we will have French Open and the Euro Cup on at the same time. So the scheduling conflict is a constant problem that arises at our end and our effort has been to maximise and ensure that maximum events are being made available to customers as possible.”
In fact, according to Mr Krishnan, the same pattern was observed in other networks as well where they had scheduling clashes. “What was happening for us was that we were playing hockey and other sports on the cricket channel, which really didn’t make sense. So in that sense, Neo Prime would be more generic and would be playing different genre sports and not just cricket.”
In fact there was another motive for the channel to contemplate the move. Explains Mr Krishnan: “What we are also doing is that all the content that is being produced is likely to switch towards HD mode sooner or later. Those are the kind of properties we plan to put on Neo Prime. Over the next few months, once we are comfortable with the working of the content, we will also provide a HD feed of the channel. So it is a HD-ready channel that is focussed and programmed in a manner that it is ready to relay action as it happens.”
When asked on soft stance taken by the channel to communicate the change, Mr Krishnan said: “It’s not that we are going soft with the new change or anything, it’s just that we got approval from the Ministry for the change only on June 1, 2012. So the action and communication will take place over the next few days. Anyways, it’s not as big a news for us as currently all live sports action is happening on my channel be it French Open, Azlan Shah Hockey or Euro Football starting next week. So the idea was to time it with the best of sports action and combine that with a good campaign.”
Advertisers have been advised of the change and so far the response has been positive. But the channel is not looking at that and has some big plans up its sleeve for the coming months. And yes, it would do so without banking on popular sport – cricket. Affirmed Mr Krishnan: “The change has been communicated to the advertisers and they have been reacting positively to it. But one must understand that it is the property that the brand gets interested in and if they appeal to them then they will obviously come on board to partner the event. And I am proud to state that in the January to March quarter, our network was ranked second by TAM in terms of viewership and that for the April to June quarter, we would easily be the No 1 network for sports in India going by the amount of live properties that we have on our hand right now.”
It may just be the perfect start that the network is looking for by making a rousing comeback with its many live events. After all, as the saying goes: the past is well forgotten but the future is what you make of it.