Does India need more sports channels?

25 Mar,2013

 

By Ananya Saha

 

Indian television has some 17 sports channels, almost as many as – if not more than – Hindi GECs. Star Sports recently announced a new sports channel: Star Sports 2. Sony Six debuted in the market not so long ago.

 

Is India’s a big enough market for so many sports channels? Is the audience base growing or becoming fragmented? With channels facing the perennial question of differentiation, how are the advertisers responding to the plethora of sports channels?

 

MxMIndia spoke to sports channel heads, advertisers and media planners to find out what they think.

 

Muralikrishnan B, Country Manager India, eBay

Sports channels are definitely a viable proposition, for a country where more than 50% of the population is young – less than 25 years. The core of sports channel audience is 15 to 35 yrs. Almost 1/3 rd of Indian population sits in that bracket – 400 million. Whether the number of sports channels can stay in the market or not will depend upon what kind of content they are able to show – in other words what are the tournament rights they are able to capture!

 

Overall the sports viewership base is growing. Multiple sports channel option throws up better opportunity for advertisers. For eCommerce brands, youth is one of the most important Target Groups. And to connect with youth, besides music & movies, the sports channels are one of the key strategic options. Thus, as an advertiser trying to reach out to younger TG, we are very optimistic to the development.

 

Sports viewership can be categorized in two parts:

 

 

a) General viewing of sports channel (somewhat like default viewing) – it will depend on convenience of the viewer. And is more driven by what the person chooses to watch when he has remote in his hand, and is influenced by general viewing behavior of individual. Normally the sports enthusiasts tend to watch TV either early evening (younger ones, after school/college) or late evening (young adults & beyond). Both the segments also try and catch up on viewing during day time over the weekends Thus, the key viewing time (thus prime time) can be considered as 5 to 7 pm, 10 pm to midnight for Monday to Thursday and weekends day time.

 

b) Appointment viewing of specific event – this is primarily driven by the desire to watch a particular event, irrespective of when it’s being telecast. The enthusiasm is more to catch the live action. In such cases, the viewer will adjust viewing behaviour to be in front of TV when the live action is on. For such occasions, that’s the prime time.

 

With digitization setting in, I possibly foresee more sport channels launched/announced targeted at more niche audience – may be focused on specific sports. For instance, there can be a channel on golf or on motor racing. For all those sports which appeal to niche but influential and high value audience. On channels differentiating their positioning, as on date, seems to be a very difficult proposition where 90% viewership is driven by cricket. And the channel’s fortune depends upon what rights they have of the top cricket tournaments.

 

Prasana Krishnan, COO, Neo Sports Broadcast Pvt Ltd

With the limitations of analogue cable being systematically eliminated, the feasibility of existence of multiple sports channels in India is sound. The onset of digitization has ensured that fans are able to watch sports of their choice on a regular basis. This bodes well for the broadcasters and the viewers.

 

These are early days still in the implementation of digitization, but it is heartening to see the progress that has been made so far. There is a definite surge in reach for the sports category in the digital markets. With digitization enabling delivery of niche sports as well, there is an increase in interest and confidence from advertisers in the genre as they are seeing the value of tapping into properties which have targeted audiences and are being accurately measured.

 

It is imperative to remember that that sports is mainly consumed around live events. There are huge spurts in viewership during these telecasts and these could be airing at periods other than the traditional prime time band. As long as it is an event of interest, fans will continue to tune in. Sports broadcasters are actively acquiring properties in sports like football, tennis, hockey, golf and badminton. This is happening as a result of digitization unlocking value and making the delivery of other sports feasible. By spreading the pie across sports instead of being completely focused on cricket, channels can position themselves around their unique portfolios.

 

In the immediate future, I expect existing sports broadcasters to continue to focus on strengthening their portfolios. New channel launches are still some time away.

 

Navin Khemka, Managing Partner, Zenith Optimedia

Sports channels are purely led by content. They will only survive if they have the content to sustain. The audience base is definitely growing beyond cricket. With more and more international sports being held in India, the interest levels are rising. It has also a lot to do with how we are performing individually or as a team in a sport.

 

Advertisers are responding positively. The clutter on cricket and entry level costs are high. Other sports are offering all advertisers an opportunity to target audiences efficiently. It is a mixed bag. For instance, when EPL happens, it is India’s prime time. Advertisers who get in for the season; this gets balanced out.

 

With digitization we will see emergence of specialised sports content channels within various genres. This will be more for the purists who follow the game. We will see emergence of golf racing soccer etc led specialist content channels. Positioning only on content can work in sports.

 

 

Vijay Rajput, Chief Operating Officer, ESPN Software India Pvt Ltd

The typical Indian sports fan today has evolved a lot over the years. He is consuming not just cricket but a variety of sports like soccer, golf, hockey, motorsports et al. Today, fans get an increased opportunity to see, understand and appreciate nuances of various games given the number of sports channels that are available in the country. The best of sporting content from across the world is getting beamed live for the benefit of Indian audiences, which is bringing in more and more fans closer to their favourite sporting action.

 

With better technology, quality production values and the best of TV talent, sports channels in the country have come a long way. We believe that with our superior content line up extending for the next few years across sporting genres, all our channels will be the top choice of sports fans in India and South Asia. Our endeavour thus will always be to acquire the best of sporting content across media and consistently aim to provide the sports fan with quality entertainment round the clock.

 

Till now advertisers have responded admirably to the content on sports networks as sports can bring in and bind audiences across socio-economic demographics in a manner which other genres find difficult to achieve. What remains critical therefore is to constantly offer a superior value proposition to the advertiser so that he remains interested in associating with a channel and its sporting content. STAR Sports 2 is being launched especially for the Indian sub-continent keeping in mind the growing need of Indian sports fans to consume more and more of quality sporting action. I am sure advertisers will see huge value in what we have to offer.

 

Sports does not follow typically a GEC pattern where-in you have a defined prime time. Our insights always point out that sports is best consumed live. The pleasure in watching a game unfold live with its twists and turns is what attracts fans. Sports is like an unscripted reality show which throws up surprises every minute.

 

With digitization, individual preferences will indeed play a key role and we as a network are prepared for that.

 

Deepali Naair, Country Head – Brand, Corporate Communications & Customer Service, L&T General Insurance Company Limited

To an advertiser, the events matter more than the channel which is televising it in India, currently. Sports Channels in India still have an opportunity to extend the life of the main sporting event. For instance, if IPL is a two month long event, there is opportunity to capitalize one month before and one month after the IPL, with content around the IPL. There is a scope of making a two-month event into a four-month-event with pre-and-post-content. This logic can be extended to any sporting event with behind the scene coverage, past winners, legends, analysis, etc. Sports channels can also monetize the content digitally far more rather than leaving it to digital content suppliers; this may help in building channel loyalty.

 

There is also a growing viewership of HD Sports channels, which reaches the top-end segment of consumers.

 

When it comes to fragmentation, it is here to stay: across screens, across audiences and genres. While the audience for tennis, F1 is there, it is still small. But a change in sports preferences will not happen immediately; such phenomena occur with a generation gap. The audience of the next decade, especially teenagers, might also gravitate towards football, apart from cricket.

 

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