Sony-ESPN deal to heat up sports broadcasting industry

10 Nov,2015

By Soumalya Santikari


Sports fans across India are overjoyed following the Sony-ESPN deal. When the American sports broadcaster decided to end its 18-year-old joint venture with STAR in South East Asia, viewers were sad that they will no longer more be able to watch cult shows such as ‘SportsCenter’ or some of the top sportscasters associated with the channel.


After its split with STAR, ESPN had a clause which stated they wouldn’t be able to re-enter the Indian market for a period of three years in sports broadcasting. They were present in the digital medium with ESPNCricinfo and their move to collaborate with MSM (Sony Pictures Networks) did take industry observers by surprise.


Prasana Krishnan

Speaking to, Prasana Krishnan, EVP & Business Head for Sports, Sony Pictures Networks India (earlier MSM Network) said that the ESPN deal is in complete sync with the aggressive growth strategy earmarked for the sports channels.


“Sports is a very important vertical for us and we have been investing aggressively in this area. Our portfolio now includes some of the biggest events and leagues and we have been setting new benchmarks in sports coverage. ESPN shares similar values and is an acknowledged leader, both, in India and worldwide.


“So this combination of Sony Pictures and ESPN promises to set new benchmarks and enhance the viewership experiences of sports fans,” he said.


Prasana, however, declined to comment on the creative or editorial collaborations with ESPN. He said they are yet to take a call on the programmes they can source from ESPN’s library and other global offerings.


With Star Sports snapping up sports properties in the last few years and also developing their own, industry observers feel that they are ready to break the bank when the IPL rights come up for bidding in 2017.


Regarding bidding of sports properties, Prasana didn’t reveal the commecial agreement between Sony and ESPN.


But the biggest benefit for Sony in this deal will be their digital properties as they would get access to some top-quality sports programmes and Prasana outlined his plans.


“In collaboration with us, ESPN will launch a co-branded localised multisport website and app, which will provide coverage of cricket, football, tennis, the NBA, badminton, field hockey and more. SONY LIV will also benefit from the collaboration, increasing its current sports offerings significantly. ESPNcricinfo will complement and cross-promote the new digital properties and sports channels.”


Analysts also feel that ESPN’s return won’t necessarily mean that bidding rights for sports properties will hit the roof.


“Apart from cricket, no broadcaster has really paid any significant amount to acquire rights of sports properties. The two most most successful sports after cricket last year were ISL & Pro Kabaddi League, both in which Star has a stake. However, It will be important for Sony to create smartly packaged content…the ESPN tie-up will definitely help achieve the same,” Jigar Rambhia- Maxus Client Leader – ESP (Entertainment Sports and Partnerships) said.


It would be interesting to see how the most aggressive player in this space – Star Sports – reacts to the entry of its previous partner. But till then, the sports broadcasting industry can only anticipate how the two giants battle it out for supremacy.


Source:The Economic Times

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