Sony looks to extend IPL broadcasting rights

In 2009, Sony had paid $1.63 billion for the cricket tournament’s TV rights, a deal that will come to an end in 2017

Photo: Subhankar Chakraborty/HT
Photo: Subhankar Chakraborty/HT

Sony Pictures Networks India Pvt. Ltd will bid again for the broadcasting rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL) when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) auctions the television rights for 2018 and beyond, a top Sony executive said.

Sony, the country’s second largest sports broadcaster, currently holds the television rights for the cricket event. The ninth and 10th editions of the IPL in 2016 and 2017 would be the last two seasons before the current broadcasting rights expire.

“It is clearly a property we have nurtured and built from scratch,” Prasana Krishnan, executive vice-president and business head of Channel Six and Sony ESPN, said in an interview on Thursday. “It is something which we are extremely passionate about. There is no denying the fact that we would want to continue to be the broadcaster for IPL.”

The BCCI would begin the media rights process for the IPL from May-end, media-focussed website TelevisionPost had reported citing BCCI chief Shashank Manohar in November.

Sony is expected to face stiff competition from rival Star India Pvt. Ltd, which has broadcasting rights for all events of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the world cricketing body, from 2015 to 2023. Besides various events between countries, the ICC’s top tournaments include the World Cups in both the 50-over and 20-over formats.

“This is a highly competitive market. And you do have fairly strong players already in this market,” said Krishnan. “Competition is always intense. We have to see how it shapes up.”

Singapore-based World Sport Group bagged the IPL broadcasting rights for 10 years in 2008 by spending $918 million. A year later, the contract was replaced when Sony Group (through Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd) paid $1.63 billion for the nine-year broadcasting rights.

Krishnan declined to comment on whether the channel has recovered its investment from the seasons so far. Despite the recently concluded World T20 championship, all ad slots for the 2016 edition of the IPL have been sold out to 12 sponsors at a 15-20% premium over last year’s edition, he said.

Sony netted ad sales of Rs.800 crore during IPL 2015, according to a report on Indian sports sponsorship prepared by GroupM Media India Pvt. Ltd and Sportz Network Pvt. Ltd.

The ninth season of the IPL begins on 9 April.

Sony also expects a greater share of eyeballs from regional-language viewers and from states such as Gujarat (Rajkot-based Gujarat Lions) and Maharashtra (Pune-based Rising Pune Supergiants) that have new teams in the tournament.

Apart from English, the 60 matches from 9 April to 29 May will have commentary in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil and Bengali. The English feed will be available on Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD, while the Hindi feed will be on Max, Sony Six and Sony Six HD. The regional-language feed in Telugu, Tamil and Bengali will be available on Sony Six.

“As the exclusive television broadcaster for Vivo IPL, we are committed to taking on initiatives to increase the viewership of the game and continue our pioneering initiative of multi-language feeds in Tamil, Telugu and Bengali available across markets,” Krishnan said.

Sony, however, has no immediate plans to start regional sport channels on the lines of Star India, although Krishnan said the company is constantly “evaluating opportunities”. “Right now, the trend of regional commentary and regional feeds is limited to the bigger events,” he said. “We have to see how the whole growth happens. So far, the trends are visible on only one or two marquee events.”

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