New Delhi/Mumbai: Star India Pvt. Ltd, media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s Indian television company, has got its hands on one of the only two key cricketing properties it doesn’t own in the country, strengthening its dominance over one of the world’s richest sports media markets.
Cricket generates an estimated Rs.1,400-1,500 crore in advertising in India in a non-Cricket World Cup year.
On Tuesday, Star India announced that it had licensed digital distribution rights for the 2014 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) from Times Internet Ltd, the digital arm of The Times of India Group. The deal gives it access to the digital rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL), the popular Twenty20 tournament organized by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
The company did not disclose the financial terms of the deal.
Put simply, the deal could mean that Star can now show IPL matches on its iOS and Android apps. Last year, it launched an app for iOS and Android devices that made it possible for people to subscribe to live TV feeds for specific matches and series.
Star India already has the broadcast and digital rights for all cricket played in India through a deal with BCCI for which it agreed to pay Rs.3,851 crore in 2012. The deal gave it exclusive media rights to cricket matches organized by BCCI until 2018.
The rights cover all international cricket matches played in India and domestic tournaments, including the Ranji Trophy and the Irani Cup. In all, Star has the exclusive rights for 96 matches, including updates on the Internet and mobile phones.
The deal doesn’t include the popular IPL, for which exclusive rights are held by Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd (MSM) that operates a clutch of channels under the Sony brand.
Tuesday’s announcement marks an alliance between two of India’s largest media conglomerates. Star also gets to exploit the buzz around IPL without actually owning the broadcast rights.
“It is a strategic partnership for Times Internet Ltd and Star India. We will co-distribute the matches online as we have licensed the digital rights for a fee. Star will have the rights to advertising sales,” said Satyan Gajwani, chief executive officer, Times Internet.
“With our print, television, online and radio presence and Star with its television and online presence, can together create an asset that would see unparalleled marketing,” he added.
Sanjay Gupta, chief operating officer of Star India, said: “We want to make IPL the world’s largest sporting event on a digital platform this year.”
Cricket’s No. 1
Star India also owns the rights to all Champions League T20 and some International Cricket Council (ICC) tournaments that are coming up for renewal this year. It is also the title sponsor for BCCI’s international and domestic matches from October 2013 to March 2014.
Star India won the sponsorship rights for the Indian cricket team in December after the BCCI disqualified then sponsor Sahara group. The board awarded the rights to Star India for the period between 1 January 2014 and 31 March 2017.
The deal includes the right to be called the official team sponsor and display a commercial logo on the clothing of the men’s cricket team, the under-19 side, the men’s A-Team and the women’s squad.
Ravi Krishnan, co-founder and chief executive officer of Stepathlon Lifestyle Pvt. Ltd, which describes itself as a global wellness company, said Star’s move marks its “lateral” entry into the league which, based on its appetite for “all things cricket”, would appear to be a preface to the company making an all-out bid for the IPL television rights when they become available in few years.
“It certainly appears that Star would like to be the “dominant” media player in the game of cricket,” said Krishnan, a former head of the Indian unit of the sports management company IMG.
But Star isn’t a monopoly, its CEO Uday Shankar said in a December interview.
“When we acquired ESPN’s stake in India, the deal was approved by the Competition Commission of India in 2012. They checked all our properties. After its clearance, we have not acquired any new property,” Shankar said.
He also added at the time that Star did not own any rights to IPL, the most profitable cricket property in India.
“Sony has the IPL rights up until 2017. And you call us monopolistic? Please read the contract clause between the two,” he said in the interview.
Tuesday’s deal is seen by some analysts as an indication of the growing popularity of video on the Internet.
“It’s a damn good deal for Star because it is trying to set up its digital presence in the sports genre. The last season for IPL was watched substantially on YouTube (75 million views for the season, according to Times Internet) hence it’s a befitting property to scale up eyeballs online, which is what Star wants to achieve as well,” said Hiren Pandit, chief operating officer, TransStadia, a sports entertainment company.
Shankar admitted on Tuesday that his company had “steadily focused on building our digital delivery portfolio. Right from the time when we got into sports, we knew that as a genre, it lent itself well to new media. The target audience, typically a young, male audience is digitally savvy and also tends to consume a lot of this content on new media. Even if you track the consumption of content on Starsports.com, you will see a sharp rise”.
He said that the Indian Premier League was “one marquee property that was missing from our portfolio”.
Since its launch in June 2013, Starsports.com has had 28-30 million unique visitors and over 220 million page views.
Even the amount of time consumers spend watching a match online is typically 45 minutes, which is on par with the time spent on TV, Shankar added.
He said that the company is still working on a business model for its digital showing of the IPL matches. They could even be aired for “free, ad-supported”, he added.
Over 8,100 million minutes of video were watched in India in the May 2013, according to data from digital research and marketing agency Comscore Inc.
In 2013, Indians spent an average of 19 billion minutes watching videos online every month, according to data from GroupM. There were nearly 80% more video views in 2012 than in 2011, and the current market size in India amounts to more than 43 million monthly unique viewers, and over 3.3 billion monthly video streams. The company said Internet video consumption is expected to increase sixfold by 2016.
Winning a boost
To protect its cricket rights, Star India has aggressively gone after cricket news sites and even telcos that provide live updates of cricket scores.
In October 2013 the Supreme Court, in an interim order, asked telcos and value-added service providers to deposit Rs.10 lakh per match with the court before disseminating ball-by-ball SMS updates of scores.
The interim order was a boost for Star India, which had taken Idea Cellular Ltd, OnMobile Global Ltd and CricBuzz.com, a cricket portal, to court in October 2012, for distributing minute-by-minute updates on cricket matches.
Star India maintained that it had “rights over all information emanating from cricketing events as the organizer and promoter of that sport in India”. The matter is still pending in court.
BCCI supported Star India’s claim in the court.
Multi Screen Media is putting up a brave front on Star exploiting IPL’s digital rights.
“Honestly, it really doesn’t impact us, as the (digital) rights were never with us. We expect the coverage will be similar to what was done last year, the only difference is that the number of people who have access to the Indian Premier League on Starsports.com will be lower than the number that accessed it on You Tube,” said a senior official on condition of anonymity.
“It’s clear that Star India is taking a long term view. This strategy requires deep pockets, and conviction. It’s not a game for the faint hearted,” said Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG Media Brands, India, explaining that as compared to other international markets, advertising expenditure on sports is still under leveraged in India.
“Star sees an opportunity there, and are investing in sports right now, so as to ride the wave when the opportunity arrives.”
Vidhi Choudhary contributed to this report.
Times Group and HT Media, which owns Mint, compete in some markets.