Star India, which won the television broadcast and digital streaming rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL), the popular Twenty20 cricket tournament, will showcase the games beginning 7 April. Sanjay Gupta, managing director at the broadcasting company, shares the plans for IPL, why Star Plus has plunged in the rankings and what the Disney-Fox deal means for Star in India. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What are your plans for IPL?
We know that we are taking on the biggest sporting property in this country. The question is how do you make IPL bigger? Even though IPL is big, it is not equally big across the country. In some languages and geographies like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka or Bengal, cricket has, so far, been seen either through the lens of English or Hindi. Though people in these geographies appreciate and understand English, it is not the language of comfort. If we localize it more we have the potential to grow the fan base dramatically. That is why we’re adding four more languages besides Hindi and English. We will localize in a big way.
What does localization entail?
That means that the commentary has to be localized. If I am talking to a Tamil Nadu fan base, they believe in the idea of Chennai Super Kings. So, in some ways the local commentary should be able to express delight or anger when the team wins (or loses). It is not standard commentary. It’s not dubbing. It will all come on separate channels in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Bengali.
What kind of investment is going into this?
I can’t talk about rupees crore, but it’s like launching new channels. To start a channel, just the technology cost will be around Rs10-12 crore for each channel, besides the cost of creating content. So the cost will be dramatically higher than Rs10-12 crore. It is a big investment.
What revenues are you eyeing from TV broadcasting and digital streaming?
That’s difficult to say but we are trying to grow viewership by 40% to touch 700 million this year. Revenue will follow from there. On digital, we had Rs140-150 crore revenue last year. The year before that was Rs60 crore. So the growth will be in multipliers.
How much will you charge for IPL on Hotstar?
We will be able to announce it in four to six weeks. We are trying to do two models—one, the consumers can pay and watch it, or if you have a partnership with a telco, then the telco can pay for you.
Star Plus’s rankings have been falling. How do you plan to fix it? Is it a failure of the idea of nayi soch?
The only thing I would say is that the characters which are on air right now and some of the new shows that we have launched in the last 5-6 months haven’t done so well—though some of the shows like Ishqbaaaz and Yeh Hai Mohabbatein do well. I don’t think it is the idea of nayi soch which is a challenge, it is the execution of nayi soch which is a challenge to solve here. But it’s a question of time. We hope that over the next six months, when we launch a few new shows, they should really be able to bring back the fans. Decline in ranking does not affect advertising immediately but with time it will.
What kind of content are consumers really looking for right now?
Society is getting younger. And the change is dramatic in what I believe is good and aspirational for me, that is, a young person. The big challenge is if the characters don’t resonate with that desire. In Hindi entertainment, there is no piece of content that is creating a big impact right now. There are no big, new disruptive ideas that are coming to the fore. The only big thing which I can think of is what we’ve done—TED Talks India—which is really a breakout idea that touches the pulse of the youngsters. Getting the pulse of the society is a big challenge for us and the content industry.
What does the Disney deal mean for Star in India?
First, it is still 12 to 18 months away. The regulatory process has just begun, it will take much longer to fructify. But it should be really good for the business. Star has built a very strong portfolio in the last 20-25 years. It has grown from being an outsider and a multinational to becoming a strong national brand which is available in drama, movies and sports. So it (the deal) should enable the next leap for Star, I would assume. Given the scale of Disney globally, the investments should only grow for Star India.
Do you foresee any cultural dissonance in the merger?
It is a very difficult question to answer as I don’t know Disney. But personally I have been through many mergers and acquisitions in the past at Unilever. It is never easy. I was in Unilever when Unilever acquired Lakme, TOMCO, Pond’s. These are never easy but if the managements on both sides are committed, it can create serious value.
Your rights to all BCCI matches will expire this year. Will you rebid?
There is a bid that is going to happen soon, in the next few months. Yes, we will be interested in participating. Cricket is the core of sports viewership in this country and it will continue to be critical.
But you don’t make money on it...
That’s right. It’s difficult to say for a property if it made money or not. But cricket is one area that has huge future potential, given you know what our investments are on IPL. We will definitely be interested in BCCI-organized cricket. But the amount of bidding we do will depend on what is the business case for it. We will be very rational and objective in putting in money for these rights.