Home / Industry / Media /  Star plans to build national sports network in India

Bali/Indonesia: In line with global strategy, News Corp.-run Star India Pvt. Ltd plans to build a national sports network in the country with a focus on cricket, hockey and football, having made an investment of $1 billion to expand programming.

It’s also seeking to widen viewership in India substantially by ensuring broadcasts are in local languages and coverage is more engaging, Star India chief operating officer Sanjay Gupta said.

“Sports is a very important part of the strategy for News Corp. globally and definitely in India," Gupta said at the Asia Pacific Pay-TV Operators Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Wednesday.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is making similar investments across the world, he said.

Chase Carey, president and chief operating officer of News Corp., “talked about sports being one of the most important businesses that we are building across the world including the US," Gupta said. “They’ve just started Fox Sports network that they are trying to build in the US and in many other parts of the country." Carey is also attending the same conference.

The channel acquired the rights to India’s international cricket calendar in April, following which News Corp. bought out Walt Disney Co. -owned ESPN from the ESPN Star Sports (ESS) joint venture in Asia.

At the organizational level, Star has beefed up production capabilities significantly and put in place a new team to run the sports stream of the business.

“The ESS management was running the sports business in Delhi till now. We are beefing up capabilities on production, uplinking, etc., in a significant way. There is a full, new team from the Star management which is coming into place now which will run the sports business," Gutpa said, without elaborating.

The media company has also launched two new domestic leagues in university cricket and hockey besides renewing the rights to English Premier League football with a substantive bid.

Gupta said that the localization of content and broadcasting it in regional languages would be a key part of this strategy besides better explaining the games to viewers.

“At a broadcaster’s level we need to go more local in a very big way. Globally, sports businesses have been built on a deep local connect going down to the city level," Gupta said. “You also need to explain the game better in order for people to spend more time, and in their (native) language."

Sports consumption has been low because most of the broadcasts are in English, he said.

“One of the surprising things for a business like sports is that it is one of the most mass categories that you can get, yet this is one business where the language is only English, unlike entertainment where people have gone into various vernacular languages," he said. “So it’s no surprise that consumption for sports is so low."

Star plans to make a big push for increased sports viewership across India, starting with the language that’s most commonly spoken in the north of the country.

We have started with Hindi. It has been a big investment for us in the last six months. We got Kapil Dev, Wasim Akram, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Rameez Raja to come and do commentary because we think this is the big missing link," he said. “To begin with, we are doing it in Hindi but we are considering other regional languages as we move forward. Since the south local languages are very different, they make better business sense," Gupta said.

In cricket, domestic tournaments such as the Deodhar trophy and Ranji trophy tournaments will also be a crucial focus.

“During the year, there are 1,500 days of cricket that happen. Only 50 get broadcast on television. When a Tamil Nadu and a Karnataka play, I’m sure both these states are very interested to catch the fate of the match but no one broadcasts it because nobody has thought about putting this platform on air," Gupta explained.

The investment focus will be on building a sports network that connects with audiences rather than a network that’s talking to 2% of the country, Gupta said.

“We are investing a lot in building capabilities to go local, explain the game better and talk to the viewers and also to take it beyond cricket," he said.

The company, which operates the ESPN, Star Sports and Star Cricket channels, said content for football, hockey and cricket will also be tweaked in local languages, starting with Hindi.

It will also phase out the ESPN brand over the next 12-18 months, Gupta said. The channels may be renamed “Star Sports 1 or Star Sports 3, since we have already launched a new channel as Star Sports 2," he said.

The key challenges facing Star are increasing consumption, pricing and regulation, apart from content having to be given to state-run broadcaster Doordarshan when it comes to events of “national interest", including sporting fixtures.

Vidhi Choudhary was in Indonesia as a guest of Star India.

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