New Delhi: Sports broadcaster ESPN Inc. on Thursday launched a set of mobile first digital products for India including a multi-sport website and the ESPN app, seeking to tap into a large and potentially lucrative, but highly competitive market for sports content. Both the website and the app will generate revenue through advertising in India.

ESPN will directly compete with Star India owned and operated digital platforms hotstar and starsports.com.

ESPN announced the digital launches first in October, at the time of its return to the broadcasting space in India through a partnership with Sony Pictures Networks India. The digital products too have been launched under the aegis of the partnership.

ESPN.in and the ESPN app, will both carry SONYESPN branding and feed off and into Sony LIV, the digital streaming platform of Sony Pictures Networks (SPN).

“Sony LIV has been instrumental in bringing the best of entertainment to the digital millennials. Sports is an integral part of our offering. Together with ESPN, we are geared to increase our offering manifold," said Uday Sodhi, executive vice president & head, (Digital Business), Sony Pictures Networks India.

Around 40-50 million Indians actively consume sports content on digital media, according to Sodhi from Sony based on estimates from other platform owners.

ESPN’s website and app offers access to sports such as football, hockey, badminton, tennis, Formula 1 and kabaddi. ESPN will live stream the UEFA Euro 2016 matches starting from 10 June.

Over the past 18 months, ESPN’s digital video views in India (primarily on ESPNcricinfo and ESPN FC) have grown by over 130%, the company said, without specifying the numbers.

“Serving the massive and vibrant sports fan community with entertaining, insightful and high-quality products and content, across digital devices and television, is at the core of ESPN’s strategy in India and the subcontinent," the company said in a statement.

According to GroupM, digital advertising spending will touch 7,300 crore on the back of higher investments in cross-screen campaigns. Digital advertising will account for 12.7% of all ad spending in 2016, added the media buying agency in its report titled This Year Next Year 2016. The agency expects Video on Demand (VOD) services to gain popularity in India.

Currently, hotstar is India’s largest premium streaming platform with more than 85,000 hours of drama and movies in 8 languages, and coverage of every major global sporting event. Launched in February 2015, it has been downloaded by more than 65 million users and has attracted followers on the back of a highly evolved video streaming technology across devices and platforms.

Soon after its launch, Hotstar raced on to become one of the fastest adopted new apps anywhere in the world. Hotstar offers most of its content free of cost and recently introduced a pay wall that provides some of the most popular international TV series and films largely from the 21st Century Fox library for a monthly subscription fee of 199.

According to Vinit Karnik, business head (sports, entertainment and live events) at media buying agency GroupM, “Digital viewing in India is growing by every hour. Sports fan likes to keep in touch with the action real time and on the go. Launch of ESPN.in only confirms this trend. While the digital platforms are currently driven by advertising revenue, the day is not to far when the marque event will be available only on subscription." he said.

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