In the summer of 2008, with the Beijing Olympics in full swing, the Doordarshan office in New Delhi was in panic. The journalist meant to anchor their Olympics coverage was unavailable and there were no replacements at hand. One of the producers asked Kanthi D. Suresh, a political news anchor at Doordarshan News, if she’d like to step in and do the show. “That’s where it all began, completely by accident," laughs Suresh, who would soon shift to sports journalism and go on to cover a number of sports events, including the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.
Ten years later, in May 2018, Suresh took things a step further by launching the Gurugram-based digital news channel Power Sportz, India’s first news channel dedicated only to sports. Available on the desktop, Android, iOS and the Amazon Fire TV stick, Power Sportz is a 24x7 channel that covers a wide range of sports and sports issues from across the country. Lounge spoke to the editor-in-chief about the challenges of putting together a live digital channel and being a woman in sports journalism. Edited excerpts:
What convinced you that there would be an audience for a 24x7 sports news channel in India?
Honestly, I was just convinced that if you show something original and factual, people would buy it. Many people told me that in India if you don’t do cricket, you can’t do sport. But I saw that there was this big gap in our TV news space. And when I was covering multi-sports events, I had realized that whenever I said or presented something new or original, it synced with the audience, despite the fact that we were not doing live cricket broadcasts. So there was definitely quite a bit of risk, but I had the conviction that I could do it.
What were the biggest challenges you faced while trying to get Power Sportz off the ground?
The biggest one we faced was technology. Because live streaming on OTT platforms isn’t very common even now, anywhere in the world. Running a linear live stream 24x7 was a huge challenge in terms of the technology which was available, as well as comprehending the requirements of the digital space. For example, within a month our channel crashed because we could not scale up our server space enough to keep up with the number of viewers.
How has the response been in terms of viewership and audience members?
I think the response has been phenomenal. Today, we’re sitting at between 300,000-350,000 users every day and we’ve gone beyond 1.8 million views every day. That’s the kind of traction we’re getting, and we’re once again having some trouble keeping up with the server requirements.
One of the advantages of being a digital channel is that you can get a lot of audience data. Has that thrown up any surprises?
Our channel has thrown up certain unexpected analytics and inferences. One is that the cliche that only cricket gets views in this country has been proved wrong. We don’t have any live cricket broadcasts yet we’ve got a fantastic viewership. It only goes to show that sports in India is growing and people are open to different kinds of sports, you just have to make them available to the audience. Also a significant percentage of our viewers are women. And our analytics indicate that we have a viewership across 5,000 cities.
What’s it like being one of only a few women in such a male-dominated field?
Sports is a very male dominated sports in India, and I can see that in my office as well, where I and my executive assistant are the only women. The main challenge is that you have to be twice as good as the average man. To be accepted as someone who has expertise in sports, you have to work twice as hard, because it’s very easy to brush aside women as glamour dolls who do not understand sports. So I have to make sure that I know more than the men I address every day. It’s like preparing for an exam each time I do my show.