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On 28 September, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced that the tender for media rights to the popular Indian Premier League (IPL) for 2023-27 will be issued around 25 October when the induction of two new teams is finalized. Yet, the buzz around the broadcast and digital media rights for the property started before that, triggered by Zee-Sony’s proposed merger and how it could bolster Sony’s chance to make an aggressive bid for the IPL rights.

The merger talks surfaced when Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd’s (ZEEL) top shareholders Invesco and OFI Global China Fund LLC sought an EGM to dismiss Punit Goenka and two other directors from the company’s board over corporate governance issues. ZEEL quickly entered into a non-binding term sheet for a merger with Sony, with Goenka continuing as MD and CEO. Although it may take a while for the merger to go through, if it does pass muster with shareholders and regulatory authorities, media experts highlighted the strong contender this merged entity could be for IPL media rights.

Yet, the surmise may be simplistic as Sony-Zee will have to compete against other heavyweights that have emerged in the past five years when Star India bid and won the global media rights for IPL in 2017 for a princely sum of 16,347.50 crore.

As the countdown for bids begins, a clutch of media companies is preparing war chests requiring close to 30,000 crore.

For starters, the incumbent rights’ holder Star itself, now backed by the might of Walt Disney Company, cannot be dismissed. Although Disney is more process driven and many feel that it may rethink its investments in sports, others argue that Hotstar’s reach was built on the back of IPL. And Disney itself has publicly stated its intention to grow the streaming business. A sports business specialist said the company is likely to bid for both the TV and streaming rights of the T20 league.

The other serious challenger this year will be Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), which owns a majority stake in television broadcaster Viacom18. It recently hired Anil Jayaraj from Disney-Star to head its sports business with plans to launch a sports channel.

Reliance Jio had also bid for IPL’s digital media rights in 2017 as did social media giant Facebook Inc. However, what’s changed between then and now is that in the past year, Facebook bought a 9.99% stake in Jio Platforms Ltd, a wholly-owned unit of RIL. Even Alphabet Inc.’s Google picked up a 7.73% stake in Jio Platforms. Both the deals are likely to push Jio’s digital apps and build on the company’s digital ecosystem. Meanwhile, Viacom18 is already telecasting LaLiga, the Spanish football league, on MTV in India and live streaming it on Voot and Jio Platforms.

Amazon Prime Video, the American streaming platform, cannot be taken lightly either. Not after what its country manager here, Gaurav Gandhi, told the Financial Times on the company weighing further opportunities to secure cricket rights. This was last December after it acquired the India territory rights to stream New Zealand cricket matches through 2025-26, including Team India’s tour of New Zealand in early 2022.

The IPL rights will be fiercely contested as the property is risk-free and even covid-free, considering the tournament wasn’t cancelled.

For broadcasters, cricket is a value-builder as it has serious rub off on other content. Not only channels build distribution on its back, it gets them greater clout with advertisers.

“IPL has almost become a default viewing option in single television homes whether you are actually watching the match or not. Which is why, viewership for both males and females is equally high," said Sandeep Goyal, managing director, Rediffusion.

IPL started with a per 10 second ad rate of 1.2-1.3 lakh compared to 15 lakh today. Some inventory may sell at 18-20 lakh, said Goyal. “Digital ads pull in 300-400 crore a year, overseas broadcast fetches 100-200 crore and full stadiums can mean revenues of 400 crore. Add in-stadia advertising and other sponsorships and you have a ready case for any broadcaster to want to bid for the IPL," he said. IPL becomes the growth engine for any network. “So, bidding for this tournament is almost a necessity for all in the ecosystem," Goyal added.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pre-ssing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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