The battle for the television rights for the Vivo Indian Premier League (IPL) is on in full force as both Star India and Sony Pictures Network India (SPN) hope to win the rights for the 2018-2027 period. While SPN has enjoyed the telecast rights to the cash-rich twenty-20 tournament since its inception in 2008, Star India has been slowly making inroads into the IPL ecosystem.
Taj Television, the company that operates the TEN bouquet of channels, has also picked up an application form, reveal sources. The company was acquired by Zee Entertainment Enterprises and was subsequently sold to SPN earlier this year.
There is ambiguity on the purpose of the company picking up the document since the parent SPN has also applied. It remains to be seen whether it will meet the eligibility criteria. While the sale of the sports business under ZEE is still subject to regulatory approval, even under Zee, the company may not have qualified as eligible due to the litigation the parent got into with the Board of Control for Cricket in India over the now defunct Indian Champions League.
ESPN is another major sports player to have picked up the document, but the company has applied through the international (Connecticut, US) office and so is expected to bid for the international/overseas rights. STAR India started its association with the IPL a few years ago when it picked up the on-ground associate sponsorship for its second general entertainment channel brand Life OK. It, then, shared the digital telecast rights with Times Internet in 2014 and since 2015, it has been the digital broadcaster for the tournament via Hotstar. SPN, on the other hand, has grown the property on television with innovations around the marketing, language feeds and monetising the IPL from a distribution and advertising stand-point. The 2016 edition of the IPL reached nearly 350 mn TV viewers in the country (reach refers to the number of people who saw the tournament on TV for at least one minute) - a significant boost over 200 mn viewers in 2015, thanks to the addition of rural households in the reporting of television viewership.
Star has ample experience in broadcasting international events such as the ICC Cricket World Cup, English Premier League, and the Olympics. Experts say the battle between Sony and Star might not be fought on the basis of bouquet strength and distribution alone. Both the networks have comparable number of TV channels in the country and leverage sports distribution as well.
In a previous interaction with Business Standard, Vinit Karnik, business head of ESP Properties, had said: "It is no longer about the bouquet or distribution. In my opinion, the biggest change in the sports broadcast landscape is that the rights will now be awarded on the basis of production and packaging. When there are only two options, the organiser will go for the one that will present the property in the best way possible. Investments in sports production should increase now."
The catch, however, is that the possibility of Sony or Star winning both the TV and digital telecast rights look slim. So, the ad-sales advantage that the media networks could have enjoyed might no longer be available. "There could be an impact in the sense that if the networks hoped to leverage both the digital and the TV rights for ad-sales, that avenue won't be possible. However, it is not a bad thing per se since the tournament is immensely popular on TV and monetising the rights should not be a problem," says a media planner who has worked on the IPL earlier.