Anirban Roy Choudhury
Interviews

Euro 2020, Copa America: "Expecting 25% increase in distribution revenues" says Sony's Rajesh Kaul

Chief Revenue Officer, Distribution and Head – Sports Business, Sony Pictures Networks India says the packed calendar will help the network grow its penetration across the country.

Last year, due to the coronavirus-induced global pandemic, many sporting events got postponed or canceled. Marquee football tournament UEFA Euro 2020 was one of them. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) decided to conduct Euro 2020 in 2021. Top European countries will compete against each other for the prestigious tournament starting on June 12 and concluding on July 12. Along with it, there will be the CONMEBOL Copa America Cup which is a South American Football championship. So, all top teams would be playing in the same month.

Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) is the official broadcaster of both tournaments. The network has recently announced the launch of Ten Sports 4 (SD and HD) which will be available in Tamil and Telugu languages across the southern region of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. SPNI will broadcast UEFA Euro in English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam across India. 24 top European countries participate in the tournament and the matches will start at 6:30 pm (IST), 9:30 pm (IST) and 12:30 pm (IST).

While these are marquee tournaments, unlike Cricket, there are hardly any advertising inventory from the broadcasters to monetise. Rajesh Kaul, Chief Revenue Officer, Distribution and Head – Sports Business, Sony Pictures Networks India feels the network will be able to rake in Rs 200 crore of advertising revenue during the tournament.

However, Football as an integral part of the sports offering plays a vital role in driving the distribution of the channels. Kaul sees this packed sports calendar helping the broadcaster find more paying customers across the country, especially South. In an interview with afaqs! Kaul speaks about the new channel launch and how the network plans to broadcast the two popular Football tournaments.

Edited Excerpts

Sony Pictures Networks India did not have regional channels to drive subscription in the Southern India, is this new sports channel an attempt to bridge that gap?

Sports is the biggest driver of distribution, particularly in the South. Having a Sports channel in their own languages is something that excites the digital platform operators (DPOs) and the channel is already placed in the base pack. We have a couple of channels with Tamil and Telugu feed, like the Sony YAY and Sony BBC Earth. These two markets together contribute close to 20 per cent of the overall television viewership and so having a dedicated 24/7 sports channel in Tamil and Telugu language is a big boost for our distribution strategy in the South.

"HD still remains a small portion of the overall TV households in the country - only 10-12 million households which is close to 10 per cent of the TV universe,"
Rajesh Kaul

These are regional sports channels, will it be the local advertisers advertising on these channels or do you think it'll be the same large-national advertisers?

We have just started the channel and the initial response from local advertisers has been overwhelming. We are confident that for marquee tournaments like the UEFA Euro and Copa America, we will have national advertisers but in the days ahead, I think we have a big opportunity with the local advertisers. These are the advertisers who want to advertise but look for a smaller ticket size and that is why they don't advertise on the national channels. Also, there are advertisers only willing to advertise to the local audiences.

Euro 2020, Copa America: "Expecting 25% increase in distribution revenues" says Sony's Rajesh Kaul

Does having a regional language sports channel open up opportunities for broadcasting local leagues and tournaments in that region?

As a responsible sports broadcaster, we have done local leagues in the past like the Pro Wrestling League, Pro Volleyball League. This year, we have tied up for a Kho Kho league. We were always open to local leagues in the past, but now that we have a Sports channel in local languages dedicated to two particular states, we will be able to explore more local Sports content.

How important is it for the channels to have an HD offering especially when it is a Sports channel?

HD still remains a small portion of the overall TV households in the country - only 10-12 million households which is close to 10 per cent of the TV universe. You need to have HD because there is a set of audience who have better televisions and that is why they only want to watch on HD, but the mass is still dependent on SD. So, it is very important for us to offer both the products.

"Categories like the automobile, telecom, handsets, e-commerce, gaming, BFSI... we see more excitement among these."
Rajesh Kaul

This time we will have UEFA Euro and Copa America played one after another, and that's a month of non-stop Football...

Euro 2020 got delayed by a year and then Copa America in the same year, it is a complete festival of Football. It can't get better than this for the football fan and there is a lot of excitement. We saw a glimpse of it during the UEFA Champions League Football. We are going through very difficult times and people want something to look forward to. With Euro and Copa America, you have Ronaldo (Cristiano) and Messi (Lionel) playing for their respective countries.

You have said that Sony is eyeing to rake in advertising revenue worth Rs 200 crore from these two tournaments, what are the category of advertisers you see interested in these two tournaments?

Categories like the automobile, telecom, handsets, e-commerce, gaming, BFSI... we see more excitement among these.

Most of the country is in partial or full lockdown which is having its economic impact on ad spends as well, is that impacting your ad sales, especially during the marquee tournaments?

Not for these two tournaments. These are high-impact properties, normally, when you have marquee events, they don't get impacted. I understand there are smaller properties and other genres within the television that are facing an impact. But the response that we have got from the advertisers is better than what we had expected. Luckily, things have got better as well and it is not the same it was a month back, so, the sentiments have got better.

With football, you hardly have ad inventory, does that make the wrap-around shows more critical?

The wrap-around shows are very important for football monetisation and that is why we have got an exciting lineup of experts discussing pre and post the game. Also, in Football, the half-time break is not a one-hour or 45 minutes interval these are smaller breaks and that is why the advertisers want to advertise during the midtime.

While the ad inventory is less, does football play a bigger role in the distribution of the channel and thus generating subscription revenue?

Sports, in general, is the biggest driver of distribution across the world including India. Because of the packed calendar that we have in the next seven-eight months, I am expecting at least 25 per cent increase in the distribution revenues. In the new tariff regime (NTO) it is the consumers who choose the channels of their choice and we have seen during the historic India tour of Australia that there was a sudden jump in the sports distribution numbers. We are already seeing a similar trend.