Indian broadcasters need to meet viewers' demand for sports that go beyond cricket, and while television as a medium has huge constraints in terms of capacity and carriage, the online digital platform does not exhibit such restrictions, discuss panellists on the first day of TV.NXT.
India is a land of numerous and varied sporting events, but when it comes to television, cricket still captures that major chunk of the genre's overall programming strategy. So, does this mean that other sports genres do not hold importance on Indian television? And if so, then how does a broadcaster get a specific sport on board that can meet the needs of fans and help generate revenue, as well?
'Getting the game right in sports broadcasting' sought an answer on the first day of the television broadcasting event TV.NEXT, organised by afaqs!
The panel included Sanjay Trehan, head, MSN India, Microsoft India, Prasana Krishnan, chief operating officer, Neo Sports, Anish Dayal, advocate, Supreme Court of India, and Sharmista Rijhwani, an independent media advisor.
The panel was moderated by Sundeep Mishra, head, Network 1Media.
Krishnan noted that television as a medium has huge constraints in terms of capacity and carriage. However, the online digital platform does not exhibit such restrictions and therefore, can be used proactively to promote not just cricket, but other forms of sports, too.
"But today, the online and digital medium in India is not experimenting enough with other sports formats other than cricket. And, this has to change," he said.
Trehan, however, believes that the digital medium is all about interactivities and broadcasters, and that the administrators will have to play the key role of a visionary to take the genre forward.
"Sports broadcasters need to realise that there is a huge audience switch happening wherein viewers are marching towards newer forms of technology, be it the internet or the mobile. "This is the mark of the rise of multi-platform systems and the sooner they embrace it, the better for them," he said.
Nevertheless, the challenges that the genre is facing today is also manifold. The issue of acquiring rights is a continuous dispute that the industry is confronted with and therefore, broadcasters need to start playing a proactive role in dissolving the concern.
The panel agreed that many advertisers refuse to come on board if the game is not related to cricket because of revenue concerns. But, they also agreed, that the problem could be resolved by tapping into audience acquisition, rather that revenue acquisition.
Rijhwani noted that cricket would continue to have its place in India, with every channel being cricket-focussed in terms of investments and recovery. But, all said and done, the way forward for the genre to grow is by building other forms of sports 'now'. She elaborated on the argument by stating that the growth could be brought in by creating heroes in other sports segments. "Everybody watches different forms of reality shows -- be it singing, dancing, or even stand-up comedy. This means that there is a survival opportunity and potential for other forms of sports too, but you have to take it from the grass-root level," she said.
The panel agreed that the demand for other sports formats is growing in India and, therefore, broadcasters have started including them in their programming, too.
Citing examples of various other sporting events such as Formula 1, tennis and badminton, Rijhwani noted that varied forms of sports have begun to build an audience base in India.
And, it's not just the international and big sports formats that can be brought in, but regional sports too, can be explored aggressively. Trehan gave the example of DD Sports. The channel has managed to showcase a variety of local sports including kabaddi, and has thus, managed to gather audiences for such forms, as well.
However, the panel felt that regional sports could be developed only on larger parameters. While there is opportunity for sub-segmentation, only digitisation can take the pace forward for regional sports because there are carriage issues to be met.
"Today, without a live cricketing event, you cannot support distribution. So, while there is opportunity for regional sports, one has to select a certain form of sports and stick to it for the long run," said Krishnan.
Moving forward, when Mishra asked whether there was a market for live streaming for other forms of sports, Trehan replied that there was surely an opportunity to be explored. "But, there is a need to invest and that curve will follow its logical path," he said.
And then, could niche sports go pay, asked Mishra.
To this, Krishnan replied, "Definitely. People are more willing to pay for what they want to see. Pay per view is good, but is a difficult economics to work upon since it brings in the question of sustainability and break even."
Dayal said that many times news channels overrule the 30-second guideline and move forward with the telecast of half-an-hour highlights. "Therefore, it is important that pre-event rules are set so that stealing and overruling of guidelines does not take place," he concluded.
(TV.NXT is organised by afaqs!, in association with STAR News (presenting sponsor). The other sponsors include Zee 24 Ghante Chhattisgarh, Amagi, HeadHonchos, ApnaCircle.com, Fox History & Traveller, and Lukup. TV.NXT was being held at the J W Marriot, Mumbai, on September 29-30, 2011.)