Benita Chacko

Disney Star has added 11 mn subscribers this IPL; here's how

Gurjeev Singh Kapoor, the head of distribution, speaks about the network's language channels, the FTA offering, the pricing, SD vs. HD and more.

Star Sports, the official television broadcaster of the Indian Premier League 2023, on the back of the cricketing tournament, has added 11 million more subscribers this year, reaching nine out of 10 pay TV homes. 

Gurjeev Singh Kapoor, head - distribution and international, Disney Star, attributes this success to its regionalisation strategy, its channels bouquet and their collaborative efforts with their affiliates.

The network launched two new HD channels in Tamil and Telugu to capture the increasing premium HD audience base. Currently, it is offering the IPL in nine languages. Also, for the first time, it allowed sampling of IPL on Star Utsav Movies, leading to many FTA viewers converting to pay TV.

In an interview with afaqs!, he speaks about the regional channels, the FTA offering, the pricing, SD vs. HD and more.

Edited excerpts:

The penetration of the Star Sports channels across the country is at its highest level ever. What is the kind of work the distribution team has put behind this to make it happen?

This year, we aimed to deliver the best-in-class IPL experience and we succeeded.  Before the IPL, Star Sports would consistently reach eight out of 10 pay TV homes. Now we have added 11 million homes and increased our reach to nine out of 10 pay TV homes.

According to Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) data, the reach of the first 29 matches has been unprecedented. We had 409 million viewers, which is 37 million higher than the 15th edition. The viewership of the first match went up by 30% compared to the last year's first match. 

Disney Star has added 11 mn subscribers this IPL; here's how

This has been possible due to collaborative efforts with our partners. We have close to 850+ affiliates across the country and we have a strong relationship with them. They serve as our primary link to reach consumers. There was a joint marketing effort targeting various consumer cohorts which includes converting non sports subscribers to Star Sports, Reactivation, Free Dish to Pay TV and New to TV category. We not only collaborated with the MSOs and DTH operators but also with their LCOs and DTH retailers.

Our focus has been on educating our affiliates about our latest value pack offering, as well as the new NTO 3 pricing. We offer Star Sports as part of a value pack, including channels from other genres. This bouquet has been the most popular among the viewers. Meanwhile, for those who want to choose the a la carte option, we did not increase the rate of SD or HD channels and kept it at Rs 19. 

We also extended our reach to Free Dish viewers through our sample offering on Star Utsav Movies. This encouraged free subscribers to convert into paying customers. This approach also helped gain more subscribers and homes.

Our regionalisation efforts also worked for us. This year we offered the IPL in nine languages, including Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Marathi, Bangla and Malayalam.

You did not increase the price of the channels. But can sports channels push further and possibly charge more since media rights aren't getting any cheaper. Is this price point viable?

While the media rights have grown significantly, we cannot increase the rates in the same proportion. It would not be right on our part. Our objective is to offer value to our customers. So we kept the channel prices the same and did not burden our consumers. Rather than increasing the a la carte rates, we would want to get into more homes. So the proposition is to get into more homes on the back of our value pack. 

Star Sports launched the HD versions of its Tamil and Telugu channels this year. What is the contribution of the regional languages in the subscription increase? Which have been the biggest regional markets?

These new channels cater to the two largest south markets Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh/Telangana, and also have an impact in Karnataka where the content in these two languages is consumed.

Regionalising sports has been a game changer for us, especially in the southern markets which contribute significantly to our numbers. Since the launch of Star Sports 1 Telugu HD, we have seen a 10-12% improvement in HD uptake in Telugu, making it the biggest HD market for Star Sports.

While we've good pickup in the Hindi speaking market, we have also seen remarkable improvements in subscriber numbers in markets like West Bengal and Gujarat. The language feeds have opened these markets more. We need to add more markets like Andhra Pradesh /Telangana and Maharashtra. Second, we have also pushed the agenda of HD. Our understanding is that regional language and an immersive experience have been the key drivers for these markets. 

Disney Star has added 11 mn subscribers this IPL; here's how

Additionally, our marketing campaigns featuring brand ambassadors Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul have been successful in smaller markets. Rahul for the HSM market and Pandya for Gujarat. Gujarat has done really well for us, followed by UP and Karnataka. Additionally, there’s an exclusive association with Rajasthan Royals and Punjab Kings for new shows ‘Halla Bol’ and ‘Chak De’, which have increased consumption in the markets too.

We're continuing to aggressively push our offerings and amplify our reach and subscription agenda through these campaigns.

What has been the growth in subscriptions for Sports HD viz-a-viz SD channels?

We haven't taken account of that right now. We have seen an improvement in HD uptake in India. Disney Star has been a vanguard of HD business. Out of our 77 channels, we offer 31 (40%) in HD. And out of our 17 sports channels, seven are in HD. Watching sports on HD provides a far superior experience with features like a wider picture, 5 times sharper picture, and 5.1 Dolby surround sound making it a stadium like experience at home.

While we previously had SD channels in the Tamil and Telugu markets, HD is a big driver, with 75 million HD homes according to BARC. This growth has been doubling every two years over the period of 2020-2022, driven by urban audiences. For the first 29 days of IPL, HD consumption is at its highest with 6.6 crores reach which is 3X compared to the previous year. With this in mind, we are pushing the HD agenda. HD content offers stickiness and adds value to the consumer experience, and we plan to push HD offerings further to foster consumer interest.

What role did the FTA offering play in increasing your penetration?

I don't have the exact number of people who converted from free to pay but it has contributed to increasing our reach. It opened a new customer segment who were not watching and encouraged them to upgrade from free to paid plans.

When Star Sports increases its penetration in the country, what is its impact on the other non-sports channels in the network? Does it increase their viewership also?

Absolutely. These channels are a part of a value pack offering. So if the consumer chooses the pack, it has other channels in the offering. The bouquet is quite affordable and provides a wholesome experience for the entire family beyond sports.

We have seen significant growth and an increase in numbers in West Bengal, AP/Telangana, HSM, and Gujarat.

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