Venkata Susmita Biswas

Inside Disney Star’s gameplan to make cricket part of every digital and TV media plan

The broadcasting major’s ad sales head, Ajit Varghese, on the company’s Asia Cup and ICC World Cup pitch to advertisers. 

Ajit Varghese, head of network - ad sales, Disney Star, has a singular mantra for upcoming cricketing tournaments — maximising advertisers. 

Having done the math on losing subscription revenue on the streaming platform by making both the upcoming Asia Cup (kicking off on August 30) and ICC World Cup (from October 5) free to watch on mobile devices and recouping investment with ad revenue instead, Varghese says that the company’s strategy will give “better incremental returns than the current status”.

The festive season coupled with two significant tournaments where India will be playing about 15 matches is what the Disney-backed broadcaster is betting on in the second half of the year. Four or five of the India matches are expected to be against Pakistan, giving the broadcaster a plum opportunity to cash in on the excitement to watch this rivalry play out on the pitch.

The company is making advertising on the streaming platform more lucrative by offering new features and more options to fine-tune targeting. This year advertisers can choose from 75 different targeting options on Disney+ Hotstar (up from 35).

Further, the platform is going to make advertising easier by making its self-serve platform available to all advertisers. The platform which first debuted in 2018 was in a beta testing phase and will be open to all from mid-August 2023. 

According to media reports, Disney Star is seeking Rs 120 crore for co-presenting sponsorship and Rs 90 crore for the World Cup. The 10-second ad rate for the World Cup is pegged at Rs 31 lakh for India and knockout matches. 

For the Asia Cup, the broadcaster is seeking Rs 26 crore for co-presenting sponsorship and Rs 20 crore for associate sponsorship. During the Asia Cup spot buying rates for India vs. Pakistan and the final match is reportedly about Rs 25 lakh per 10 seconds. 

Varghese says that on digital the company is reducing the entry barrier for advertisers to make cricket accessible for businesses with small outlays. He says that the CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) on Disney+ Hotstar will be comparable to UGC platforms during this festive period.

Typically, CPMs on Disney+ Hotstar range between Rs 200 - Rs 230, Varghese says the streamer will offer “double-digit CPMs” for the upcoming tournaments. According to industry sources, this is expected to be in the range of Rs 60-70 for the Cricket World Cup. 

On TV, the broadcaster will for the first time allow advertisers to buy ads on World Cup & Asia Cup either in SD only or HD only. The company says this will not only reduce the entry barrier for advertisers but will also allow brands to buy ads on the basis of their product positioning. 

Varghese says that neither making cricket free to watch nor putting it behind a paywall has impacted television viewership of a cricket tournament.

Earlier in the year, JioCinema took a bold step to stream IPL for free. This helped the platform attract both users and advertisers.

While Varghese cannot reveal whether Disney+ Hotstar will make cricket free to watch on mobile for other tournaments, he indicates that what Disney Star hopes to achieve is a greater reach in terms of user base for the streaming platform — to become the leading streaming platform in India and expand the number of advertisers who leverage it.  

He asserts that this change in paywall strategy is not one that is necessarily inspired by competition but that it is the right growth strategy for the platform right now. 

In the run-up to IPL 2023, both the broadcaster and the streamer tried positioning their respective platforms as the best medium to consume cricket. At the end of the tournament, JioCinema claimed to have attracted 44.9 crore viewers and Disney Star said that 50.5 crore viewers tuned in to watch the live matches.

We believe that cricket will be part of every TV and digital media plan during September, October, and November.

Varghese says that neither making cricket free to watch nor putting it behind a paywall has impacted television viewership of a tournament. “We have improved ratings on all cricketing events in the last nine months, including IPL, bilateral series, and the T20 World Cup.” 

Varghese is counting on advertisers of all shapes and sizes to take advantage of this three-month window when consumer sentiment will be high and consumers will be in a mood to spend. The broadcaster has already seen interest from automotive, infrastructure, e-commerce (shopping), fintech, and FMCG brands. “We believe that cricket will be part of every TV and digital media plan during September, October, and November,” he says. 

That is Varghese’s pitch to advertisers. And he is hopeful that by the end of the festive season, advertisers would have got their money’s worth irrespective of the medium they chose. 

Disney Star’s strategy of making premium content free to watch on mobile in a country where SVoD ARPUs continue to be low is one to watch out for. Industry experts have been very clear that a platform will need to rely on a hybrid revenue model to be successful in India. 

Commenting on what Disney Star’s move means for the OTT ecosystem as a whole, Varghese says, “Profitability is what matters in the long term for any business. So the question really is how long can you invest in a particular business before it turns profitable. I believe that period is shortening, globally.” 

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