Anirban Roy Choudhury

"You need multiple seasons for a video property to turn profitable": Cricbuzz's Pankaj Chhaparwal

Cricket broadcast in India has gone beyond live sport. Wrap-around shows, real-time analysis, documentaries and theatrical releases of biopics on Indian cricket stars and their sojourns are emerging trends in the media ecosystem. Staying with the curve is Cricbuzz which has, over the years established itself as the home for cricket. The website has now launched a web series titled 'Spicy Pitch' that is currently streaming on the web publication.

Cricbuzz was launched in 2004 and got acquired by Times Internet in 2014. Today, it claims to have 125 million monthly active users across the web, app and all other platforms. While it is still very much a platform people primarily visit to get a glance at the live score or scribble through the real-time commentary, Cricbuzz also publishes news, views, and reviews. A couple of years ago, it introduced a video IP to its offering - Cricbuzz Live, a wrap-around analysis show where experts analyse a recently played match. Last week, it launched its second video property, an 'Original'. Titled 'Spicy Pitch', the 20-episode-series is a chat show where each episode decodes the journey of a particular cricket hero.

"What more can we offer to our users," is what got Cricbuzz to Spicy Pitch, says chief executive officer Pankaj Chhaparwal. He believes that in the last three to four years, online video viewing in India has witnessed massive growth due to the fall in data prices and the advent of over the top video-on-demand platforms in the country. "Our flagship match analysis show - Cricbuzz Live, where we tell the match story in a very entertaining yet insightful style, has been received very well by our viewers. We are on track to do 1.5 billion video views for the show through the year. Since that was well received, we asked ourselves - what's next?"

"You need multiple seasons for a video property to turn profitable": Cricbuzz's Pankaj Chhaparwal

Cricbuzz's 'Spicy Pitch' is not the only chat show featuring cricket stars. There are plenty (Breakfast With Champions, What The Duck..) already streaming on YouTube and other OTT platforms. "There are people who are still unaware of what went behind the making of big cricket stars, the ups and downs in their careers. The idea was to humanise their stories," says Chhaparwal.

In India, Cricbuzz competes with ESPNCricinfo, Sportskeeda (which is now owned by Nazara Games), and Network18 owned Cricket Next, among many other web publications. The humongous expansion of inventory has brought the cost per mile (CPM) rates under stress, bringing a cloud of uncertainty for web publications, especially for video. Most of the video on demand platforms put their premier video content behind a paywall, going after subscription revenues. For Cricbuzz, the video becomes an "economically viable proposition", as Chhaparwal believes brands would like to integrate themselves within the content released on the platform.

Pankaj Chhaparwal
Pankaj Chhaparwal

The platform will release an episode each Saturday with an aim to offer users on the platform something rich to consume. Cricbuzz commissioned Trojan Horse Productions to create the series and has all 20 episodes in the bank. He believes the videos will help Cricbuzz increase the time spent on the platform. However, he says the primary reason to launch the series is to add an avenue for revenue.

We definitely do not plan to do any kind of programmatic or performance-driven advertising around our large video content.
Pankaj Chhaparwal

"We definitely do not plan to do any kind of programmatic or performance-driven advertising around our large video content. I don't think it is a good way for Cricbuzz to monetise itself. Our approach is creating high-quality multi-season cricket-IP, where brands can invest in those IPs in an enduring fashion. Advertisers will see value season on season," he says.

In India, a paywall comes tagged with the word 'premium', especially in the content ecosystem. While Cricbuzz brands itself as a 'premium' platform, it is yet to ask its readers to subscribe by paying an amount. "We are two years away from there," says Chhaparwal. He believes that the platform needs to create a richer portfolio of content before it introduces a paywall. "Nothing beats subscription revenue in terms of deriving business value from users but it's early days as we do not have the variety or the bouquet of content," he adds.

Talking about monetising videos, Chhaparwal adds, "We have managed to break even on Cricbuzz Live and we expect the same for our future IPs. However, we must remember that we broke even during season three of the show and so you need to have multiple seasons for a video property to turn profitable."

Long before India had more than 30 odd video streaming platforms, Cricbuzz had the streaming rights of the Indian Premier League in India. Will the Times Internet-backed platform go for the most expensive cricketing property on the planet when the bids are up again in two years' time? "Never say never," concludes Chhaparwal.

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