A candid chat with the four-year-old streaming platform’s CEO and co-founder about consumption habits, gaps in the market, and why pay-per-match works on FanCode.
The Pondicherry Women’s T10 Tournament, Afghanistan Tour of Sri Lanka, and Men’s Volleyball Nations League — these are a few of the matches FanCode is streaming this week.
This is a small glimpse into the wide variety of sports and leagues the four-year old streaming platform offers to sports lovers in India. CEO and co-founder, Yannick Colaco, makes no bones about FanCode’s decision to stay away from top tier sports leagues. The choice of leagues is deliberate. The streaming platform wants fans to be able to access content that has a following but very limited distribution.
He says, “Sports fandom has grown significantly across sports, across different kinds of cricket, etc. But what Prasana Krishnan (co-founder) and I felt was that coverage and resource being invested into distributing content, outside of top tier events like IPL, the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, and maybe the FIFA Football World Cup, was actually not growing at all.”
When the two decided that access is what they want to address, it became clear to them that properties like IPL are not for FanCode. “Big properties like India cricket and IPL are being monetised in a fantastic manner by large companies like Disney, Sony, and now Viacom18. They distribute at scale and monetise these tournaments really well,” says the CEO.
A world beyond cricket
Instead of earning 100 million users on a single event, he wants to aggregate 100 million users from 10,000 smaller events.
The size of the emerging sports business in India is Rs 2,094 crore. This grew by 87% in 2022. The contribution share for emerging sports has increased from 12% to 15%. Sponsorship spending stands at Rs 1,503 crore. In comparison to cricket, these numbers pale.
Colaco has built his career in the business of sports. Of his two decades in the sector, he spent 10 years at Nimbus Sport and six years as the managing director of NBA in India. He is perceptive about the changes in India’s sports consumption landscape. Therefore, it is in emerging sports that Colaco wants to improve the depth and breadth of access.
In the initial years, FanCode focussed on cricket. And that was because “there was so much space in cricket; until last year, we were the only platform getting women's cricket in this country. To that end, we have done multiple partnerships with cricketing bodies across the world — ICC, West Indies Cricket Board, England Cricket Board, New Zealand Cricket, Bangladesh Cricket Board, and Cricket Ireland.”
Starting 2023, the streaming platform will increase non-cricket content on the platform. Sample this, in 2022, FanCode streamed about 6,500 matches live of which around 4,500 were cricket. This year, it aims to stream 20,000 matches. It will probably have about 40 or 50 live events on any single day across multiple sports. “And in 2023, 50% of the content is going to be non-cricket,” says Colaco.
Rugby, golf, horse racing, handball, football, hockey, baseball are the various sports FanCode streams. It has partnerships with Hockey India, Major League Baseball, All India Football Federation. Recently FanCode streamed the PGA Championship and is set to stream the Royal Ascot Race later this year.
Elevating the streaming experience
The one area where streaming beats linear TV is customisations. Viewers can pick and choose which language they want to watch in, pick highlights to watch, find live scorecards and other data about how a match is progressing, etc.
FanCode ran several experiments and finally settled on a few features that users liked best. The platform has a feature to enable quick access to a live scoreboard. It also gives viewers who have joined mid-way the option of watching highlights. “We have found elegant ways to help a user get updates very quickly. And for those who watch on landscape mode we created a whole lot of stats which come up on the screen as overlays,” Colaco explains.
I think that the value that linear delivers is not antagonistic to digital — it is complimentary... If a user has access to digital and is comfortable with the medium, they might always prefer digital because it can give them more value than linear TVYannick Colaco, CEO and co-founder, FanCode
TV and digital - a zero-sum game?
FanCode is not just a mobile app but is also available across several CTV platforms and aggregators like OTTPlay. Colaco says that the value that digital adds is a customised immersive experience, multiple feeds, customised overlays, etc. “This is something linear TV struggles with. I think that the value that linear delivers is not antagonistic to digital — it is complimentary. We are very comfortable with partnering with linear broadcasters, for example, the Caribbean Premier League was telecast on Star Sports and Fancode.”
“If a user has access to digital and is comfortable with the medium, they might always prefer digital because it can give them more value than linear TV.”
Not all experiments to elevate the experience worked…
“We tried consumer chats which didn't work out,” he confesses. Some liked it and others felt it was akin to spam.
Reflecting on why chat perhaps did not take off despite community being an important part of the sports viewing experience, he says, “With features, you have to think about what value you are adding for the user.”
“If you create an open chat, like what we did, in my mind, it goes against the basic principles of community. What is a community? A community is a group of like-minded people. If I have 1 million people putting thumbs up, it is not a community.”
FanCode also explored the watch party concept — viewers could video chat while watching. “We realised that this is something that has worked in the West (where streaming on TVs is popular). But most of our users in India are small-screen users. Any space you use to put someone's face is space you are taking away from that small screen.”
Of revenue models and why they work
On FanCode users can pay to watch a tournament, a match, or purchase monthly and annual subscriptions. And a tournament pass is inexpensive. For instance, the tournament pass for the Pondicherry Women’s T10 Tournament is Rs 39.
The bite-sized fee structure is meant to expand the market, get people comfortable with paying for content on digital, especially for sports content, and reduce the entry barrier.Yannick Colaco, CEO and co-founder, FanCode
Does Colaco not worry about retention?
“From a business perspective, we are very confident in the proposition that we're providing users. To me this model is something we have picked up from the FMCG category — what sachets did to shampoos. It turned out that the ARPU of sachet users was higher than those users buying a budget bottle. Being able to try and not being locked in helped expand the market because not everyone could afford to buy a big bottle,” he says.
He says the bite-sized fee structure is meant to expand the market, get people comfortable with paying for content on digital, especially for sports content, and reduce the entry barrier.
“Consumer business is a brutal business, in the sense that the user gives you feedback directly. There is no middleman. There's no sugarcoating; the user simply doesn't buy.”
Yet, he is sure about the per-match structure and viewers coming back for more.
“I think the main reasons the model works is that we host only sports content. Hypothetically, if you have one big tentpole event, as a streaming platform, and you have nothing else for the remaining 11 months, how do you get your user back?” He is confident that for a certain cohort, FanCode can provide a high volume of content all year long.
Further, he feels the pain of sports fans. “As a fan I get frustrated if I have to pay for an annual subscription to watch the finals of The French Open or the finals of Wimbledon.”
“If it is frustrating to me, whose affordability is slightly more than most people, I can imagine how frustrating it is for everyone else, especially younger audiences who don't have disposable income.”
Fancode has subscribers, but what about advertisers?
FanCode began its ad-tech journey about nine months ago. “I am pleasantly surprised at the value that advertisers put on engaged authenticated users.”
He says advertisers have become a lot more conscious of being able to break the clutter on niche platforms like FanCode. “Brands are aware of the opportunity of these non-top level cricket. For instance, in the recent past, we have partnered with Piramal Finance, Emami, Tissot Watches, Total Energies, and 5Paisa.”