ZEEL hangs up its sports boots; hands over Ten Sports Network to Sony

By afaqs! news bureau , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing
Published : September 01, 2016
Sony Pictures Networks India dishes out USD385 million to acquire ZEEL's sports network.

What would Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) sports cluster's message be to Star India's Star Sports? If you have 10 channels, we got nine!

Yes, that's right. Even as news of SPNI's acquisition of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited's (ZEEL) sports cluster Ten Sports Network did the rounds of the corridors of the sports broadcast ecosystem, SPNI sealed the deal with a cheque of USD385 million. ZEEL will hand over the Network to SPNI in the next four-to-five months.

NP Singh and Punit Goenka signing agreements

So, what does that translate into? The sports ecosystem, which until now, was more or less a triple-threat battle between Star, Zee, and Sony, after Nimbus' Neo Sports decided to be a niche player, will now have just two principal players battle it out across the sports broadcasting business.

Star Sports sits in one corner of the ring, armed with the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) international cricket matches, Premier League (EPL) and Bundesliga Football, Formula 1, Wimbledon Tennis Championship, and its own properties Pro Kabaddi League, Indian Super League, and Premier Badminton League.

In the other corner sits SPNI with the million dollar cricket League, the Indian Premier League in hand, and now with the new deal sealed, will add Sri Lanka, South Africa, Pakistan, and West Indies cricket board rights to its list of cricket offerings. The deal will also enable SPNI to acquire the broadcast rights of the UEFA Champions League (football), its own existing football catalogue of International football tournaments (FIFA and UEFA), Liga BBVA (Spanish La Liga), Italian SerieA, and FA Cup. With the Grand Slam Tennis Australian Open Championship already in its court, it now has the US Open Tennis Championship in its kitty as well.

WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), the sports show that generates the biggest ratings after cricket matches involving team India, will now be with Sony. To a spectator sitting outside the ring, both sides look equally formidable, which means we can expect an evenly fought out battle.

NP Singh and Punit Goenka at the signing ceremony

Punit Goenka

Rajesh Sethi

Ten Sports, which ZEEL had bought from the Dubai-based Abdul Rahman's Bukhatir's Taj Group in 2006, later included the channels Ten 1, Ten 2, Ten 3, Ten HD, and Ten Golf HD. After nine years of losses, the sports cluster, for the first time, made a profit in FY 2015. In the following two quarters, the Network continued its profit-making run. "You get the best price when you are at your peak and that is what makes this the perfect time to give it off," says an insider at Ten Sports Network.

Punit Goenka, managing director, ZEEL, says in an internal mail, "The team has been successful in achieving many milestones such as the consolidation of our business under one roof and relocating key functions to India which optimised our operations, complemented with enhanced programming innovations, and introduction of newer products."

Goenka gives credit to the team for transforming a multi-year loss-making entity to a profitable one. "The turnaround has been possible with a strong focus on organisational leadership, industry best efficiencies, building capabilities, and forging strategic alliances to create newer business opportunities," he adds in the internal mail.

Talking about the role Rajesh Sethi, CEO, Ten Sports Network, played in the Network's turnaround, Goenka says, "(Rajesh) Sethi has successfully turned around our sports business into a formidable entity, attracting ever-growing investor interest, and as a result, has expanded his role into other critical business areas of Zee, which shall continue to be the case. We congratulate him for his outstanding contribution."

He adds, "At this crucial juncture post making this business profitable and attractive we have taken a strategic decision to divest ourselves from the sports business. It is a landmark deal for ZEE and a step towards a strategic portfolio shuffle. Our aim now is to transform ourselves into an all-round media and content company, comprising of five verticals -- broadcast, digital, films, live events, and international business. I strongly believe that Sony will add more value to our sports business by taking it to even greater heights. I wish it all the success."

According to Goenka, the transaction is likely to take four-five months to conclude. "I expect all of you to continue the great work under Sethi's able leadership to ensure smooth transition," he concludes.

Vinit Karnik

Sports is the largest driver of distribution revenue, and hence, the acquisition will help SPNI penetrate further into hitherto untapped territories, feels Vinit Karnik, business head, ESP properties. The Indian television ecosystem is entering the fourth phase of digitisation and with the Cost per Subscriber (CPS) model coming into effect, the distribution revenue is set to witness a surge. Hence, apart from strengthening SPNI's positioning in the sports broadcast ecosystem, the deal will also boost its revenue.

Karnik opines that the dynamics of negotiation between right holders and broadcasters is set to witness a change. "When there are several competitors, negotiations are less, Now, with just two players in the race, negotiations will increase," he adds.

N P Singh

Andy Kaplan

SPNI will have five new channels before the next edition of IPL kicks off. India's cricket team will travel to the West Indies in July 2017, to Sri Lanka in August 2017, and to South Africa in January 2018. The new deal will enable SPNI to broadcast all three tours.

N P Singh, chief executive officer, Sony Pictures Networks India, welcomes Ten Sports to the Sony family. "It (the deal) aptly demonstrates SPNI's commitment to provide a broad range of sporting entertainment to fans across India and the sub-continent," says Singh.

Andy Kaplan, president, Worldwide Networks, Sony Pictures Television, adds, "India has been a strong driver of Sony Pictures Networks' growing business for two decades, and sports continues to play a significant role in that growth. The acquisition of Ten Sports Network, following the launch of Sony ESPN channels, will mean that our Indian Network would reach over 800 million viewers and broadcast many of the most popular and prestigious sporting events in the world."

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