Sony Pictures Network and ESPN has received the regulatory approvals required to launch co-branded channels Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD. The channels will go on air on 17 January.
Addressing the media at an event in Mumbai, NP Singh, CEO, Sony Pictures India said that this marks the start of a long-term partnership between the two media players. He added that a multi-sport digital app and website are also slated for launch in 2016.
Singh said, "We (Sony Pictures Network) are looking at an aggressive growth path. We're looking to enter new genres and sports is one major aspect here. We'll be acquiring lots of sports content in the coming months. We entered into a conversation with ESPN in mid-2015. They (ESPN) wanted to re-enter the Indian market, and we wanted to expand. We shook hands and announced the launch. Now the focus is to position ourselves as the go-to-network across genres."
Mike Mirrison, VP and GM, ESPN Asia Pacific, said, "We have never really left India. We've been here with ESPNCricinfo for the last three years and now this is an opportunity to grow. Sony ESPN will look to serve the sports fan in India on a long-term basis. It starts with the Australian Open (starts 18 January), and ESPN as a network has covered it since 1984."
Prasana Krishnan, EVP and business head, sports cluster, Sony Pictures Network India, said, "Within India there are different markets with consumers looking at different sports. We want to reach out to as many markets. There's an emergence of local leagues across sports and we'll be looking at them. We'll base our strategy around cricket and local leagues, but we'll also look towards sports and events like the Euro 2016 in France and local leagues."
No event related to Sony and sports broadcasting in India can be complete with a mention of the IPL. And with Sony's 10-year deal with the BCCI coming to an end post the 10th season of the IPL (2017), questions about re-bidding were bound to come up.
On the topic, Singh said, "We'll be looking at the right properties for the network. We'll get into a renewal stage after its ninth year. IPL viewership in terms of absolute numbers has increased. We've seen advertising interest increase too with newer categories of sponsors coming in. But we are a business at the end of the day and consist of practical people. When we get into (renewal) conversations, we'll look at the valuations of the league and then act. It's important for us to have a balanced portfolio."
Krishnan spoke about the emergence of sports other than cricket, terming events the Pro Wrestling League and Champions Tennis League as successful.
Asked about the dominance of cricket and the role of other leagues, he explained, "Cricket viewership is roughly 65 per cent of the total sports consumption in India. So the balance 35 per cent is coming from non-cricket sports and so there's a huge opportunity here. There are various leagues already for different sports and we'll be looking at new leagues too. Investing in any new league and sport is equivalent to a start-up and we need to give it time. We'll have our strategy around cricket and local leagues, but w'll also look towards international sports."
While 65 per cent of viewership is for cricket, Krishnan hazarded a guess that around 80 per cent of the total sports advertising revenue would go to cricket.
He added, "The format of cricket allows itself to get more advertisers in. There's no other sport that allows so many advertising opportunities."