Shubhangi Mehta
Apr 25, 2013

'The audience is not just a passive observer these days'

Q&A with Ramesh Kumar, head of ESPN Cricinfo & Digital Media, India.

'The audience is not just a passive observer these days'

What are the current user numbers for ESPNcricinfo? With cricket being the sole focus area, what will be the website’s future growth triggers?

We get around 17 million users for our various offerings. Specific to online, we internally log close to around nine to 10 million users from India on a monthly basis.

Future growth is clearly going to be from the mobile devices. The new audience of the 15 to 25 years age group is emerging as a consumer segment; especially in India, where sometime back  people had somewhat switched from cricket in terms of loyalty being spread across various other sports like  F1, football and so on. But now with the T20 and IPL, the target audience is showing a steady growth.

The website hosts live commentary but only text. Going forward, do you want to explore the possibility of streaming live cricket events on the website?

ESPNcricinfo will explore this in a phased manner after taking into consideration various factors. Apart from getting the rights, we need to also arrive at an appropriate model after evaluating the commercial viability of the offering.

In the US, we stream some matches live as well as offer match highlights. We have rights to live stream the 2015 World Cup in the US. To this end, we will be leveraging the Watch ESPN player and embedding that on ESPNcricinfo. In India, our current focus is to strengthen our mobile capabilities, given the surge in smart phone popularity, enhance the social features of our various offerings.

Is there any change in trend as to how fans connect with cricket online?

Sometime back our observation was steady rise in traffic during working hours. The assumption was that this is clearly going to be the out-of-home audience who are not sitting close to their television. But increasingly what we have found over the last couple of years is that even (especially for IPL) in the late evenings there is a rise in our traffic. This is largely to do with the change in nature of sports fan, now there is a clear need for them for a second screen experience. Now, while watching the match on television they also want to engage with the other fans through a device. The audience is not just a passive observer these days. It’s a highly interactive and demanding audience. Even while watching the match, they want to have an interactive experience and the digital device engagement offers all of that.

Besides online games, what are the other brand extensions you are planning around ESPN Cricinfo?

Brand experiences can be bucketed into two categories - digital and offline. In digital we have, MatchCompanion,Timelines,Predictor,The Stands,The Cordon and The Huddle. When it comes to offline, in the recent past we had released cricket related books with the Walt Disney publishing group. Going forward, we are looking at licensed events like cricket quizzes and cricket engagement lecture series.

Tell us about the various ways through which ESPNcricinfo gets associated with advertisers. Is there any change in trend? In percentage terms, what kind of growth have you witnessed over the years?

This is the 20th year of our existence. We are one of the very few digital content companies that have a very successful advertising and content model in various markets that we operate in. We operate normally on a sponsorship model for our various cricket events and we also sign up with specific brands.

In addition to this we have brands like Idea, Renault and Nokia, associated with us all year round. So, it’s largely a very successful sponsorship model that we follow. As a result of this, we have been growing at close to around 30 to 35 per cent globally.

What are the other sources of revenue for ESPNcricinfo? Are you exploring areas like paid content – may be for some sections on the site?

In India, it’s going to be advertising, at least in the short to medium term. Specific to some of the other markets such as UK, Australia and US, we would also look at paid products specially on the mobile devices. We could also be exploring some of the paid services online for our premium content.

What is the future of online paid content in India?

The way I see it, India is a market where there is huge amount of content available either free or at a highly discounted rate. So one needs to be really smart at how we look at offering a paid service. We do have some innovative models to make that happen but only at a point in time when we think it is feasible and ready to be accepted. Our focus will also be on something that is feasible in terms of monetisation; this is an area where in the Indian context, people have faltered in the past.

What advantages can a brand derive from connecting with consumers online (as against traditional cricket associations)?

Unlike with mass media, online engagement is a highly personalised. Brands such as FMCG or handset brands will find immense advantage due to their engagement with a highly passionate consumer segment, having intensely personal engagement.

This consumer is highly social and this makes it all the more beneficial and positive for brands. From this sense, it’s a very precious audience segment that brands associate with online. But due to the same reason, you need to do it in a very careful and cautious manner since the audience has the utmost expressive power and any negative impact can have a detrimental effect. Hence for us, content is primary and we do not believe in going overboard so that it’s a positive experience for brands and consumers.

What are the biggest challenges in the online space?

One of the biggest challenges in the online space in general in India, and in the sports category in particular, is to increase the time spent by each unique user on a particular website especially in the non-live engagement. 

Another challenge is to educate advertisers in India about the need to have optimal media spends towards digital. The returns are much higher than mass media if planned and executed well, and overall yields a lot more value for brands. Lastly, in the online category in India, currently around 30 per cent of the total user base consumes sports related content. The endeavor is to increase this pie by offering more depth of content and also breadth. The latter could also arise from an increased following for multiple sports besides cricket in India.





Campaign India

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