CHENNAI: The first two weeks of October 1996 changed the face of the sports broadcasting industry in Asia. The all conquering media baron Rupert Murdoch, who had set foot in the continent a few years earlier, wanted to make a statement. In front of shareholders at Adelaide on October 14, he confirmed what many had speculated for the last two weeks.
“We have the long term rights in most countries to major sporting events and we will be doing in Asia what we intend to do elsewhere using sports as a battering ram and a lead offering in all our pay-television operations,” he had said then.
“Sport absolutely overpowers film and everything else in the entertainment genre.”
The then nascent Star network, now one of Murdoch’s biggest enterprises in the world, took that as a clarion call and started dominating the sports broadcasting scene in the biggest continent.
FIFA World Cup, EPL, Indian cricket, F1, Grand Slams... you name it and they had it on their channels. Everything except the biggest of them all — Indian Premier League — one of Asia’s costliest sports products and cricket’s richest plaything.
They corrected that anomaly on Monday, as they blew Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) out of the water with an eye-popping sum of $2.55bn for the next five years. While this is a seminal moment for cricket itself — India-based franchise games are now officially more expensive than India’s international matches — Star has emerged the biggest winners. They own rights to ICC events, India matches at home as well as IPL. A triumvirate that have set the company back roughly $5.38bn to get on their portfolio.
If your next question is ‘is the money going to be worth it?’ here are a few numbers that indicate a resounding ‘yes’. Revenue from ad rates in the first IPL season was Rs 400 crores. It was close to Rs 1300 crores in 2017.
Those were SPN’s numbers from TV only. STAR, on the basis of owning everything, will only see an increase. When you take into consideration their ability to have Tamil (throw in CSK’s return), Malayalam and Bengali commentary through sister channels, that revenue is bound to shoot up.
An industry insider confirmed this by saying that the channel is bound to increase ad rates. They are even tossing around with the idea of introducing limitations on caps during the middle phase of the tournament (when interest is low), something which SPN never did. But overall, on a match by match basis including in the final stages, ad rates will go north. Another move they are planning is to keep some marquee fixtures not only in the night but on weekends (to satisfy the global audience).
That was why they aimed to win everything. “As you can see from our bidding numbers,” Star India CEO Uday Shankar said, “we made a conscious call that we will bid for global rights. We have a significant presence in each of these three universes. We have TV presence in India, we have a very robust, exciting digital platform in India, which we are rolling out across the world. And, our channels are globally distributed, so it made sense for us to make an attempt to win it for all markets.”
The move to aggressively bid and win also makes sense from an Indian perspective. Their catalogue had every worthwhile Indian-based franchise product but its crown jewel was with its only worthy rival. Now, they have captured the only missing arsenal from their scheduling. Just like Murdoch had prophesied 21 years ago.