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Update: Indian Sports channels broadcasting: Dramatic first six months of 2012
MUMBAI: For a year that has lighter load of marquee cricket and ad revenue forecast lower than 2011, the first six months have been unusually hectic and dramatic. Star took independent charge of sports broadcasting after News Corp bought out Disney's stake in ESPN Star Sports, ending a 16-year-old joint venture company in Asia where both the media conglomerates held equal stake. Multi Screen Media (MSM) launched its maiden sports channel 'Six' while Zee introduced India's first golf channel at a monthly price of Rs 200 a subscriber. Neo walked out of cricket and rebranded Neo Cricket as Neo Prime.

Beyond cricket, broadcasters have tapped into other sports with Neo debuting its hockey league in partnership with Indian Hockey Federation. The first six months, however, have not been easy for sporting leagues.

Cricket's hottest property got its first reality check after the initial years of hype. The Indian Premier League (IPL) scored lower ratings and earned less advertising revenues than last year, though they are significantly higher than any other cricketing property in the Indian marketplace. Market estimates peg the sports broadcasting ad revenue at Rs 8.5-9 billion in the first six months of the year. With comparatively weaker ad revenue potential for the remaining six months, the early year forecast of ad revenue touching Rs 17 billion in 2012 is highly unlikely.

Star, left free from Disney, will start its aggressive play in sports broadcasting in India. It has already bagged the six-year BCCI rights till 2018 for a whopping Rs 38.51 billion, translating into Rs 401.154 million per match, much higher than what Nimbus had to pay (Rs 312.50 million a match). This squeezed out MSM who had bid Rs 37 billion.

MSM's 'Six' will fight in the sports broadcasting arena with Ultimate Fighting Championship as its prime property till it telecasts the IPL next year.

With four sports broadcasting companies in the fray, Zee-controlled Ten Sports has renewed the rights for two cricket boards. Cricket South Africa (CSA) rights has come for $180 million and Zimbabwe for $20 million (both for eight years). The task will be to get the other three cricket boards – Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies.

Zee is also looking at a varied sports channel offering. Ten Golf, positioned premium, is looking at mopping up 500,000 subscribers in three years. Says Zee business head Sports Atul Pande, "There will be a move towards segmentation. We want to be the number one channel in Golf in South Asia."

The exit of cricket has meant that Neo would put its focus on sports like soccer, hockey and tennis. Neo had to also rework on its three-year distribution deal (from 1 September 2010) with TheOneAlliance aborting it and opting for a fresh pact valid for one year.

LodestarUN COO Anamika Mehta believes that it will be difficult for Neo, whicht was built on the back of India cricket, to scale up. "India is dominated by cricket. While acquisition costs of other sports are low, the revenue is also low as there is only so much attention that other sports will get from advertisers. The channels will also be event centric. There are a limited number of non cricket sporting events that get traction. The Indian cricket team on the other hand plays for around 200 days in the year," she says.

Nimbus kick-started the World Series Hockey (WSH) while Hockey India has announced another league, the first edition of which will take place next year.

According to Hockey India secretary general Narinder Batra, the FIH has given clearance for one month next year during which no international event will be held. "This has been done so that top players like Jamie Dwyer and Teun de Nooijer are free from any international engagements."

Mehta believes the existence of two hockey league tournaments will result in fragmentation. "Even one league will find the going difficult. This is a long term play but the start has not been encouraging. For hockey to be brought back, efforts have to be made at the grassroots level. Then only can the interest levels grow. Leagues in different sports are obviously buoyed by the success of the IPL. But it will not be easy for them as it was for the IPL as there is a lack of familiarity in India for some of these sports," she says.

The leagues in other sports is yet to make an impact. In soccer, the i-League clubs are not happy with the way IMG Reliance, the AIFF's commercial partner, is managing it as it has yet to come out with a blueprint for its development. The different clubs have, thus, formed the 'i-League Professional Football Clubs Association'.

"Every good league in the world is a separate entity in which the clubs are the stakeholders. We want to improve the standard of football in India and we are ready to do everything from our end as well", says the organisation's general secretary Chirag Tanna.

The ambitious motorsports league that was planned by Machdar Motrosports has been postponed till next year. The i1 Super Series league has been rescheduled to 2013 as the venue in Delhi was not available.

The Elite Football League of India (EFLI), which aims to bring American football to India, has been preponed and will take place this month in Sri Lanka. It has teams from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

So which other sport outside cricket is growing in India? “Soccer is growing among the youth. The Euro 2012 did well this year,” points out Mehta.

The Olympics is expected to fare better this year compared to its earlier edition of 2008. "It will fare better this year. There are two reasons for this. The first is that unlike Doordarshan, ESPN Star Sports will be airing it. So there will be a concerted marketing push and the broadcast will be more professionally managed. The other reason is that there are more sports where India can win medals in. You have sports like boxing, wrestling, shooting and badminton, although tennis could be a disaster. It is not like the old days where the only medal hope was in hockey. I expect a big spike in ratings on those days when India wins a medal," says Mehta.

How big the impact of economic slowdown be on the sports genre? Says Mehta, “There is a mood of caution but it is not a doomsday scenario. Some sectors like financial services and auto will cut back. If you look at the IPL, consumer durables did not come back in a big way.”

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