Viacom18 has secured exclusive media rights for the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) international and domestic matches for the next five years starting September 2023. The network has won both the Indian subcontinental and global television and digital rights for this period for a cumulative figure of Rs 5,963 crore.
This includes international men’s, women’s and domestic first-class competitions like the Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, Deodhar Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, among others. The partnership kicks off with Viacom18 streaming its first tournament, the upcoming India-Australia one-day international (ODI) series, on JioCinema for free. To know more about this, Storyboard18 caught up with Viacom18 Sports’ chief executive officer Anil Jayaraj.
Tell us more about winning the exclusive media rights to BCCI’s international and domestic matches for both TV and digital. You are kicking off this partnership with the upcoming India versus Australia series starting in September, what should we expect?
In a span of a year and half is a short time to become the largest sports network in the country and is an absolute privilege and honour. We are thankful to all the partners we work with, whether it is BCCI, NBA (the National Basketball Association of the US), MotoGP (the body that conducts motorcycle Grands Prix) and more. We have all the major rights and we have a play across all sports. We also announced our partnership with ISL (Indian Super League, the football league) and we also do a lot of athletics that our champion athletes participate in. So it is also a portfolio that is looking diverse and strong and it gives is immense confidence.
In the past you have spoken about the network’s digital push. It surprised a few to see Viacom18 bid for the TV rights as well. But now that you have won, what will it mean for the audience and what will it mean for advertisers?
Digital is certainly the future and also the present. What we saw around the IPL (Indian Premier League, the Twenty20 cricket league) was a defining moment. We saw how digital was bigger than television. And our intent is to continue building on that. You have to see that a lot of features that we are building will continue to excite and engage the digital viewer. Features such as multi-cam that we had around IPL are uniquely digital features and that will continue. Having said that, although a large number of consumers have moved to digital, there is still a set of people who are in the process of moving on to digital. They are still watching linear, offline TV, we want them to also move. We will do everything that we can to aid this migration. What we figured is that having this fractured mandate of having one network doing TV, the other doing digital was not helping with that agenda. We are also acutely aware that viewers were not getting as good an experience in terms of viewing if they were watching across multiple screens, etc. So our aim continues to be that we will give accessible and affordable content in a manner which is engaging for our consumer. That is our objective.
And what will it mean for advertisers since now you have both the TV and digital rights unlike the IPL, where same pool of advertisers were divided?
The market is significantly moving towards digital and we continue to believe that digital will be a big play for advertisers. Having said that, for BCCI rights including the India-Australia one which starts on September 22, what we intend to do is to offer the advertisers the option of going for whatever they choose—a combination of TV plus digital, digital exclusive, etc. But it is our belief that a significantly large number of advertisers will very much be on digital and that we will continue to serve them well, but advertisers will have the choice.
Will the upcoming tournaments just like IPL be free to watch or behind a paywall?
We spoke about this and we are going to remove the barriers of accessibility and affordability of content and there will be no change to that. Every single viewer on JioCinema will be able to watch matches for free, there will be able to watch high-quality content for free. We will continue to do 11 languages, multi-cam, 4K, ‘play-along’ and things like that on our digital screens. As far as TV goes, we are intending to expand the number of people who haven’t had the accessibility. While it will certainly be on Sports18, we are also going to put it on our entertainment channels including Colors Tamil, Cineplex SuperHits amongst others, so that the regional audience also gets access to the matches. So it will play on all three spectra—on FTA (free-to-air), on pay TV as well as free on digital.
Rather than a closed bidding process, there was an e-auction process that took place this time. What was it like?
BCCI has stood up to the whole point of transparency. E-auction is a great way to ensure transparency, it is comfortable for all bidders because it is governed by the fact that people can’t actually manipulate. BCCI has actually stepped up and done that unlike the ICC (International Cricket Council) bid which was closed. And this is also important because this is the second time that the BCCI bid is in e-auction mode. IPL was an e-auction and it brought in a lot of transparency. It is a good process because you are focused on your affordability and your strategy. The only twist this time was that you had TV and digital bids going simultaneously.
Tell us about the larger picture. How is the Indian audience consuming sports today?
The Indian audience is the largest that you have for any cricketing event. And what we have seen is that there has been a significant shift over the past few years towards CTV (connected TV, where content is accessed over the internet). And CTV is growing very fast. Of course, there is the traditional TV audience. But the consumption pattern is what happened around IPL, which is a large number of people coming on to digital, people consuming on the go and watching for a long period of time. I think it is long-form content which continues to grow.
Sporting tournaments have fuelled the consumption of CTVs in a big way globally. We saw the same around IPL, in fact many experts pointed out how free streaming of IPL increased the penetration of CTV in India. How will you continue with your digital and CTV push?
CTV is a critical part of our strategy going forward, even on IPL we had 125 million consumers watching on CTV. That is a massive number. It is significantly bigger than any high-definition television through linear TV and it is growing really fast. That in combination with the AirFiber that Jio is launching or the penetration of broadband which is growing at a dramatic pace, I think the ecosystem is building towards that inflection point which will make it huge. And over the next few years CTV will be larger than linear offline TV. Also, content providers like us will be focusing on providing high-quality content there. 4K, for example, is not possible on linear TV. There are a number of streaming organisations looking at CTV in a big way and creating content which is differentiated on CTV.
Startup troubles have still not eased out—in this scenario, which new client group or advertiser group is showing a lot of interest around cricket considering it is an action-packed season for the next few months?
BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) is in the hyper-growth mode, which means that lot of them are willing to advertise on premium properties like cricket. Auto is on the comeback path. Beverages are also showing interest at a category level.
Watch the full interview here.