The IPL, BCCI and the ICC broadcast rights – any broadcaster would shudder to think of having all of them at the same time. But Uday Shankar did not bat an eyelid when it came to splashing the cash to get hold of them
Sports broadcasting is not considered to be a lucrative segment. In India, any sports broadcaster looking to get a foothold has to go all out to get the coveted cricket rights. But Star India, under Uday Shankar, did not let the acquisition costs come in the way of building a robust network of sports channels delivering live and exclusive sporting content.
The Indian Premier League (IPL), BCCI and the ICC broadcast rights – any broadcaster would shudder to think of having all of them at the same time. But Shankar did not bat an eyelid when it came to splashing the cash to get hold of them.
However, with Shankar moving on, will it lead to a lower investment in domestic sports properties, especially cricket?
"The sports broadcast market was anyway headed downwards as the number of channels since competition for rights has reduced from four to two with the exit of Neo Sports and sale of Ten Sports to Sony. Disney is also believed to be more conservative in the amount it is willing to pay for rights, given their approach seen in the earlier joint venture – ESPN-Star," Harish Thawani, founder, Nimbus Communications, told Moneycontrol.
RC Venkateish, former Managing Director, ESPN-Star Sports and founder, Lex Sportel, however, said it is difficult to give a specific answer, but he said the rapidly changing scenario in the sports broadcasting segment will force Disney to take new steps.
"Disney is one of the largest media companies in the world and they know how to handle and manage the business. They will take decisions keeping in mind the best interests of shareholders. The sports business model is changing and the old cable television model was very comfortable for monetisation. Under the new streaming regime, things have changed. In the next 10-15 years, as more sports events go online, they will face some pressure in terms of revenues. The subscription numbers are very low and for advertising there will be competition from the likes of YouTube and Facebook. Disney, however, has done well with its streaming service, and I am sure they will be able to ride out the storm," Venkateish told Moneycontrol.
Star India's bold bets in promoting sports leagues were hailed, and Shankar is credited with the rise in the popularity of kabaddi as a television spectacle.
Other leagues in hockey, badminton, and table-tennis were also beamed by Star.
Thawani, however, does not see any other property, apart from the ISL, being safe.
“It is fair to say that apart from the IPL and the initial success of Pro Kabaddi, the rest of the pro-leagues in India haven’t delivered either impact or numbers. Hence, their future can be considered uncertain except for the ISL,” he said.
Venkateish also feels that ROI will take over the sentiment factor when it comes to the future of some of the leagues.
“For any business answerable to shareholders, there has to be a plan which will give returns at some point of time. I am sure they will factor in that equation,” said Venkateish.
Venkateish also added that the success of Hotstar would stand out as Uday’s best achievement during his stint at Star.“The development of Hotstar and making it into a powerful streaming service was a big achievement for him,” he said, adding that Sony has not been able to match it in the streaming space despite the presence of good properties.