Star India and Sony Pictures Networks India, which used to jostle with each other to get hold of the biggest sports properties, now have a bigger and more powerful entity to deal with
After a year of failed attempts to get a slice of the lucrative sports rights pie in India, Facebook has finally cracked the code earlier this month by bagging the rights of La Liga — one of the most followed football leagues in India.
The social media giant has also snapped up the EPL rights of Thailand and Vietnam, and is going to be a major competition for Star India when the three-year rights cycle for the Indian sub-continent comes up for renewal in October.
Under the guidance of Peter Hutton, the sports broadcasting veteran who earlier had stints at Eurosport, Fox Sports and Ten Sports, Facebook is going all out to make sure it gets its hands on the biggest and the most compelling content available – live sports. Facebook is also reportedly in talks with football’s global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo for a reality show.
Although the brand has been shrouded in controversy in the past few months, the Mark Zuckerberg-led company realizes that in order to ensure steady revenue growth and unparalleled engagement of users, nothing can match the reach and popularity that live sporting events offer. The acquisition of sporting rights will take the social media giant a notch higher in terms of scalability and most importantly, will make it the new go-to destination for sports buffs.
So, isn’t it time for sports broadcasters to smell the coffee?
“TV viewing is going through a major change. If you look at the younger cohorts, streaming and OTT platforms are the ones that are increasing in consumption," said said Sowmya Iyer, founder & CEO, DViO, a leading digital marketing agency.
“Television channels are investing in their own OTT platforms like Viacom, Star, Sony, etc. It’s not a threat, but rather it is going through a transformation because people’s viewing habits are changing. The experience of watching sports today is not the way it used to be, now there is screen, mobile and social viewing. Now with Facebook coming into the picture, I think watching and social interaction - two key things to sports viewing - is coming together,” Iyer said.
Although it came up short, Facebook showed that it was willing to break the bank during the IPL and BCCI media rights auctions. But will it be able to achieve its objectives without cricket?
“There is a lot of room for content and different sporting properties, given that we have so many distribution platforms, especially digital platforms. There is enough interest in non-cricket properties and ISL has shown us that,” Iyer said.
A famous apocryphal view about Zuckerberg is that he senses and finishes competition without anyone getting a whiff of it. His track record and acquisitions are a proof of his ability and his latest gamble – sports rights – is undoubtedly going to rattle the traditional sports broadcasters. Testament to his impact can be gauged from this statement from media baron Rupert Murdoch.
“The one that’s coming at sport is Facebook. They unsuccessfully bid just for the digital rights of half of the Indian cricket for USD 600 million, so that was a warning shot you know,” Murdoch said last year.
Multiple attempts to reach out to Facebook on this subject did not elicit any response.The two big giants in Indian sports broadcasting – Star India and Sony Pictures Networks India – which used to jostle with each other to get hold of the biggest sports properties, now have a bigger and more powerful entity to deal with.