Novel Coronavirus pandemic has worldwide shut the sports business. Professional leagues, continental competitions, national championships are all either postponed indefinitely or postponed or cancelled – Olympics included.
The sports business industry has come to a standstill and lakhs of professional, ranging from players and officials to other skilled hands who back the industry in various capacities, are confined to homes. In such a scenario, sports broadcaster is one constituent of this entire ecosystem which cannot have a lockdown. The channels will have go on.
The screens in a normal scenario would have been abuzz with LIVE sports action at peak of the global sports season. But global shutdown of sports events has left sports broadcasters with the challenge of filling slots on their channels.
Sony Entertainment Television president Rohit Gupta says broadcasters will not have problems as far as filling the slots is concerned. But the challenge is to get the audience.
InsideSport.co in a telephonic conversation with Gupta discussed the COVID-19 pandemic challenges for the industry and Sony Sports. Here are the excerpts:
InsideSport Desk: In the absence of any LIVE Sports content, how are sports channels affected?
Rohit Gupta : That is the biggest setback a sports broadcaster can think off. Globally, sports genre survives on LIVE content. No curated content, repeat telecast or highlights generate audience interests which could be compared with the LIVE sports. In fact curated and archived content will always heavily rely on LIVE sports content to get right traction.
IS: Sports world has come to a standstill that was never ever seen in the past. You as a broadcaster have a challenge to fill the void created by cancellation or postponement of all sports action.
RG: Filling the slots is not an issue. Sony Pictures Network has a massive library of content for all genre. We have thousands hours of content to keep our channels going. That is not an issue. The concern for the broadcasters will be to get the desired audience for sports. LIVE sports gives the real push. Having said it, each sport has a community of committed fans who will accept that content time and again. But that pool is very limited. The majority of sports fans only tunes in for LIVE action.
IS: Will Sony also be curating special sports shows out of the hours and hours of interesting sports footage in its library to keep the channels going?
RG: We have enough exciting content ready to engage the hard core sports lovers. Any other effort at this stage won’t be of much use. With the entire country under lockdown, we are well equipped to offer best possible sports action to keep people engaged when they don’t have much to do.
IS: In this scenario, can broadcasters temporarily shut some of their sports network channels.
RG: I can tell you that Sony Pictures Sports Network in not even thinking about that.
IS: This unfortunate scenario has occurred at time when Sony Sports was in a position to get bigger share in the sports’ audience pie in India. There were UEFA events. Then the Olympics were coming up for which you had interesting build up plans? How big an opportunity is lost?
RG: These are testing times. Entire industry is suffering. Situation is not in anybody’s control. We can just wait for normalcy to return. There is no other way.
IS: You said we can wait for normalcy to return. In your opinion, how long can it take for the sports business to overcome this situation and for LIVE sports to resume?
RG: Not soon. Right now we are just watching the global scenario helplessly. It is important that the world overcomes this menace. Once normalcy returns, the first challenge will be to meet the demand for essentials. We just don’t know what will be the ultimate impact on the business. On the society. Sports will come much later. Like everyone else we can just hope the situation improves soon.
IS: How big an impact can it have on sports business?
RG: Huge. Huge. Huge. Only the time will tell. Any assessment will only start once this threat to human lives is over.
Sony Sports for now though has WWE as the fresh content to offer. But that can only fill up to 10 hours of time slot during the week. Beyond that there are only repeated shows. Rival Star Sports are relying heavily on their cricket archives, to derive home some advantage for being the Indian Premier League and International Cricket Council exclusive media rights partners.