Sony Pictures Network India and its OTT platform SonyLIV have had one of their best years from sports perspective with the FIFA World Cup 2018 and the three best overseas cricket series for India – the tours of South Africa, England and Australia.
Sports in general and cricket in particular has played the key role in SonyLIV’s between 40% and 50% growth, confessesSPNI Business Head-Digital, Uday Sodhi.
The OTT market today has 250 million to 300 million consumers and 90% of them consume sport in one form or the other. “Sports is driving the OTT content as the largest segment,” says Sodhi.
India’s cricket tour of Australia has been one of the most successful events for the VOD platform, while the FIFA World Cup 2019 and the England-India cricket series earlier last year have been landmark events for the network. However, the year ahead is not going to be that big for SPNI and SonyLIV in terms of live sports.
In an exclusive chat with InsideSport.co, Sodhi shared how important is sports for strategical growth of SonyLIV and what can be the strategy when there is no significant live cricket involving Team India. Here are the edited excerpts:
InsideSport: SPNI had the best possible international cricket from India’s perspective in the past 12 months. The balance for the year ahead shifts towards the rival. What will be your strategy to fill that void?
Uday Sodhi: The business of sports broadcast primarily depends on live events. One who has the events will see peaks. However, the large bouquet of sports that we have enables us to provide the best content in the Indian sports horizon. Our sports bouquet is filled with some niche sports content beyond cricket – the NBA, European club football, the Champions League, the WWE, LaLiga, Serie A. So, there is no dearth of quality content. We will continue to build on our content library and sports franchise.
Still there will be times when we will have lots of series and there will be times when others may have an edge. That’s the reality of life in our business.
We are looking to consolidate the rest of the stuff. In cricket, we have South Africa, Australia, West Indies and Pakistan cricket boards. International series involving these teams get us good traction. We will not have an India cricket series for the next few months, but it will not be fair to say that we don’t have quality cricket.
IS: SonyLIV is creating its own GEC content, other than the regular SPNI library. While you have a lots of live action for your sports content consumer, are there any plans to offer exclusive non-live sports content on Sony LIV?
US: Yes. We have an objective of going beyond the live sports in 2019. Our non-live sports presentation will have live engaging conversations between experts and fans to showcase many more aspect of the game. There are plans to introduce regional sports content for the first time. We will bring in good talent for the consumer.
The idea is to go beyond live television and look at what else can be created in terms of no-live sports content, which can work with the fan. Our shows will offer expert opinions on key aspects of sports, present what is happening behind the sports scenes and what is the thought process behind that.
The OTT sphere has a certain space to create a lot more. We will be exploring that in 2919.
IS: What is your sports strategy for SonyLIV?
US: SPNI is one of the largest sports aggregators in terms of the media rights in India with about 3,000-3,500 live events on an annual bases. We cover almost all sports from basketball, tennis, cricket to wrestling and volleyball. We have live international cricket content between 200 and 250 days, the football rights pool is huge and then there is a large category of combat sports that ranges from the wrestling league to the WWE. Pro Volleyball comes up next.
Sports is core to our business. We will continue to build on the content pool to improve the consumer experience going forward.
SonyLIV is also investing on bringing in more variety. We are now looking at enhancing wrap around content beyond just live events. This will be an engaging content for hardcore fan. We have done a huge amount of programming on football and basketball. The idea is to bring in more conversation with fans and the experts. We are focusing on that aspect of non-live sport.
There is more investment planned to further enhance that consumer experience. Fan engagement will be the key to our content strategy.
There has also been a significant investment on the tech side over the past couple of years. This ensures a great experience for the consumers, irrespective of the device they are using. Tremendous effort and money have been invested to improve that experience. That will be key to our strategy going forward.
IS: Can you please elaborate on the investment on the tech front?
US: The tech side is fairly complex. There are times on weekends when we simultaneously run 10 to 15 screens across sports. We have created an infrastructure that allows run multiple screens and multiple events live for the consumers in multiple languages, in multiple geographies.
Also from another technical perspective, a very large part of our consumers is watching us on 3G and 4G connects on low-end mobile phones with weaker bandwidths in small towns in India. Then there is other side with fibre to home-connected smart TVs, with chrome casts and fire sticks. We have to cater to the both ends of this consumer market and ensure the feasibility to do that with the same infrastructure.
We are currently running 14 different varieties of apps for different consumer threads – android, IOS, fire sticks, chrome cast, set top box, various TVs, etc. – where our app ensures that all the content is integrated to offer quality that works beautifully on the different devices. The huge tech infrastructure makes that happen.
IS: How big is the OTT Sports market and at what rate is it growing?
US: As per my understanding, the entire OTT market today is around 250 million to 300 million consumers. Of this pool, 90% consume sports in various forms.
Sports is driving the OTT content as the largest segment. We all know that how big is cricket in India. Football is growing as a mainstream sport. Sports like kabaddi, wrestling and volleyball are joining the mainstream. We see a fairly large chunk of people watching these sports. Undoubtedly, sports content is driving the OTT consumption in India.
Live sports is something that you watch even when you are moving around. It brings a certain amount of urgency as the real excitement lies in live action. Unlike entertainment where a viewer can wait for an episode, sports brings in far more urgency. It also brings in a lots of pressure on the people who are running sports OTT platforms because majority of consumers want the content at that point of time and that had to be rock solid.
IS: How will you rate sports growth in the OTT sphere?
US: We are growing somewhere around at 40% to 50% year on year. Though I don’t have a value number attached to it, the consumer base is definitely growing at a very healthy pace. There are improved devices, bandwidth is getting better and screens are increasing. We are getting into an era where we always have a screen in front of us, be it a mobile phone, or a laptop or an internet protocol TV. The opportunity to consume video content now is 24 hours.
IS: Talking about the latest, how has the Australia series been for Sony LIV.
US: It was a fantastic series. Given the fact that this was third successive overseas series for India on Sony LIV, the traction has been significant. This has been a big year for Sony LIV for cricket. We had started off with lot of international cricket (not involving India). Then came the India-South Africa series, India in England and now the Australia series. India’s all three major international tours were on Sony LIV. Australia has been a very, very buzzy series. The viewership has been at a record level. We have clocked about 50 million users for the series.
In the final ODI we had clocked around 7 million concurrent users, which is a streaming record for an ODI in India.
SonyLIV’s ‘State of Digital Entertainment 2018’ report also reveals that the VOD platform has recorded a seven-time rise in time spent, had a higher growth rate in non-metros and its monthly active user base has been up by over 300%.