Friday, September 30, 2022

Star vs Viacom, TV vs Digital: Next big broadcast idea, Little India will decide this unique IPL battle

The migrants who are making video calls daily are making door-to-door calls. Young digital natives on the daily commute wearing headphones. Cabs equipped with GPS navigation with time to kill between trips. The villages are not connected by cable networks but within the range of mobile towers. New netizens of the time of pandemic. Rural people with aspirations, and buy smartphones on EMI. And above all, powerful control-obsessed BCCI officials.

It is this liberal group that will decide whether the punt taken by broadcasters in the recent record-breaking IPL e-auction will prove prudent in the long run. They will collectively determine whether the latest IPL valuation of Rs 48,000 crore was indeed an overabundance or whether the BCCI and the broadcasters have read the tea leaves floating on the IPL pot right.

The Indian Express spoke to three industry old hands – all decision-makers with a skin in the game but insisting on remaining anonymous – to understand the big churn. They praise the 2022 IPL auction as a watershed event, which led to two significant developments – digital superior TV in media rights valuation, and the BCCI signing more than one broadcaster for the first time.

People broadly agree that Viacom18-Reliance, the new digital rights holder of the IPL, will get their return on investment, despite pushing the envelope and promising an unprecedented Rs 23,775 crore to the BCCI. To make his point, he talks about the dramatically increasing T20 consumption capacity of cricket fans and the recent Deloitte prediction that India’s smartphone numbers will cross 100 crore by 2024.

They rely on a growing army of handheld device-dependents to propel Viacom18-Reliance from the bottom line. But it is the BCCI suit about which they are not sure.

They have their reasons. To woo the same set of IPL-devouring eyeballs in this digital vs TV battle, both the competing broadcasters will love a special look and feel for their broadcasts. For this to happen, the BCCI will have to depart from its earlier policy of providing a single world feed – both voice and visual – for both digital and TV.

Star vs Viacom, TV vs Digital: Next big broadcast idea, Little India will decide this unique IPL battle BCCI got Rs 48,390 crore from media rights. (file)

These are changing times. The BCCI has never faced a situation where its broadcasting partners are working on mutual objectives. With smart television blurring the lines between the traditional idiot box and online content, IPL Airways is getting into an intense tug of war.

The monopoly era of the last five years, when Star had everything IPL had to offer, is over. Now there are two legitimate sales teams that are aggressively chasing IPL advertisers.

“Star and Viacom should have different products. If BCCI plays it right, they create healthy competition between the two. They should allow for material and product innovation. If they let this happen, fans have a choice,” says an insider.

Meanwhile, BCCI is yet to change its policy when it comes to sharing live feeds from stadiums. “When he signed up, he was aware of this. It is difficult to see two sets of commentary boxes at the venue – one for digital and the other for TV,” said a BCCI official.

As an afterthought, he hints at the possibility of interaction. “They can approach us and discuss the issue.”

The auction dust has settled, and the winners are now settled in two corners of the ring. As in boxing, the stern looking referee is telling them the rules of the game. He seems determined but is willing to be flexible.


From ‘nothing official about it’ to Pepsi’s infringement in the field of Coke during the 1996 World Cup, cricket has come a long way. In 2023, expect an intense off-field skirmish in which ‘everything about it’ will be official. The two broadcasters, contracted to spend around Rs 50 crore for each game, are thinking of ways to turn every stone on the cricket field.

While Star’s ad may be about the communal pleasure of watching IPL in the living room, Viacom may sell well for the pleasure of watching sports with the 18-Reliance earphones that cut out the noise around.

Says an insider, “The one who innovates more in the commentary, the data will further reduce the penetration in the shorter segments of the IPL. And proceeds with a line that will to some extent explain the unexplored sectors that broadcasters are eyeing. “Even today, half of India doesn’t watch IPL.”

Some statistics will help to understand this.

Currently, there are around 400 million digital users in India, while the corresponding TV figure is 1 billion.

People associated with Airways say that while digital media has immense potential for growth, TV has reached a saturation point. “People are now only changing their TVs but not adding. On the digital side, the reach of smartphones is deep. And if someone brings a cheaper smartphone to the market, more unknown areas will be covered,” says an expert.

That being said, Star’s bid of Rs 23,000 crore is likely to profit even considering the currently stalled TV numbers in the country. “TV has its fixed clientele and over the years we have seen that even at high advertising rates, new products launch on TV during the months of IPL,” he added.

IPL Media Rights BCCI secretary Jay Shah said that even if the rights went to the base price, the valuation of cricket’s biggest tournament would have taken a big leap.

What about digital broadcasters? Will they be laughing their way to the bank, too? When asked about the rationale for withdrawing Rs 23,757 crore for digital rights, experts use terms like ‘notional gain’ and ‘long term valuation’. “Digital looks at things differently. When Amazon entered India, the initial phase was not about making profits. It was about connecting consumers, getting customers. These things drive up the company’s valuation. Digital may not see direct cash flow from IPL for the first few years, but their position will improve over time,” says a broadcasting bigwig listing Reliance Group’s interest in e-commerce and telecom.

“Like Amazon, Viacom18-Reliance is also expected to use the IPL pitch to promote its telecom and e-retail products. They will build the customer base first and then monetize and also use it to cross-sell their services. It’s a big game, they will profit over time.”


A market watcher-cum-badminton enthusiast among experts narrates the essential app download episode to make their point about the ease of watching sports on the digital platform. Earlier this year, at his farmhouse, he had a sudden urge to watch badminton star Lakshya Sen’s match. He called friends to find out where to tune in. He was told that it was on Reliance’s OTT platform Voot, it took him less than five minutes to get the app and catch the game live.

“Now imagine, if it were only on television. I’d have to catch the cable guy first, wait for him to fix things. Since you get broadband on a subscription, everything’s easy. The cost is also down.” The pandemic gave a further boost to digital. During the pandemic, everyone wanted to work automated and remotely. With the coming of the cloud, you don’t have to buy servers and it all helps digital,” he says .

There are other reasons for optimism. With the launch of 5G, Voom and Wi-Fi are expected to become ubiquitous in data speeds and thus more affordable, the jump in consumption is expected to increase manifold.

Digital broadcasters are in a state of frenzy, they can’t wait to be enterprising and adventurous. “In digital, they can create multiple segments as it can be easily customized. This is a big advantage over TV. If you want to create a new segment in television, you have to first find a slot, after that you have to get a channel, TRAI approval and then convince the cable operator. In digital, you just sit in an office and make a segment. Let us tell you, this is a big game which is expected to get a large number of viewership. A digital broadcaster can create only two more channels to match that,” says an expert.

So will TV soon become background noise? Not necessary. It also has its advantages, and also its ease of operation.

For starters, whatever digital proponents say, the game lends itself to the big screen way better. It is also more convenient.

“People are generally lazy. They want easy access. In digital, the interaction is still limited. TV is a comfortable medium from the point of view of human interface. Switching channels is easy. The user experience is seamless. Between overs, if I want to watch the news and get back in the game, it’s easy. In digital, you are stuck in one medium,” says an expert. And buffering is still a reality, not a stale past.

Most of the trend watchers say that there is enough space for the two to live side by side. “For the next five years, TV will still be at the fore, but digital will catch up. After 10 years, that’s anyone’s guess.”

It’s technological advances that will determine the timing of the next game-changing brainstorm. Like many of nature’s mystical ways of balancing things, the acceptability of these big ideas with millions at stake will depend on Little India.

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