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IPL media rights likely to lift the OTT play of Viacom18

Digital media rights for IPL matches could lift the OTT (over the top) play of Viacom18, posing a challenge for the current leaders. The Reliance Industries-led Viacom18 is believed to have won the digital rights, though no formal announcement was made on Monday.

Keeping the game open even after two days of auction is the clause that the highest bidder of digital rights could pay more than the highest bidder of non-exclusive rights for 18 IPL matches. Bidding for the non-exclusive rights will continue on Tuesday.

Disney, in its May quarter, said Disney + Hotstar accounted for 36 per cent of its 138 million paid subscribers. A bulk of this subscription base is in India.

Media Partners Asia had estimated that the OTT paid market will hit 89 million subscribers in 2021. And the top three platforms —Disney-Star, Netflix and Amazon Prime account for 83 per cent of the D2C (direct to consumer) subscribers.

Voot—an OTT channel under Viacom18—was at 1 million paid subscribers when figures were released last. But as Viacom partners, Uday Shankar, who was instrumental in building Hotstar from the scratch as the former boss of Disney + Star and James Murdoch, are investing in it. Media rights to IPL could help Voot acquire more customers and increase the subscription base, which is way behind its competitors.

Voot also has the ability to leverage Reliance Jio’s ready-made-customer base of over 400 million customers, out of which 300 million are on smart phones. OTT platforms are being powered by broadband, where Reliance is a major player. Even on fixed line broadband, it has the highest number of subscribers at 5.28 million as on March 31, 2022.

Rivals doubt if cricket will give Viacom’s OTT a big leg up as Voot has not been in the forefront of original content. “Unlike Amazon Prime, Netflix and Disney + Star, which have commissioned or have under production over 300 original programming, Voot relies more on progamming in its linear TV. This will need to change substantially,” says a senior executive of a rival OTT.

To get over that issue, the first big action has been taken, some analysts believe. As part of an agreement, RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani shifted Jio Cinema into the Viacom18 fold. The app has over 50 million plus downloads, offering movies, serials, web series amongst others but mostly free to its own mobile subscribers. Analysts say its scope can now be broadened beyond just subscribers of Jio to anyone willing in the Viacom18 fold.

Viacom can also leverage on the group’ s content strength. Reliance, for instance, has its own production house, which is already creating programmes for Voot apart from others. Synergies are expected grow after the IPL outing, according to analysts. Business Standard

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