Viacom18 have entered the sports broadcast industry with a bang. They have acquired rights for the Italian Serie A, League Cup in England, ATP Masters 1000 events, French Ligue 1 and Spanish LaLiga.
The three-year deal with LaLiga, for an undisclosed sum, will allow Viacom18 and its flagship youth brand MTV to telecast Spanish club football in the Indian sub-continent.
The deal with LaLiga is one of the most curious associations considering how frequently the broadcast rights have changed hands recently.
In 2011, ESPN Star Sports (ESS), had acquired the broadcast rights for three years. For the next cycle, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) stepped in with a four-year deal worth a reported $32 million. In the final year of that contract, Sony and Facebook partnered to bring Spanish football to the Indian sub-continent. For the next three seasons, Facebook acquired exclusive rights to LaLiga. And now, it is headed to MTV on the TV screens, coupled with live streaming options in Voot and Jio.
“At the end we are in the market and we have to respond to the market. The good thing is that Indian broadcasters still look at LaLiga and think it is a world-class product on which they can work together with us. Will it be better to be on same broadcaster throughout? Maybe yes, maybe not. But it wouldn’t allow us to experiment as we are doing now,” said LaLiga India’s managing director Jose Antonio Cachaza.
“Let’s not forget sports broadcast is at a crossroad now. It is very different from what it was five years back. I mean if we were talking about this issue five years ago, and you brought the term OTT, I probably would have asked ‘what’s that?’ Today it is something that is there, growing and relevant. Now, we have to be ready for the challenges that the market faces,” he added.
And these are challenging times for LaLiga and broadcasters. Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus in 2018 and is now moving on to Manchester United. Lionel Messi has moved to Paris Saint-Germain after 21 years with Barcelona. Two of the marquee names in world football are now not with Spanish teams.
For Viacom18, the target for the first LaLiga season is qualitative. They hope to grow the fan base almost 10-times, without alienating the core audience, to consider it a good start.
The early signs are encouraging. In the first weekend, the Viacom18 properties witnessed a three-time cumulative reach versus the previous broadcast on TV; 7x time spent per viewer (TSV) with 30 minutes more spent on Real Madrid, Barcelona games. Geographically, the channel(s) witnessed growth in South India with Kerala leading the way. It poses the question whether LaLiga can go the Premier League and Indian Super League route with broadcast in regional languages.
“As far as LaLiga is concerned, that’s a conversation that we’ve been having, we do want to look at that as an option. We just want to make sure the timing is right. For us south was a base that got activated to LaLiga for MTV. So just imagine what would happen if we had local language commentary there especially in Kerala. Bangla is a huge opportunity and we have a presence there as well. But we want to make sure that the product is right. We have to get the commentary right, the marketing right. The fans shouldn’t be disappointed and we should do justice to the product. I think when we’re confident of that, we will experiment in this space,” said Anshul Ailawadi, Viacom18 Business Head for Youth, Music and English Entertainment.
For the Indian sports broadcast market, these are interesting times. For football, there are multiple players in Star India, Sony Pictures, 1Sports, Fancode, and now Viacom18. It may present multiple avenues to explore for the brands, it poses a challenge for the consumer with different subscriptions necessary.
“Couple of years back, you thought this property, this sport, goes on this platform. But the media landscape in sports is changing so much. If you look at some of the more evolved markets, like the US, the same property, the same sport, actually has sliced its rights across different platforms in the same medium. So you’d have a broadcaster ‘A’ that carries certain matches, ‘B’ carries certain matches, and ‘C’, with strong kids connect, carries certain matches. And on digital, they follow several windows. I think it’s changing such that I don’t think any market is going to, in the total sense, remain just a couple of players,” stated Ailawadi.
“I think in the next five or seven years, you’re going to see this space take off in the biggest way possible, which is basically the space around NFT’s in sport, virtual reality experiences, and the whole fantasy aspect. I can assure you that in the next three to five years, India is where you’re going to see very interesting combinations that typically you wouldn’t have seen in the past,” he went on to add.
For LaLiga and Viacom18, it has been a positive start with opportunities to grow. MTV India accounted 38 percent of the viewership for LaLiga matches came from rural India, with over 51 percent viewership from urban cities. All LaLiga games will be available on Voot with select key games on MTV in tandem. Firstpost