Cricket: No IPL rights, no problem - Sony executive
By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) - Losing the Indian Premier League broadcast rights to Star India was disappointing but Sony Pictures Networks believes it has enough cricket in its portfolio to challenge their main rivals after striking a new deal with Cricket Australia last week.
SPN, owned by Sony Corp, have acquired the rights to broadcast Australian cricket in the Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan and Sri Lanka, for the next six years for an undisclosed amount.
The deal came after they lost out to Star India for the IPL rights last month, but Rajesh Kaul, the president of SPN's Sports and Distribution Business, believes the failure to land the rights for the highly successful T20 competition was not crucial.
"Disappointed? Yes, because we had nurtured IPL for the last 10 years. We created IPL and made it into the huge brand that it is now," Kaul told Reuters.
"Yes, we are little bit disappointed but luckily our dependence on IPL is not there today."
India's huge market is a major draw for sponsors and advertisers, who often plan product launches around major cricket tournaments and book advertising slots in advance in turn leading to a stiff race between broadcasters to secure content.
Star India, a unit of Rupert Murdoch's Twenty-First Century Fox, last month bid a staggering 163.48 billion Indian rupees ($2.52 billion) to bag the worldwide television and digital rights of the IPL for the next five years.
SPN, who had owned the rights for a decade, was the only other bidder for the television rights with 110.5 billion rupees but lost out to Star's multi-platform offer.
Star also owns rights to India's home matches and paid $757.6 million for the period from July 2012 to March 2018.
Those rights will be up for bidding soon, which could see another round of intense bidding from the two major players in the Indian market.
"The BCCI rights will be good to have. No doubt about that," Kaul said. "But we will be very thoughtful about this. Our IPL bid was aggressive but still very thoughtful.
"We are here to run a successful business. That is always at the core of our entire strategy. There is so much cricket available on our network already."
The Ashes series between Australia and England around the New Year will be the first fruits of their deal with Cricket Australia.
The deal strengthens their position after last year they paid $385 million to acquire TEN Sports, which owns rights of cricket boards in South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe.
"Given that cricket still enjoys one of the highest viewerships among all audiences in the country, the focus was to strengthen that portfolio despite having five cricket boards with us," Kaul said in an interview.
"It's another win for us, it makes our portfolio far more formidable. It consolidates our position as a very strong destination for cricket apart from so many other sports."
SPN also struck a deal in 2015 with sports broadcaster ESPN, a Walt Disney unit, to launch new channels and foray into digital market.
Besides broadcasting the NBA and the NFL in India, SPN also holds rights for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the ongoing under-17 World Cup, and soccer leagues such as Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A.
"The whole idea of acquiring TEN Sports was to consolidate our position as a very formidable and serious sports broadcaster," Kaul said.
"We are very happy that today we have one of the most diversified portfolio of sports on our channels."
($1 = 64.9000 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Nick Mulvenney)