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Interview with Sony Six business head: "Our social media handles were bombarded with requests to broadcast rugby"

In 2014, one of India’s premium sports channels Sony Six, acquired the broadcasting rights for the Six Nations Rugby, Super Rugby and the English Rugby Championship. In an attempt to introduce the country to various sports, the channel has designated rugby a prime-time slot of 8:30 p.m IST.

The Six Nations tournament is a marquee international event for the sport of rugby.

In 2014, one of India’s premium sports channels Sony Six has acquired the broadcasting rights for the Six Nations Rugby, Super Rugby and the English Rugby Championship. In an attempt to introduce the country to various sports, the channel has designated rugby the prime-time slot of 8:30 p.m IST.

That being said, raking in TRPs from showcasing sports that have previously not been able to penetrate the Indian sports spectator’s realm is new to the country.

The RBS six nations is a tournament which pits Europe’s six best rugby countries against each other. Sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland, the tournament began on February 6 and will end on March 21.

There has always been immense scepticism from broadcasters about delving into the ‘lesser known sports’ in relation to the Indian context. So we had a chat with Sony Six business head Prasana Krishnan over the sustainability of such a model and the expansion to more sports in the future.

Why did Sony Six decide to broadcast a sport like rugby, when the viewership of the sport in India is small?

We have been trying to provide holistic sports coverage from our channel of sorts. If you have a look at the content on Sony six, it’s the most diverse. I know we have broadcasting rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL), but we don’t have a cricket-dependent model.

The coverage includes several American sports such as NFL, NBA and now rugby. We are trying to cater to the different niches within the country.

On what basis is the introduction of a new sport to the channel finalised?

Well, the quality perspectives have to match; there should also be a latent demand if not an outright demand to watch the sport. The thing about rugby is that they have a small dedicated bunch of viewers scattered across the country. Our social media handles were also bombarded with requests to broadcast rugby. It has to tick all the boxes mentioned above.

As you spoke about the scattered market, where in India is rugby popular?

Three cities mainly – Mumbai has the highest demand, followed by Pune, Delhi and then Kolkata.

The Six Nations tournament has the international rugby angle to it. How do you think leagues such as the Super Rugby will relate to the Indian mindset?

As you said, the international tournaments will definitely get more viewing, but it’s also about giving the viewer a holistic coverage. Six Nations isn’t the only rugby tournament out there. Also, the rugby calendar isn’t packed with international events, so we have to show domestic tournaments as filler content. You can’t have long gaps between content.

Will we be watching Indian rugby on the channel very soon?

Our primary job as broadcasters is to bring the event to the people. It’s now up to the Federation to organised structured leagues and tournaments, which we can include as a part of our rugby coverage. So until the federation actually does organise events, it’s safe to say Indian rugby is not part of our plans.

Why do you think India has taken so long to embrace these sports, despite pockets of following?

It’s not like nobody has tried to get these rights. It’s just that international federations such as the IRB have strict guidelines, so they don’t let it out that easily. Even with the Superbowl, the NFL has very strict regulations. Hence, it wasn’t showcased all these days on Indian television.

So what is the kind of content we should expect from Sony Six in the near future?

Among the domestic events, Champions Tennis League coverage will continue, along with the regular coverage of Indian badminton events. Amongst the global sports, NBA and NFL will most definitely continue to be our mainstays.

If new opportunities do come up, we will do enough consumer research to provide the best content possible. However, the main aspect of coverage will always remain consistency.

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