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Our intention is to make Sony Kix the home of football: Prasanna Krishnan

The Business Head of Sony Six and Sony Kix speaks at length on the network’s extensive plans around football, the challenges faced in getting eyeballs for matches in Spain and more

Mayur Lookhar | Mumbai | August 10, 2015

Prasana-Krishnan-new Prasanna Krishnan

Launched in 2012, Sony Six has taken the mantle of the Indian Premier League (IPL), easing the burden on Set Max. Three years later, Sony Six is home not just to IPL, but it has embraced other sports, too, most notably football. After successfully broadcasting the FIFA World Cup 2014, Sony Six has acquired more football properties, which has seen MSM come up with a second channel – Sony Kix – that is largely dedicated to football.

Prasanna Krishnan, Business Head, Sony Six and Sony Kix, speaks at length to on the network’s extensive plans around football, the challenges faced in getting eyeballs for matches in Spain and more. Excerpts:

Last year you bagged the FIFA World Cup, and you’d earlier bagged Euro 2016. This year you’ve acquired Serie A TIM, Emirates FA Cup, and now the La Liga. What is the reason for investing in so many football properties?

Football is the No.2 sports in the country and it has traction among both traditional football markets of the country and urban youth, where it seems to be coming up in a very big way. In football, we started with the international football, but club football was the weakness in that portfolio which is what we’ve now plugged with these properties.

So, my football portfolio is complete with top quality football from European Leagues available every weekend and in the weeks when the Leagues take a break, I have international football to offer. I also have international tournament in the summer, when the Leagues take a break. So, essentially, I’ll be able to provide a compelling proposition to the fans throughout the year.

Will Sony Kix be purely a football channel?

It will definitely be my primary football channel. Our intention is to make it the home of football. That’s not to say that football will not be available on other channels. Often there are times when multiple matches are held at the same time, but clarity and consistency of scheduling is something that I believe in, so from a fan’s perspective of knowing the destination and having a straight association with a brand work really well.

Is this acquisition-spree in football largely boosted by the success of the FIFA World Cup 2014?

Besides the success of the World Cup, we’re clearly seeing a momentum in football. For us that is a big focus area and that is why we’re investing in it.

But as we often see from the ratings, this country is obsessed with cricket, that too only when India plays, so haven’t you taken a huge gamble by investing in many football properties?

It’s a calculated process because we were one of the first movers into this area. Even when we started, we’d decided that besides IPL, we will focus on other sports and that is something which we’ve worked upon from the time we launched our channel (Sony Six). Yes, cricket continues to dominate substantially and that’s indisputable, but an interesting fact that you should note is that in the calendar year 2014, nearly one-third of all-sports viewership came from non-cricket. This would have not have been possible 3-4 years back, where cricket got 90 per cent of the viewership. That number though has been steadily changing now. In 2013, non-cricket sports fetched about 25 per cent of the viewership and in 2014, 30 per cent of all sports viewership came from non-cricketing side. I’ve been seeing this a trend, but may be people don’t observe it.

This year you’ve bagged three annual football properties. Could you tell us about the approximate investment into these properties?

(Laughs) I’m not getting into the license fee cost. It’s a substantial cost.

How do you plan to scale up both the channels?

Well, this content (football) was a key aspect of it and that explains why we made substantial investments in it. As I said before, non-cricket sports viewership is on the rise, and I’d like to believe that we’ve played a pivotal part in that because we’re the ones who invested the most in these sports in the last couple of years. We’ll continue to power and grow that market through aggressive investments and aggressive promotions.

While La Liga does have two of the biggest clubs, but the biggest problem is the timing of the matches which often run late into the night.  How will you get eyeballs then?

Till three years ago, every match used to be late because they used to be played in the late evening Spain time, but if you see the schedules from last year, and it will occur this year too, the timings are moving more into prime time India. Earlier, if every match took place at 1.30 am IST, now it’s only a few matches that air at that time.

But the El Clasico (Real Madrid v Barcelona) often takes place late in the night...

El Clasico or other matches happen on a scheduling basis. Last year, one of the two El Clasico matches was an afternoon match. Scheduling is a very complex process. It is not designed for a market. It is designed in a manner that all teams get to play evenly. So, it’s not fair on the some of the smaller clubs that only a particular team gets to play in the night while others play during the day. They (Spanish Football Association) do it in an equalised way and then after it is a draw of lots. So, I can’t say what time it will be, it could be any of the seven slots.

A big team like AC Milan has been struggling for the last few years. Often, Italian football purists complain that the Italian clubs are becoming feeder clubs for teams in EPL, La Liga...

Italian football did see a dip a few years ago, but a lot of people believe it’s on a revival path. Every team goes through a slide, these are just phases and from what I’ve been hearing, AC Milan are likely be to the surprise package this year.

As for La Liga, I agree that Spain has got two clubs which have far more traction than the rest. Atletico Madrid and Valencia have some glamour, but these two teams are the biggest.

So, can you just bank on Real Madrid and Barcelona to drive the ratings?

The League itself is getting a significant following. The reality is that those two teams also play 38 matches every year. That makes for 76 matches, and in every weekend there is a following for Real and Barcelona, to some extent Atletico, so you are still watching three matches a week. That’s a great number to have.

What are the marketing strategies you are looking to employ for La Liga?

Well, we’re working on that now. The League is still two weeks away, whilst we bagged the rights a week ago, so it’s little too early to strike deals now, and deal closures take time. Though the advantage that I have right now is that I’m going to use the Sri Lanka versus India Test series platform as my primary marketing. The series commences next week, so for the fans of sports, that’s the best possible route to reach out and communicate to the new destination.

We’re working on more marketing plans, both internally and externally, including the external media, print included. There will be a launch phase campaign and then there will be sustenance activities which will be more specific. Right now, our approach is not going to be very different to what we’ve adopted for basketball and fight sports.

Programming around matches is very vital for any sport, but what we observed last year at the World Cup was how your pre- and post-match analysis show, ‘Café Rio’, was criticised for its poor quality of TV presenters. Mid way through the World Cup, you replaced most of the Indian TV presenters by roping in Joe Morrison of Ten Sports. In fact, even John Abraham drew flak for being an expert. So, what can we expect in your programming around matches this season for your annual football properties?

See, EPL produces a central studio, it’s not something done locally. The League does it and provides it to everybody in the world.

Nobody comes into a sport and becomes a commentator. No one is praised and loved from day one. It takes some time for them to get used to it. Besides, for any international football event, why should an Indian face be a sacrilege?

India will be hosting the U-17 World Cup in 2017. How are you planning to help build a great momentum for the World Cup?

I think the U-17 World Cup could be a turning point for football in this country. It’s going to be the first ever FIFA event in this country. The stadium infrastructure, the quality of turf, required as per FIFA standards, is no different from junior to a senior event. So, it leads to a very successful ground level movement there. It’s also bringing the federation and the organising committee, the broadcasters together with the common purpose of hosting a successful tournament. From a build-up prospective, it is both an opportunity at a grass root level for football development and if our junior team does fairly well, the future for them and Indian football as a whole will be bright.

Next year we will see the bidding for IPL rights again. Expectedly, there will be a lot of aggressive bidding for it, how well are you prepared to not let IPL go off your hands? Have all the controversies surrounding IPL made you rethink whether or not to reinvest in it?

I believe in IPL, but beyond that I’m not getting into any conversations. The reality is that IPL is IPL. The viewership is there, the fans are there, and for them it is a product they need to have.

But after investing in so many football and other properties, will there be enough left in your coffers to rebid for IPL?

(Laughs) I’m not getting into there, but I’m sure we’ll manage it with the BCCI.

Last year, like Star Sports, you too ventured into kabaddi by broadcasting the World Kabaddi League. It didn’t create that much of a buzz. So, will we get to see a second season of World Kabaddi League?

I don’t know, it was basically supported by the Punjab Government and the company that was organising it is based in Punjab. It’s a question they will have to take a call on how they want to build that League further. I believe they are planning to do it again, but they are still working on their plans.

Will you be keen to invest in it again?

Let them first formulise their schedule and everything. Scheduling and timing will be a key thing for us. They are learning from last year and are just incorporating that to figure things out, so I think it’s a question that they’ll be in a better position to answer right now.

Last year, two major networks invested in local sports. This year we’ve seen iTV network announcing plans for an Indian Wrestling League. After kabaddi, do you have any plans to tap into other local sports?

We’ll always stay on the lookout for new opportunities, but I’d like to go into a sport only when I know that I’m in a position to offer something on a consistent basis and offer top-of-the-line. So, getting into something for the sake of it is not sustainable.

There is a pattern and predictability to my content. There are three or four sports I’ve focussed on which I know that week in and week out you’ll find content throughout the year. There are other sports, where I’m not present, for example, hockey where I have no presence. Other than one or two India events, I have nothing in badminton.

The biggest thing about sport, especially in India, is that we have to be in a position to be able to build and promote it, and then if fans get hooked onto to it, I should be able to do something on a consistent basis. Otherwise, I’ll just stay out of it.

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