The series will be shown weekly on Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD from November 27 with movies that go beyond sports
BestMediaInfo Bureau | Mumbai | November 23, 2016
âSport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.â
These iconic words spoken by Nelson Mandela comes with a firm backing from history itself. When one flips the pages of South African history and mulls over their rise from Apartheid, it would be hard to miss the role rugby played and the man who strongly believed in the sport and what it could do for his country.
ESPN and Sony Pictures Network intend to bring stories like these to its audience. They will present the ambitious and award-winning ESPN Films documentaries on Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD channels, beginning November 27.
Appearing for the first time in India, the critically-acclaimed Emmy and Peabody award-winning series of documentaries will bring Indian viewers a thoughtful and innovative examination of the sports world, its characters, events and intersections with society at large, whose stories are told by incredible filmmakers partnered with ESPN.
Speaking about the thought behind ESPN Films, Jasdeep Pannu, Head, ESPN India Television Initiatives, said, âThe idea behind ESPN Films is sports as a microcosm of life. They are not films just about sports but they are films that go beyond sports. They use sport as a lens but they find universal stories of triumph, dealing with failure and human emotion.â
Pannu says they are bringing these acclaimed documentaries to the Indian audience because he finds the market now just right.
âIt was a new initiative for ESPN in the US back then. These films were commissioned because ESPNâs 30th anniversary had come up. 30 filmmakers were commissioned to make a film each and that process itself took some time. But I think right now this powerful collaboration with Sony Pictures Network allows us to showcase these documentaries on a platform that is right. It is also right from an audience perspective because there is a growing interest in sports, now it has become a part of everyday life,â said Pannu.
Shedding some more light on the delay in bringing the venture to the Indian masses and why this is the right time to do so now, Prasana Krishnan, EVP and Business Head, Sports Cluster, Sony Pictures Network India, said, âOriginally, as Jasdeep said, it was created for the US market and as a celebration for ESPN completing 30 years. Also, after that ESPN exited the country couple of years later, so there was that changeover and then we started this venture earlier this year. This is the corporate side of the matter. I think from a viewer perspective also one should take a look at an additional thing. The markets in India are maturing quite dramatically. If you went back to 2008-2010, even if the content was ready and the platform was available I donât think the market was ready for it. Because the number of channels available to the consumer was very limited, everything centred around cricket and sports viewership was negligible. The story around sports came much later, the key issue was developing the live sports culture itself, an events culture and a sports culture in this country.â
âWe are now in the that phase where actively we seem to have passed that initial hurdle and we are seeing sports coverage go up in a significant way. We are now looking at 12-13 channels, almost every major live content is available, the market is richer and the viewer consumption of multiple sports has improved. So, it is a maturing market and you need to launch these categories and introduce them to the market only when you know there will be a ready market or there is likely to be a ready market available for such products,â Krishnan added.
While live sports may not interest everybody, a documentary might pull in new audience, so are they also looking to add a new set of audience?
âIn any sports viewership market there are the existing sports fans and then there are the occasional viewers and the non-viewers. So we are looking to cater both to the existing sports audience by giving them additional content and stories that they have not been exposed to. In addition to that we are looking to recruit additional new viewers, who may not be avid sports fans on a weekly basis. We intend to get them exposed to this category and this could be their route to sports. So, expansion of the base and greater engagement with existing fans is the dual objective,â said Krishnan.
Are they also looking to add new categories of advertisers as well?
âAt this point of time it is an untested category. So we have to prove the category first and establish the audience first because what do we take to advertisers right now without them even having seen the concept?â asked Krishnan. But he is positive that advertising will follow, âCategories which did not exist a few years ago are finding sponsors. I do not see why this will not. But I would much rather make it big first and get a regular cult following before worrying about advertising.â
According to Krishnan, there is a quite extensive catalogue of documentaries available from which they have cleared the first batch for telecast in India and the intention is to make it a weekly affair.
âRight now we have identified the first quantum of films. Letâs see how it goes over the next 10-12 weeks. We will also have to understand if there is a need for course correction in terms of slots, the consumerâs convenience for watching it on a particular time, etc. If the Sunday afternoon and the Monday repeat slots work beautifully, we will just continue with it, we have enough films available,â he said.
Commenting on their expectation from the venture, Krishnan said, âFrom my perspective it is category development. It is a category that currently does not exist. Sports channels have been completely confined to live sports or repeat of live sports. For most sports channels weekend live action is what drives and weekdays are more about repeats. These documentaries are good stories and if there is a good story there is no reason why the audience will not be interested in it. If these sports stars are heroes for us and are legends whom we appreciate and want to watch, I donât see any reason why people will not want to know their back stories or stories. That is precisely the category that we are trying to develop in this particular case. We have seen that there is enough evidence globally of successful movies and documentaries. This category has been very successful in the US, sports movies are a concept that has been successful worldwide. So, I see no reason why documentaries of this sort, which are highly, greatly inspiring stories should not succeed as a category. It is an interaction, an experiment that we are launching and we will see how the audience reacts to it and then accordingly ramp up.â
Speaking about his expectations, Pannu said, âESPNâs essential ambition is to service sports fans wherever they are and India is a big part of the world and as Prasana said it is also a maturing market. So there already are dedicated fans who are looking out for this sort of content but apart from that there is a huge market of new viewers. Just like live sports viewership is developing, this will develop other forms of watching sports and getting inspired by sports. The other thing is that when you think of sports channels, apart from live sports, what can you remember? Can you remember a show? Can you remember anything memorable? You canât, it is very difficult. So, these are stories that will make you remember that platform that will make you remember that you saw something of real value on the channel apart from live sports.â
The series will debut in India with The Two Escobars. Directed by the Zimbalists, the film tells the tale of two men named Escobar: AndrĂ©s, the captain and poster child of the National Team, and Pablo, the infamous drug baron who pioneered the phenomenon known in the underworld as âNarco-soccerâ.