ESPNcricinfo, the digital platform for sports updates and content, is contemplating the launch of two Indian regional feeds, Tamil and Bengali. It already operates 11 editions of the app in different markets. The app can be personalised to the likings and favourite teams in each sport, hosting a lot of content across various verticals like ball-by-ball updates, news and video content.
Discussing plans about the Tamil and Bengali editions of the website, Ramesh Kumar, Vice-President, Head of ESPN India and South Asia, said, “We are in advanced stages in terms of our video offerings. We have got something in Tamil, which is going to have huge interest in diaspora audience in the Middle-East, US, UK and Sri Lanka. Bengali is also for Bangladesh. We are looking at what is the right platform strategy and what is the right product configuration and it will have both text and AV content. We are in advanced stages.”
The website has completed 25 years of operations and to celebrate the same, the company attempted to reinforce something special, on the offline medium, something that has a global yet local flavour. Hence, an association with Zorawar Khan’s Massive Restaurants started with a specially created dish, Googly Gujiya. “This helps us in reinforcing that we are strongly a local, yet a global brand as ESPN,” said Kumar.
The company is celebrating this anniversary in many key markets – the US, sub-continental, UK, Australia, along with India. “We are a global brand with a clear positioning of being the world’s largest cricket fan club. We are the first point of contact in engaging with global cricket fans.
Over the last 2-3 years, we have seen a huge surge in terms of the mobile users coming online and the content consumption. Approximately, 80% of our consumption happens through mobile platforms,” added Kumar.
The website has witnessed a lot of younger fans coming on the platform, primarily for two reasons. One, because of the changing dynamics of the sports, in terms of T20 and One Day which has a lot more appeal. The second reason is because it has completely replanned the coverage of these events in terms of short-form content with huge emphasis on covering digital content.
The major surge in traffic on the platform is during the live cricket matches. “Indian cricket drives substantial eyeballs, not only from India, but also the subcontinent, the US and the UK. Indian cricket is a primary driver. Unlike some of the players who are clearly focused on Indian cricket, ESPN is leader in exhaustive all international and domestic cricket. At any point of time, we have either of the two playing,” said Kumar.
On how much does cricket contribute to the traffic on the site, Charles Classen, Vice-President and General Manager, EMEA, South Asia and Australia/ New Zealand, said, “It largely depends on where you are and what time of the year it is. If it is India playing in England, we have a huge spike, similarly for Australia and some of the big markets. Globally cricket is the second largest sport in the world, after football. People also come for a lot of video content, alongside the live updates and the third part is storytelling.”
India has seen a huge jump in the number of mobile users, especially beyond the tier 1 cities. While answering queries about the traffic from the tier 2 and 3 towns, Kumar said, “This trend of mobile consumption seeing a huge surge started much before Jio came in. Jio disruption bringing in more number of viewers is true and it only keeps us excited about the new users in the smaller towns and cities. About 65% of our total consumption is still coming from the top six cities. With Jio, we might see more skewed consumption from the tier 2 and 3 cities.”
Online video consumption is touching the sky. But it is ESPNCricinfo’s ball-by-ball commentary that made it a popular website created affinity among sports fans. Also, readers are often not able to catch up with sports content with the leisure of consuming videos and audios. Speaking about its video content and its consumption, Classen explained, “Video is beyond AV, there is also a lot of video without sound, wherein graphics are primary. Sometimes it is about the story, but graphics are also massively consumed. We are seeing huge growth in video, just like everyone else.”
All the content on the platform is free. While there are no immediate plans to put content behind the paywall, ESPNCricinfo has a strong advertising revenue streams with huge chunk coming from branded content.
Classen said, “Advertising and sponsorship is true to our business, we have dedicated sales team across the globe and in four Indian markets too. We provide advertisers with both global and local solutions. We also integrate advertisers into the video shows. It is about passion and fans can do anything for sports. We have seen the advertising market grow a lot in India and is growing rapidly globally too. Video and branded content is becoming more important. Ultimately what is important for the advertiser is the safe and good technology environment in digital space, where brands trust to work with us to reach the real sports fan. We have a lot of data to make sure that they are reaching the right TG.”
The company has grown its advertising revenues by about 35% in the last one year and aims to have a healthy growth in the future. “In terms of efficiencies of operations, we clearly leverage the fact that we have global and localised offerings. A certain programme can be sponsored by X advertiser in India and by Y advertiser in the US or Australia,” added Kumar.