While Star Sports and JioCinema are going all out in this season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) to provide the best viewing experience to viewers, Gurjeev Singh Kapoor, Head - Distribution and International, Disney Star, stated that digital and TV mediums can co-exist and the aim should be to expand the overall market.
Kapoor also discussed Disney Star's efforts to collaborate with its partners and take sports deeper into the Indian market, as well as its regionalisation efforts and HD offerings. He also emphasised that consumers will always be at the centre of Disney Star's and its affiliates' distribution strategies.
Star Sports reach
Kapoor said that IPL is one of the biggest sporting events in the country. Ahead of the ongoing 16th edition, people felt there was some fatigue in the past, but the ratings and response Disney Star has received in this IPL tell a different story.
“It shows there is no fatigue and people are loving IPL and the numbers are pouring in both in terms of reach as well as the viewership,” Kapoor said.
“IPL has led to the growth of cricket in this country. Being the number one TV network in the country, we have really taken sports deep into every consumer in the country. Year-on-year we have upped the game on IPL reach and at the beginning of this year’s IPL, Star Sports consistently reached eight out of 10 pay-TV homes,” he added.
Disney Star has been operating in India for the past three decades and it has forged a relationship with its partners, he said.
“We understand their wants and what they look at in terms of how they would like to get their consumers or more subscribers. We have an account-based structure which services over 850 operators in the country. Our team reaches out to all these operators and looks at how best we can manage them and collaborate with them and look at pushing the interests of our consumers which are always at the centre stage whenever we come out with any distribution strategy,” Kapoor stated.
He stated that this year, they looked at going with joint promotional activity with the partners to get new subscribers from various consumer segments. “Also, to grow the subscription, we came up with joint marketing plans not just with MSOs & DTH partners but also with LCOs, call centres and DTH retailers to reach out to everyone. The numbers are doing the talking, now we are able to reach nine out of every 10 pay-TV homes on the back of getting 11 million more subscribers for the business.”
Packaging and pricing are other growth factors
Kapoor added that ‘packaging and pricing’ play a very important role in Disney Star’s strategy and add to their growth strategy.
“We have a value pack offering when it comes to sports, where the other strong channels from other genres are also part of this,” Kapoor said and added that these packages are curated with an affordable price which can be adopted by viewers at large.
“If somebody does not want to take the package, for them we have an offering of à la carte which is still at Rs 19. Despite our rates for properties going up multiple times, we haven't increased the rates for our SD as well as our HD sports channels. We haven't burdened any of our viewers with the increase in price.”
Regionalisation of sports has been a big driver of engagement with viewers
Kapoor said that providing dedicated sports channels in regional languages like Tamil, Telugu and Kannada along with additional language feeds in Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali and Malayalam has helped them gain more viewership.
“This year we have added four more regional language feeds - which are Marathi, Gujarati, Bangla and Malayalam. The regionalisation of sports has been a big driver for us to engage with our viewers more deeply. People prefer watching sports in the language they understand.”
Speaking about the growth seen in HSM and other markets, he went on to say that they have seen a phenomenal increase in reach - especially in markets like UP, West Bengal, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. “These markets have been instrumental in giving us solid reach in numbers.”
“Just to ratify all these things, the report card is out and BARC came out with the numbers which talked about how we have delivered. In the first 29 matches, we had delivered a reach of 409 million viewers which is 37 million viewers higher than the entire IPL of 2022. The first match of this year's IPL got a higher viewership by 30% and the entire 29 matches had a higher viewership of 24%,” Kapoor said.
Furthermore, he went on to say that when live sports are viewed on HD, it's a visual delight. According to BARC, we now have 75 million HD homes in India and the numbers are doubling every two years.
“From Star's perspective, we have always been the vanguard of HD and driving HD. If you look at the plethora of channels which we give to our viewers, we have 77 channels and out of them 40% of channels are in HD which is 31 in number. For sports we have 17 channels out of which seven are in HD,” Kapoor said.
“This year we came out with two more sports HD channels to cater to the audience in the South in AP-Telangana and Tamil Nadu. These markets are really big with a high propensity to consume more,” he added.
Deeper collaboration with affiliates
Disney Star and its affiliates have a mutual vision which is to take the best quality content to their viewers and engage with them deeply, as per Kapoor, and any problems which may arise from time to time are sorted out through well-times discussions.
“Sometimes challenges crop up with affiliates so we engage with them and hold discussions and try to amicably resolve these issues. This time also, it was no different so we managed to take care of these things. The consumers are at the centre stage in any of our discussions and thinking and we always ensure that their interests should never be compromised,” he added.
Furthermore, he went on to say that Disney Star has seen how consumers' needs and perspectives have evolved. The network has also seen how this entire distribution value chain has transformed.
“In terms of immersive experience, we collaborated with Dolby Atmos which gave viewers an enhanced audio experience. In terms of interactivity, this time we partnered with Airtel Digital and Tata Play where we looked at providing instant highlights, key moments and comprehensive stats. We have seen a good response on this,” he added.
“We have seen the transition from the analogue mode of delivery to digital and then from digital to the new tariff and now the new tariff NTO 3.0. So, we have been a part of this journey and we understand our operators well. After NTO in 2019 we started working on the new tariff order. The current tariff order allows the consumer to make a choice of what channels they would like to watch,” Kapoor said.
“So, the choice is in the hands of consumers. Now we deeply engage with the affiliates, more than what we used to do earlier, in order to understand what is working in the market. There is more collaboration in terms of going to the market together and there is a deeper partnership now. This is all while keeping in mind what the consumer would like to watch,” he added.
Both linear and digital mediums can co-exist
Kapoor stated that today television is the largest aggregator of audience and it's also the preferred mode of sports consumption.
“We have seen the scale which TV provides; no other medium is able to reach. We have seen how sports on TV have played out for us. Also, it has a headroom for growth as in India we still have millions of homes which do not have TV sets. It's a fertile ecosystem and there are areas where one can work and make this entire market grow. We have seen, especially in the IPL, how TV is still relevant and people prefer watching sports on it,” he said.
While there is a digital player which gave IPL for free, Disney Star did not get impacted due to that, he stated.
“It should not be TV or digital, it should be TV and digital. We should be looking at expanding the market. There is a play for both and both can co-exist and grow. Disney Star operates in both linear as well as OTT. We have the highest network share in linear and we are the biggest SVOD subscriber base for OTT,” Kapoor said.