A year where cricket rights value soared

A year where cricket rights value soared

Sports broadcasters believe that this market will be very profitable in the next five years.


Mumbai: 2022 was a year when cricket rights boards, notably the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the International Cricket Council (ICC), laughed all the way to the bank. That is because the value of their rights properties rose manifold compared to the previous rights deal. That happened in large part due to the fact that the value of streaming is being recognised. In a country that is young and mobile-first, players believe that this area will be monetised handsomely in the next five years. It was also a year when sports broadcasting got a new entrant in Sports18, which immediately made an impact by bidding aggressively for the Indian Premier League’s digital rights. One of the top priorities will be the Sony-Zee Sports Joint Venture. Zee has already made moves towards re-entering the genre. For Disney-Star, it was about being selective about what to bid on and for which platform.

Cricket rights were split for the first time, indicating that the acquisition costs are too high for one player to bear, regardless of how well capitalised it is. Both the IPL and ICC rights will be shared. The IPL broadcast rights are with Disney-Star, while the digital rights are with Viacom18. Meanwhile, after winning the ICC rights for what was said to be more than 2.5 times the next highest bid, Disney-Star sublicensed the TV rights to Zee Entertainment Enterprises (Zeel).

The IPL auction ran for three days, and the BCCI got a lot of praise for how it was handled. The drama and suspense matched Alfred Hitchcock at his best. That is because the identities of the bidders were anonymous, even to the BCCI. After three days of action, the BCCI became richer by Rs 48,390.52 crore. This was three times the figure that Star India had paid back in 2017. What is noteworthy is that this time the digital rights cost more than the TV rights.

Disney Star was awarded the India TV rights package A for Rs 23,575 crore (Rs 57.50 crore per match for 410 matches). Package B for India's digital rights went to Viacom18 for Rs 20,500 crore (Rs 50 crore per match for 410 matches). Package C, which was the rights for 18 non-exclusive digital matches in a competitive bid, also went to Viacom18 for Rs 3,257.52 crore (Rs 33.24 crore per match for 98 matches). Package C, for the record, was the premium that Viacom18 had to pay to maintain digital exclusivity. This was seen as the BCCI’s masterstroke. This meant that the value of digital rights per match exceeded the value of TV rights per match. The per-match value of digital (packages B and C) is Rs 57.98 crore. TV’s per-match value is Rs 57.40 crore. This was a stark contrast to 2008. At that time, when Sony had taken over the rights, the value of digital was not great.

Disney-Star admitted that economic factors forced it not to chase digital rights. The company said that it made disciplined bids with a focus on long-term value. An analyst noted that it probably chose to retain TV rights in part to protect its distribution income in addition to growing revenue. Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) managing director & CEO N.P. Singh had spoken about the importance of fiscal prudence, which he noted is critical for strategic management. Zeel, for its part, had said that its job is to create value for shareholders.

For the record, package D for the rest of the world sold for Rs 1,058 crore (Rs 2.58 crore per match for 410 matches). Viacom18 won in Australia, South Africa, and the UK. Times Internet got MENA and the US.

There was a lot more drama on the cricket rights front. Everyone was taken aback when Disney-Star paid a reported $3.04 billion for the ICC rights. The new four years were substantially more than the $2.02 billion it had paid for eight years for global rights the last time around. Further, the grapevine had it that Disney-Star’s bid was more than 2.5 times the next-highest bid. Then it sublicensed the television rights to Zeel, indicating a sharing of the risk. Disney-Star is also said to have paid around $255 million for the seven-year rights to cricket in Australia. Among the other cricket rights acquisitions that took place, Sony retained the rights to England cricket.

Talking about Zeel’s aim behind acquiring the TV rights for the ICC, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. (ZEEL) managing director & CEO Punit Goenka said that the company will always evaluate all the necessary steps that will enable it to make sports a compelling value proposition for the company.

Breaking Even: The question is, will the rights holders make money? According to JM Financial's research, the IPL TV rights owner Disney Star can expect to make money in the third year. Meanwhile, the digital rights winner, Viacom18, will have to wait for five years to make money. Because there will be 94 matches in 2027, advertising revenue will increase. The report has not assumed any incremental subscription revenue for Disney Star, as they are the incumbent broadcaster for the IPL.

A media expert noted that cricket on a standalone basis is not viable anymore. However, for a large network like Disney-Star, it is a must-have as it can drive the network as a whole both on TV and OTT. Disney-Star's sharing of the ICC rights has allowed for a sharing of the risk. On the ad sales front, Disney-Star could try to monopolise ad sales by offering IPL and other cricket properties only to those advertisers who place ads on the whole network for the year.

"That is partly how paying a premium could make economic sense." Elara Capital's Karan Taurani said that both the IPL and ICC will make a marginal profit. He noted that if one looks at trends, the sports broadcasting market is getting more fragmented with Viacom18 and Jio getting into the fray. Zeel also bought cricket rights, and Taurani feels that the company could launch a channel. This shows that content costs will stay high for the near term. Sports as a genre is viewed heavily both on TV and digitally. Another trend is that sports is the most important genre in the TV industry today. "It will outperform other genres."

Cricket is moving to digital in a very big way. Today, digital is only 25 per cent of revenue, but the content cost of digital is more than 50 per cent. He feels that in the coming three to four years, digital will contribute 50 per cent of IPL’s revenue. So the digital cost moving up is justified. He said that the price inflation for the IPL and ICC was expected. A lot of that has to do with economic inflation, and the balance is due to competition intensity. "More TV players are realising the importance of sports. It is showing a large amount of consumption. On OTT, you are sure that the cricket content will definitely work, which is not always the case with a web series. People realise that no other genre can make up for the value add of cricket and sports."

Talking about the Sony-Zee JV, he said that their strategy is clear. SPNI already has a large number of sports offerings on TV and digitally. Zee, he thinks, will start making moves in this space on TV. "They will have a plethora of content to offer."

Zee will air the ILT20 in January on linear and on Zee5. Sony, for example, renewed the rights to the Australian Open, a tennis Grand Slam. It also took over the rights to the French Open and the US Open. For Disney+Hotstar, Taurani said it is about having the balance of having sports content on both TV and digital. "They have become selective in their approach as cricket has become expensive. They will invest in other forms of content besides just sports. Taking TV and digital rights for the ICC and IPL covers their bases. The aim clearly is to have a strong recall on both platforms when it comes to sports."

A New Player: This year Viacom18 got into sports broadcasting. It launched two channels: Sports18 and Sports18 Khel. The Fifa World Cup was the marquee property for 2022, and it was streamed for free on JioCinema in addition to being broadcast on TV. There were English, Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali, and Tamil feeds for JioCinema. A 4K feed was done, and it was available across telecom operators. While there were initial complaints of technical glitches, these got sorted out. The ownership of the JioCinema app was transferred to Viacom18 after BodhiTree Systems, a platform of James Murdoch's Lupa Systems, and media and entertainment industry veteran Uday Shankar announced a partnership with Viacom18. After the ownership transfer, all the sports content was shifted from Voot to JioCinema.

As previously stated, Viacom18 was aggressive in acquiring the IPL's digital rights. It also has the broadcast and digital rights to a host of other properties, like LaLiga, Serie A, the Durand Cup, the NBA, SA20, which is South Africa’s Twenty20 cricket league, ATP Masters 1000, and the BWF World Championships. Regional language TV channels will also be part of the plan.

As far as Viacom18 is concerned, Taurani feels that the main play will be on digital when it comes to sports. For Jio, it is about getting subscribers. "Digital is a bigger play for Viacom 18 in sports.The larger picture is retaining Jio subscribers, adding subscribers, and driving ARPUs. Jio has its own distribution, so it can get better ARPUs compared to the competition." It remains to be seen whether their strategy for leveraging IPL digital rights will be a combination of AVoD (advertising-based video on demand) and SVoD (subscription video on demand).

Speaking about the Fifa World Cup, he said that recovering the amount only through AVoD was possible. JioCinema also got a lot of attention as a destination. But relying only on AVoD will be very difficult with the IPL, as the content cost is very high. "Revenue has to move toward the cost of content. Nobody could have predicted how quickly digital would grow. I think that for big properties it is better to segregate content costs and unbundle them."

For the ICC rights, it has taken a measured approach, which experts feel is because most matches do not feature India. As one of them said, "80 per cent of Indian viewers for an ICC event only watch the India matches."

An expert agrees with Taurani that for Viacom18 Sports, it's more about digital. But he feels that AVoD will be the big play. "Read the tea leaves. Look at what they did with the Fifa World Cup, giving it away for free on digital while airing it on TV. And it was not cheap. The rights are estimated to be worth Rs 400 crore. This was a big, disruptive move, which I feel is only the beginning." 

D&P India Advisory published a report titled "Beyond 22 Yards," the IPL Valuation Report 2022, in which it stated that monetising the current IPL viewership audience is difficult. When compared to other leagues, the IPL has ad rates that are on the lower end. The ad rates charged are a function of the monetisation potential of the viewers, which in the case of the IPL is largely the low- to middle-income population of India. Thus, the monetisation of media rights is a tough task for broadcasters in India, which indirectly influences broadcasting revenue for franchisees. This also tells us that there is a significant potential for IPL to generate value going forward.

This is what the report suggests could happen if the IPL expands its window or broadcasters find ways to better monetise their content. Also, the growing purchasing power of the Indian middle class should help increase ad rates in the future.

It is also worth noting that Viacom18 spoke about advertisers after bagging the digital rights for the IPL. "This will be an exceptional opportunity for advertisers to reach a larger, younger, more relevant, and highly engaged audience. The targeting opportunities because of Viacom18’s strategic partnership with Jio will be unparalleled," the company had said. The company had also spoken about reaching out to DD Freedish users.

OTT Platforms Airing Cricket: It is worth noting that some of the smaller cricket boards, which are not expensive, are being aired by OTT platforms on an exclusive basis. So, for instance, FanCode aired the India versus West Indies series, and Prime Video aired the India versus New Zealand series. What was unique about the West Indies series is that FanCode gave the TV rights to DD on an FTA basis. Normally, rights are only given to DD Freedish. FanCode’s target was for the event to grow its fanbase to 100 million users. However, experts believe that the trend of an OTT platform acquiring all cricket rights will not continue beyond a certain point. Cricket rights are prohibitively expensive. But this trend will grow for less expensive sports properties.

Flash Forward to 2023: Looking at 2023, all the sports broadcasters are expected to bid aggressively for the BCCI rights as every match features India. Going by the success of the IPL, it is very likely that the TV and digital rights will again be sold separately. This will enable more unbundling of cricket rights. While Test cricket is seen as struggling to maintain its relevance among a younger audience, it still has a dedicated fan following in the country. Taurani feels that the BCCI rights will see a decent increase in value, but it will not be as much as the IPL. The incumbent Disney-Star pays Rs 60.1 crore per match on average. It is worth noting that, back in 2018, Jio was one of the bidders.

Ad Revenue: 2023 could be difficult for the genre, especially with the expensive cricket properties. Experts are split on how the genre will fare. Taurani said that the scene this year was muted. He expects revenue growth of 10 per cent as new-age companies reduce ad spending. Next year will also be affected for the same reason. New-age businesses consider the disproportionate impact.

"They contribute 20 per cent of sports ad spend, and they have cut their marketing spends by 30 to 40 per cent. Other categories will not compensate for the drop off when it comes to expensive cricket properties." For instance, FMCG looks at CPRP, which is why it is not in the IPL.

He estimates that sports broadcasting made around Rs 5,000 crore this year, with the bulk going to the IPL and the Twenty20 ICC World Cup. "Non-cricket made around Rs 500 crore. Non-cricket will not scale up beyond a point. Kabaddi has seen local advertisers, but scaling up for these local non-cricket leagues will be a big challenge."

He feels that the lack of performance on the international stage is why other sports are still lagging. The exception in terms of this when it comes to viewership are events like the Olympic Games, which are about national pride.

Meanwhile, Tam Media Research CEO L.V. Krishnan is far more optimistic. He pegs ad spends on sports a little higher at Rs 5,500 crore in 2022, and he sees it growing to Rs 7,500 crore in 2023. Ad revenue grew by 15 per cent this year, and he sees potential growth of 30 per cent in 2023. He noted that while India is still all about cricket, wrestling made a comeback in 2022. Soccer and kabaddi are the other two sports in the top four in terms of ad revenue.

"India is still completely about cricket. 86 per cent of sports advertising revenue goes to cricket. Wrestling had previously been harmed by covid, but after the restrictions were lifted, wrestling rose to second place. Pro Kabaddi is interesting. Volumes of sponsorship advertising in this genre increased by 25 per cent in 2021. The ad volume has grown more with repeats and highlights than with the live telecast. That is due to a dramatic jump in the cost of live telecasting. This is the biggest change being seen."

While startup spending is affected, he feels that other companies will step up to the plate and spend on sports in 2023. "There are enough established brands wanting to take that space." For him, the big thing is the ODI World Cup, which will happen in the second half of 2023.

He expects advertisers to save money for that event, which falls during the festive season. So sports advertising could be 3-5 per cent less in the first half of 2023 than in the same period this year. He also mentioned that language feeds are attracting advertisers because they are less expensive than national feeds. He also said that DD Sports on DD Freedish brings its own audience. So advertisers target the rural market.