Television
Report on Hindi News Viewership

We are looking to broadbase appeal of LaLiga beyond key pockets: Viacom18's Siddharth Sharma

The media company aims to expand and make its sports portfolio robust, shares Sharma.

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Mumbai: Last year, Viacom18 inked a deal with the Spanish football league, LaLiga. The new season kicked off last month. In an interaction with Indiantelevision.com, Viacom18 Sports head of content, TV and digital Siddharth Sharma said that the aim is to broadbase the appeal of LaLiga beyond the key pockets of Goa, Kerala and West Bengal.

"Sports18 is the youngest sports network in the country. We have energy, enthusiasm and passion, and that is something that we also share with our partners like La Liga. It is undoubtedly one of the most admired and followed leagues in the world due to the track record that it has."

He added, "Football in the country has grown by 33 per cent over the three years from 2018–2021. La Liga has been an important contributor to that. Through our network, LaLiga reached over nine million fans, and we want to build on this further with the launch of our dedicated sports channel, Sports18. It will be our endeavour to take the league to a larger fan base across the country through our platforms. Sports18 is the primary destination for LaLiga. The aim is to give viewers the best possible viewing experience. Our intention is to get the fans excited and keep them excited. Our aim is to expand and make our sports portfolio robust, and LaLiga plays an important role in that." 

This also means going beyond the array of live football that happens. It is about shows like Goal'D. That is a take on football leagues and the movers and shakers.

LaLiga, he said, has been one of the most giving partners that the broadcaster has had. They give access to footage of players. He explained that LaLiga also does cool technical stuff, which is something that Sports18 is able to leverage.

Broadbasing football is something that the broadcaster is passionate about, he added, "We have to go beyond the key pockets. That is our focus. While we will address the core market that exists in terms of Kerala, West Bengal, Goa, and the Northeast, there is an attempt to broadbase football consumption across other markets that have a lot of headroom for growth.”

“We will, in our endeavour to teach out to these markets, do a lot of work there with La Liga to widen the funnel there and get sports fans to engage with football. We educate them about the sport, about football players, and get them involved in the various levels of storytelling that we have to do. LaLiga is the frontrunner in our efforts to broadbase the sport due to the access that they give us to their immense library and the media hub that they have," he said in response to a question from Indiantelevision.com.

Talking about non-live content, he said it is a very important component. During live action, there is action, but non-live shoulder programming helps serve the core fan cohorts. "We can give them a behind-the-scenes look, nuanced approaches to set pieces of games that happen, the technical and strategic play that happens within a match. We dissect, analyse it and bring it to the viewers because it offers more time, the ability to look at these instances in a game and present them to fans. It is an immense opportunity, and we take a lot of pride in non-live programming because that takes us closer to the fans. We would also not be averse to giving fans a voice through this programming. We are having discussions with LaLiga on how to take this forward."

He said that the Fifa World Cup that the broadcaster will air later in the year is a milestone event in the broadcaster's commitment to the sport. "We are looking to offer a differentiated experience. There will be a paradigm shift in terms of how the event is presented. We will engage our core viewers as well as intenders who we want to turn into core viewers. We will offer an unparalleled experience on Fifa that has never been seen in the country. The fan has to be the fulcrum of everything that we do. The fan has to be at the centre of everything that we do. The fan has converted to the sport or the team or the league. Fans have different identities, associations with the game. It is incumbent on us to serve them in the best possible manner." 

He also noted that core fans, non-core fans, and intenders watch football matches differently. The aim is to excite these audiences sitting at various ends of the viewership spectrum. The aim is to keep the core fan base intact and to move the intenders towards the core and to bring the floaters, or light viewers, into the middle of the value chain. "That is the idea," he told Indiantelevision.com.

He stated that the broadcaster's goal with LaLiga and other soccer properties is to provide a 360-degree experience that allows fans to engage with the sport in the way that they want. In terms of having football content beyond English for LaLiga, he said that other languages like Hindi, Bangla, and Malayalam will play a role in the journey. Language commentary will be offered. For LaLiga, it is looking at putting a few key matches like El Classico next month on Sports18 Khel, the FTA channel. This, he said, accords a lot of headroom because that is an underserved audience.

The other football properties the broadcaster has deals with for LaLiga and the Fifa World Cup 2022 are Serie A and Ligue 1. It also airs the local tournament, the Durand Cup. "It is the oldest football league in Asia. Our announcement contributes to widening the funnel of the football fan. The level of football and the level of sportsmanship have gone up tremendously. But there is a lot of scope for growth that we are working towards. There is a sizable interest in the Durand Cup that we are seeing."

One of the things that LaLiga India MD Jose Antonio Cachaza pointed out was that many matches in La Liga have Asia and India-friendly timings. That is not the case with some of the other football properties, like the Uefa Champions League, where matches sometimes start at 1:30 am. He added that LaLiga has seen a healthy increase in broadcast rights revenue globally. It earns around 900 million euros a year from global broadcast rights.

"That is because we provide an asset that broadcasters can exploit all year around. International revenue has been steadily growing. In any country, our aim is to be the second most popular league, behind the local league. In India, that means being second after the ISL." One of LaLiga's aims globally is to have a better digital offering.

The ElClasico, which pits FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in the most high-profile club match in world football, returns on the weekend of 15 October, while the Seville, Barcelona, and Basque derbies follow in November, December, and January, respectively.

Games such as these, Cachaza explained, are a big factor in why LaLiga is the most followed domestic football league on social media, with over 160 million fans all over the world enjoying LaLiga content in 20 different languages across 17 different platforms. But LaLiga is also leading the way in digital outreach for international fans with Play LaLiga. This LaLiga claims the only self-produced TikTok show by a European league; the creation of the first-ever mini-app on Alipay for Chinese fans; and the launch in Indonesia and Thailand of LaLiga Pass, a self-developed OTT offering all LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank matches for fans on demand, among many other initiatives.

The 2022/23 season kick-off also marks a crucial moment for LaLiga off the pitch. Clubs across LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank are looking to take a giant step forward in their development and growth thanks to Boost LaLiga, a large-scale two billion euro investment project made possible by LaLiga’s agreement with investment fund CVC in December 2021. Clubs are already working across the board on ambitious development plans in areas such as strategy and business, infrastructure, international, brand and product development, digitalisation, and tech innovation, among others.

Meanwhile, LaLiga Tech, the LaLiga subsidiary which offers technological and innovative solutions, continues to expand its business in over 50 countries with companies from multiple industries, including broadcasters, federations, and leagues. LaLiga Tech aims to transform the sports and entertainment sector with the design and implementation of OTT services, applications, games, websites, fan engagement, the improvement and protection of content, and competition management. World Padel Tour, Millicom, Sky Mexico, and MotoGP rights holders Dorna are just a few of the organisations that have already adopted LaLiga Tech's tech solutions to digitise their operations. 

Cachaza also mentioned the fact that LaLiga and Galaxy Racer (GXR), the Dubai-based transmedia multinational, have signed a Letter of Intent paving the way for the formation of a 15-year JV. The aim is to transform the sports league’s brand presence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the Indian subcontinent.

GXR, founded in 2019 by Group CEO Paul Roy, is the largest esports, gaming, and lifestyle organisation in the world with a presence in the Mena region, North America, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Europe. The JV positions GXR as LaLiga’s local partner in the MENA market and the Indian subcontinent, setting up a first in the world of sports rights in the territories which is projected to yield over three billion euros in revenue. Following the signing of the letter of intent, the parties entered an exclusive period to conclude contract details and the establishment of the JV. As agreed in the letter of intent, LaLiga and GXR will each hold a 50 per cent stake in the new JV. The JV will offer LaLiga new avenues and opportunities to increase brand presence across a key target region that is one of the youngest on the planet, with more than 1.3 billion people aged under 30. Furthermore, the joint venture will serve as the media rights agency for broadcast and media rights in Mena and the Indian subcontinent. 

The deal provides LaLiga with a pathway to share its intellectual property (IP) through a local partner already offering considerable market reach—GXR has over 500 million followers worldwide—and a platform for growth that leverages expertise in six key verticals: licensing, content creation, esports, influencer and talent management, merchandising, and music.

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