Conscious decision to bid for global rights - Star India CEO
Star India's strong presence in both television and digital spaces, as well as global markets, prompted the company to make a record-breaking bid for the IPL broadcast rights for the period 2018 to 2022. Star's bid of INR 16,347.5 crore (US $2.55 billion) was the only global bid made on Monday in Mumbai and was nearly INR 528 crore (US $82.45 million) more than the combined value of the highest bids in each individual category.
Star already owned both broadcast and digital rights for international cricket in India until March 2018, and broadcast rights to ICC's global cricket tournaments till 2023, for which it paid about $ 1.9 billion.
With the IPL deal - the biggest for cricket - Star, according to its CEO Uday Shankar, was equipped to create a "complete experience" for cricket fans.
"As you can see from our bidding numbers, we made a conscious call that we will bid for the global rights," Shankar said after the bids were disclosed by the BCCI. "We have significant presence in each of these three universes. We have a television presence in India, we have a very robust, very exciting digital platform in India, which we are rolling out across the world. And, our channels are globally distributed, so it made sense for us to make an attempt to win it for all the markets."
Star's bids in the individual categories for Indian television and digital rights were much lower than those of its competitors. Star had bid INR 6196.94 crore for TV rights in India, and INR 1443 crore for digital. When asked for an explanation, Shankar said Star's aim was to bag both categories.
"Look, it is a matter of bidding strategy. It is also a matter of how each company evaluates each segment of the rights," Shankar said. "Our view was that we will be able to create a complete experience for cricket fans if we had TV and digital both. And that is why we felt that we were going to make an attempt to get TV and digital both. Otherwise, we have lived without IPL and we were happy to live without IPL."
Star had already established its IPL presence through Hotstar, its online streaming platform, having paid INR 303 crore for digital rights from 2015-17. Shankar said Indian consumers had taken the world by surprise by warming up to the digital platform. While Facebook was the highest individual bidder - INR 3900 crore - for this cycle of digital rights in India, Airtel (INR 3280 crore), Jio (INR 3075.72) and Star (INR 1443) also put up sizeable bids.
"Till a few years ago, India was characteristically dismissed as a country that was not broadband-ready," Shankar said. "People said there was not enough broadband, the data was too expensive, there were not enough phones. It was still only a voice-only market. And then, in less than two years, it has emerged as one of the world's most exciting markets for video consumption.
"You should see the number of people who bid for digital rights and the number of people who took interest by buying the tender document. So, that should tell you the story. I think it can become a lot more exciting depending on how the data prices behave and how the availability and access to broadband and wifi continues to grow in this country. But if that happens, it will be one of the world's most exciting digital markets."
Over the last three IPL seasons, Hotstar broadcast the matches with a five-minute delay. However, with Star now owning both television and digital rights, Shankar was asked if Hotstar would broadcast matches in real time. Shankar was non-committal and said Star would think about it in due course.
ESPN has a long-term collaboration with Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) for the launch of SONYESPN-branded television channels and digital assets in India and the subcontinent.
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun