Sony vs Star: Who is dominating the sports broadcasting game in India?
The tussle is very real between the sports broadcasting giants Sony and Star, who exercise a duopoly and fight it out for top-billed tournaments - ranging from IPL to the Tokyo Olympics.
In the repertoire of the average 'sports addict' in India would lie certain channel numbers deeply embedded in their memory - both muscle and otherwise. It is such that even when woken up from sleep at any ungodly hour, they will inevitably remember the channel number and reflexively, find their way to it. During pre-pandemic times when OTT (over-the-top) platforms weren't the rage, a majority of these 'sports addict's could be found sitting in front of their televisions - eyes wide open, fingernails praying for life on one hand, while the other hand twiddled the remote nervously between either a Sony or a Star sports channel in quick succession.
The life of this sports-addict is hectic and the heart had to be steadied often - swinging from watching Disney+ Hotstar's coverage of India taking on New Zealand at Southampton in the ongoing World Test Championships and come night, shifting their attention to the Euro Cup battles being played out on SonyLiv. After almost an year of starving for sports action - the heyday has finally arrived, for both fans and sports broadcasters alike as the season is ripe and full with one tournament after another - chiefly with the Tokyo Olympics just a month away!
Historically, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) and Star India, now owned by The Walt Disney Company India, have been at loggerheads regarding the procurement of media rights for the top-billed tournaments. Famously, the Indian Premier League (IPL) was caught in a tug-o-war between these two broadcasting giants who exercise a clear duopoly in India. In 2017, Star India one-upped Sony and signed a five-year broadcasting contract with IPL for a whopping Rs 16,348 crore and snatched it away from the latter who had held the rights of the premiere event since its inception in 2008.
Eyeing the biggest scoops - SonyLiv vs Disney+ Hotstar
While the strategy followed by Star India and Sony Pictures Networks India and its respective OTT platforms - Disney+ Hotstar and SonyLiv remains quietly ambiguous, the goal is crystal clear - it wants maximum viewership. Hotstar was enjoying primetime of late with IPL, the French Open and currently the India vs New Zealand WTC Finals going on, but the tide has begun shifting with the Euro Cup starting on SonyLiv. In July, SonyLiv is expected to grab more eyeballs as it boasts of holding the right to the world's most-awaited sports properties - the Olympics.
Switching camps from Star India who hosted the 2016 Rio Olympics in as many as 8 channels and made the Rio Games the most-watched Olympics in India, fetching as many as 191 million viewers, the IOC has now shifted to Sony. Signing on SPN, which is indirectly wholly owned by Sony Corporation, Japan, the IOC has granted the rights to broadcast the Tokyo Olympics which begins from July 23rd.
IOC President Thomas Bach said in a press release on the Olympics website, "As a dynamic sports and media market, India and the Subcontinent is an important strategic region for Olympic broadcasting. The IOC is pleased to be working with Sony Pictures Networks India to collaborate together to bring the best coverage of Tokyo 2020 and the Youth Olympic Games to fans across the region, on their platform of choice, with the aim of inspiring young people to engage with Olympic sports and the Olympic values."
Therefore, July is going to be a heavy month for Sony with first, the Copa America ending on July 10, followed by the Euro Cup on July 12 and finally from July 23, the Olympics fever is set to take over the portals of SonyLiv. The coverage for Tokyo Olympics is going to be end-to-end as Sony will try and overtake the record set by Star during the Rio Games and establish Tokyo Olympics as the most-watched Games in the nation.
"The IOC and SPN will collaborate on creating a permanent Olympic Channel home within the SonyLIV service. Programming will feature year-round coverage of Olympic athletes and sports, highlighting locally relevant original content produced by SPN and Olympic Channel." - the press release also mentioned.
Sony, who dwells well in doling out quality football content in the form of the Champion's League, La Liga is most excited to dip their fingers into the Olympic territory and re-assert its dominance in the duopoly they share with Star India. Apart from broadcasting in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Sony will be covering it all for the Indian subcontinent.
"As an organization, we continue to play a leading role in shaping and meeting the entertainment needs of the evolving consumer base across television & digital platforms in India. The Olympic Games is the largest and most prestigious international sports competition in the world with over 200 countries participating. The addition of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 broadcast and digital rights complements our portfolio of International sports events and properties," said an overjoyed N.P. Singh, the MD & CEO SPN in the press release.
Meanwhile, Star and Disney+ Hotstar's action hours will dim a little in July as it mainly has Wimbledon to now look forward to. However, the Big W also concludes on July 11 and within that span there aren't any more big tournaments to be played apart from the Tokyo Olympics that begins from July 23rd and finishes on August 8th.
Whose scale tips higher - Sony or Star?
Before we flash our judgement card, we need to briefly understand how business in sports work, as far as broadcasting and maintaining a duopoly goes. True enough, that Sony and Star try to outdo each other but they have always managed to stay abreast in this cut-throat competition. While Star India usually telecasts events with an all-year-round, annual, periodic flavour - like the EPL, the Grand Slams - French Open and Wimbledon, IPL and other cricket tournaments, Sony aims for the grander events like the Euro and the Olympics, both being quadrennial events. Football is king with SonyLiv too as are certain international cricket matches, especially those of Australia. However, clinching the rights for the Tokyo Olympics is the real trump card for Sony as it will have maximum traction during that span as there won't be other major tournaments going on during that period.
Like the baton gets passed in a relay race, Sony and Star, especially because of the arrival of the OTT platforms keep doing the same - only the batons in this case are the viewership, albeit none of it is ever fully transferred. Statistically speaking, as of December 2020, Disney+ Hotstar - given its balanced mix of cinema, documentaries, news and live sports content, led the way and had 18.69 million subscribers to its credit while SonyLiv, primarily a sports-centric OTT had 1.81 million subscribers.
With the Tokyo Olympics around the corner and India sending a 100+ contingent to the much-awaited Games the numbers for SonyLiv are expected to show a massive spike. In fact, the Euro Cup has already played a role in towing viewers to it and the influx is only supposed to increase as we close in on the Olympic countdown.
While it would be unfair to hail one as more dominant than the other - in July, SonyLiv will have the scales tipped in favour of them, most certainly. Star will have to briefly take a backseat - possibly the viewer's one, as they rest after Wimbledon and cast their eyes towards Sony and wait for the multi-sporting extravaganza to begin. Meanwhile, the committed sports addict can let their remote rest a little, wait with bated breath, crossed fingers and not swing between Sony and Star in the latter half of July when the Olympic action unfurls in Tokyo.