Live sports see greater push from OTT platforms in India

  •  February 16,2021 By IndianTelevision Team

KOLKATA: 2020 was the year when it became evident that OTT platforms are here to stay for the long haul, given their massive adoption across the country. International and homegrown streamers are now gunning for a market which could reach $4 billion by 2025. And to onboard as many consumers as possible, these streaming services are tapping into live sports in a big way as they continue to build up their content portfolios.

A recent report by ReedSeer stated that sports content was the most consumed content on OTTs in 2020, with an overall 13 per cent hike in viewership across platforms. After a hiatus of live sports during the stringent lockdown, there was a growth in sports content during September 2020 to January 2021. This was the time when the showstopper of cricket, the Indian Premier League (IPL) also aired. New theatrical movie releases failed to draw audiences, who stuck to the safety of watching cricket on the small screens, the report indicated.

Globally, ratings and revenues of linear TV are tanking. Tech giants have joined the fray of bidding for live sports rights, with Amazon securing rights from back in 2017. The Jeff Bezos led company has dabbled in rights for baseball, football, tennis and popular leagues including UEFA Champions League, English Premier League, National Football League etc. Facebook, too, started buying sports rights but might take the route of partnerships in order to cut costs. Sports streaming service DAZN also rolled out its global expansion in 2020, terming it the year of landmark growth.

However, the linear TV market scenario is altogether different in India. Rather than degrowth, it holds the potential for higher penetration yet. The rights of all major sports events are still with traditional broadcasters. But lately, a number of major OTT platforms have thrown their hats in the ring. KPMG in India conducted a dipstick survey of 763 respondents across 10 cities in 2020 , where more than 65 per cent of them indicated that sports was one of the top three genres on OTT platforms.

Take for instance Disney+ Hotstar, which vastly grew its subscribers base thanks to IPL 2020. Disney senior EVP and CFO Christine McCarthy said in an investors call that Disney+ Hotstar had the highest contribution to Disney+’s overall subscriber base, courtesy the IPL. The opening match of the league’s 2020 edition delivered 8.4 peak concurrent viewers. Along with boosting subscriber count, the tournament also helped rake in advertising revenue. While cricket has been key to the platform’s growth, it has access to a number of local and niche sports rights due to Star India.

Another broadcaster-led OTT platform, SonyLIV has been active in the sports segment because of its parent company. It hosted marquee events like FIFA, and many international cricket tours of the Indian team. In a bid to expand its sports portfolio, SonyLIV has recently introduced WWE to its viewers, holding the exclusive rights in India. Interestingly, it has launched the WWE Network pack, curated specially for fans of pro wrestling. The move comes at a time when the pay-per-view model is gaining traction in India.

One of the major shake-ups in live streaming of sports in the country was Amazon Prime Video’s foray into streaming rights. It announced its debut into live sports in India by acquiring the India territory rights for the New Zealand Cricket through 2025-2026. With this first step, it has struck a chord with desi sports lovers, again having a localised approach to sports too. Amazon Prime Video country manager Gaurav Gandhi told FT that the platform would not ignore further opportunities to secure cricket rights. It’s worth bearing in mind that Disney+Hotstar’s IPL rights expire in 2023 when Prime Video could make a bid for them.

It is very evident at this point that sports viewership will be instrumental in OTT consumption growth. So it comes as no surprise that players with no previous association with live sports are getting into this space. Case in point being Eros Now, which recently announced a streaming and branding partnership with the 2020 Abu Dhabi T10 Tournament. As part of the multi-year deal, Eros Now live streamed the popular cricket tournament in significant international markets such as Australia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, USA and Canada. Moreover, the south Asian OTT is team Abu Dhabi’s title sponsor. It can be a good boost for the platform which is looking to spread its wings in the international market.

Additionally, OTT platforms are fighting to secure online gaming rights as well. Video streaming platform Voot has bagged streaming rights for Poker Sports League (PSL), being hosted virtually this year. Other leading platforms like Zee5, MX Player, Disney+Hotstar, Jio TV were also in talks with PSL. Earlier, the tournament was broadcast on Discovery Communications India’s DSports channel for the past two seasons – yet another marker of the shift of eyeballs from linear TV to online video platforms during the pandemic.

Despite the growth, there are some infrastructural challenges regarding content delivery during live sports on OTT, need for ultra-low latency. The roll-out of 5G internet will be a boon for live sports, and other real-time events on video streaming services. It will be fascinating to see how aggressively these players push for sporting rights in the next five-ten years, and how long sports broadcasting will remain the domain of traditional broadcasters in India.