ENGLISH movies channel Sony Pix from Multi Screen Media (formerly Sony Entertainment Television) stable recently acquired broadcast rights for NBA in the Indian market.
NBA coverage on Pix includes two live games per week (Thursday and Saturday IST), besides live coverage of the NBA Playoffs and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 and the Western Conference Finals in 2012.
NBA is the second sports property that will be aired on the channel after the FA Cup. Pix business head Sundar Aaron in a conversation with SportzPower's Javed Farooqui talks about the ramifications of the deal for the channel.
What was the thought behind signing up with NBA?
In India, it’s very clear that there is space for other sports to develop and I think we are seeing already that Basketball as a sport has started to catch fire. It doesn’t have a huge mass appeal yet but it's got that potential and you have also got pockets of strong basketball communities in India. Like in North India, you have got in Punjab a lot of fantastic players. Even in Bombay you have got a really strong community of players. So its there, its just that it doesn’t get the coverage in media. Now that’s starting to happen, especially with groups like IMG, Reliance and Mahindra getting into the actual organisation of the sport. So it's a smart move to get involved and participate in and become partners with NBA. They are the premium basketball league in the world without a doubt. Se we partnering with them is a no-brainer.
As far as plans to air on Pix, some year down the line our plan at Sony is eventually to have a sports channel and one day we would move our stuff to our sports channel. That is something which is being contemplated. While I can’t tell you when that would happen, that’s the long range view that we have as a group.
But this is something that will boost Pix. The FA Cup has done that for us and now NBA will do the same. In the morning you have got a lot of viewership especially amongst young adults and it is this TG that we want to reach out to and hold on to and get them to spend more time on the channel and there's nothing better than Basketball for this. I mean the fans of NBA will follow it whatever channel it’s on.
You said Basketball has potential but do you think it has the same potential on television as well?
Personally, there is already a good audience for it. It’s not really what you see on cricket of course but there is a strong audience for it. I also believe there is a growing fatigue for cricket except for a really top shot property like IPL.
I think viewers are starting to show that cricket is a bit mundane so you are going to see sports like basketball taking off. Well we have to of course, communities have to get involved, and you see more basketball courts, and the government or state government putting in money for funding. Basketball resources versus cricket resources and then you will get to see a ground swell. But we have already seen that it is already a hard sport, it is commercially a viable sport and that will bear out of television as well and you will see the viewership go up. We want to do a better job broadcasting the event than the previous holders of the rights (ESPN Star Sports) did.
Industry people say that the viewership was not good; the timings were not matching and so on? How do you plan to deal with these challenges?
First of all the timings are pretty good actually for our games. I mean it's typically 9 am, some matches that have to be broadcast a bit earlier and some that have to be broadcast a bit later but average it out and it will be 9 am and Saturday mornings. It’s pretty good in my book. I have got viewership then and I will get more viewership then.
Is that the reason for NBA signing a deal with you because they wanted to reach your TG?
That’s one reason. The other reason is that we were genuinely excited and commercially the terms were much better. I think some of the other sports channels are spending a lot of money outspending each other on cricket rights and that leaves a lot of potential for other sports to be picked up. So it’s a combination of these two things.
Could you share with us the financial details of your deal with NBA?
I can’t share that with you. We have a long-term view working with the NBA so our partnership with them I hope will go for years and years. I really see this sport as having credible, extraordinary potential in India and we already see that and I really hope that our relationship with NBA will really endure.
How do you plan to promote NBA?
We will be doing obviously on the network; we have got a very strong network across. But Pix by the way was the number one movies channel, so our reach in that TG is pretty good, so even running promos on Pix are going to have an impact right and then if you look at the network as a group you will see a lot of powerful channels. So we will be running promos all across the channels. Also you know that kind of reach does not exist for a lot other sports channels. Besides that we will doing some off-air, primarily for select games, and we will be doing a campaign shortly to let people know that NBA is on Pix and that’s its primarily Thursday and Friday and then the online space is a very big focus for us that will be on-going.
So your focus is going to be on digital medium?
Ya because you can’t off-air four days a week, the NBA season goes from November until June. So you can’t run a campaign which is going on and on and one. Online and digital we will be doing stuff of course throughout the season.
How has the FA Cup worked for you till now?
FA Cup has worked really well for us and that is one of the things that has made us confident going forward with this on Pix. The FA Cup has done really well in reaching other people in the same TG and increasing the time spent per viewer. So sports can work as long as it doesn’t disrupt the regular programming or positioning of the channel and neither NBA nor FA Cup do that so that is one of the reasons why we are also doubly comfortable taking it on.
And in terms of viewership how has it been doing?
Pretty well, it obviously is very team driven but we are really starting coming up in the next couple of weeks when bigger name teams will be involved so that’s when the ratings start doing well. And naturally my Community Shield, which is the kick-off for the season in England, that’s typically two very big teams. The last couple of years it's been Chelsea and Man-U, they have both done really well.
How do brands look upto FA Cup?
Our ad-sales and sponsorship has been doing pretty well, I can’t remember off-hand who the sponsor was last year.
Do you believe NBA will get similar response from brands?
They have got some global partners that we are approaching; those are partners that they have throughout the world they are category-wise partners. I think that there are many of those who will come on because India is a very important market for them. For example, Coca-Cola is one of their category partners naturally India is big market for Coke and this (NBA) is a natural way for them to get involved.
Whatever about your existing advertisers, will they interested in NBA?
I am not sure, I will have to see how that plays out. Typically, people who are sponsors get into sports as they are interested in sports but you might have some cross-pollination, let’s see.
Now you have FA Cup and NBA, is there any other property that you have your sights on?
We have thought about that. I can’t speculate at this point but right now I think these are two fantastic properties that we are proud of and we are going to be benefiting from these and let’s see how it goes.