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Report: IPL games to stream free via Viacom18

Media conglomerate targeting turbochaged ad sales around coverage of T20 franchise tournament.

22 February 2023 Josh Sim

Mumbai Indians

  • Viacom18 paid US$3.05bn for digital rights covering the India, UK and Australia
  • Paramount-backed JV to launch new Indian streaming service with IPL games

Viacom18, the media company jointly owned by Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries and Paramount Global, will stream Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket games for free, according to multiple Indian reports.

Last June, it was confirmed that Viacom18 had outbid Disney to secure the IPL digital rights packages covering the Indian subcontinent, as well as TV and digital rights across Australia and New Zealand, the UK and South Africa. The I₹23,578 crore (US$3.05 billion) deal kicks in with the start of the 2023 IPL on 31st March.

According to Bloomberg, Viacom18 plans to use the IPL to grow consumer reach in order to generate a higher volume of advertising sales.

Last month, it was reported by the Hindu Business Line that Viacom18 plans to roll together and rebrand its Voot and JioCinema streaming products, while allowing customers to access IPL games via a variety of internet-connected devices.

Reliance Industries, chaired by Indian billionaire and owner of the IPL’s Mumbai Indians Mukesh Ambani, is one of India’s largest telecommunications operators. The Reliance Jio brand has a subscriber base of just under 500 million. A E4m report says that JioCinema plans to partner with 300,000 metro city housing societies, 25,000 restaurants and 10,000 colleges across India that use JioFiber broadband to stream IPL games. Reliance is also planning to put up its own screens for fans to watch the tournament.

“We’re trying to build a sports business that delights the Indian consumer and provides the largest aggregation of viewers,” said Anil Jayaraj, Viacom18’s chief executive of sports, as he outlined the plans to make the IPL as accessible as possible. “We’re actually trying to access anybody who has an internet-enabled device.

“This year, we want to do it without any cost or any charge so that we can get the maximum number of users and advertisers can have the choice of audience they want to target.”

Elsewhere in Indian cricket, multiple reports suggest Adidas is close to signing a new kit sponsorship deal for the national team.

In January, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) reached an agreement with Kewal Kiran Clothing Limited (KKCL) which resulted in the Killer brand becoming the national teams’ apparel supplier. The Killer clothing brand took over the contract previously agreed with Mobile Premier League (MPL) Sports, which runs until the end of this year.

Now, a News18 report says that Killer is not considered the right match for the BCCI, given its lack of association with cricket, and that Adidas could sign a five-year contract to kick in from June.

SportsPro says…

Reliance has previously targeted customers with below-market prices for its mobile service, which successfully secured a large chunk of its subscriber base. Making the IPL free for streaming – even if it is just for the first year – represents a similar strategy. Viacom18 is looking to match the success Disney enjoyed with the IPL, which brought in huge numbers of subscribers for its Disney+ Hotstar streaming service during the last rights cycle.

Broadcast advertising is still a major revenue stream for subscription services in India. Disney Star’s split between advertising and subscription revenue is around 50-50, whereas Sky’s pay-TV division in the UK makes around 80 per cent of its revenue from its direct customer relationships.

The vast number of eyeballs Indian broadcasters can provide for brands – Viacom18 executives have estimated an audience in excess of 550 million viewers will tune in for IPL matches this year – offer huge scope for the media company’s ad sales team to more than make up for the revenue it will miss out on by offering its content to consumers for free.

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