When Disney Star sub-licensed the television rights to ICC cricket events in India (2024-27) to Zee Entertainment Enterprises for $1.5 billion, it seemed rather perplexing. But on closer inspection, it’s a technicolor teaser of the future strategies of sports broadcasters, and even the consumption patterns of Indian audiences.
Disney Star smartly retained the lucrative digital rights (paying around $1.5 billion) for ICC Cricket, while already owning the 2023-27 IPL telecast rights (`23,575 crore). In unison, they are important stakeholders across all media, capturing current behavior and future growth, via the two largest properties. While IPL’s viewership may have dipped a bit in 2022, the franchise-based format ensures reasonably consistent audience interest, unlike ICC tournaments which are heavily dependent on India’s performance. This makes revenue more difficult for the television broadcaster while the flexible digital hemisphere may be more attractive.
But it’s not exactly a stalemate for the competition, as Zee gets a solid sports broadcast base, six years after its sectoral comeback, while Viacom 18 can boost its digital rights by 23,758 crores for the IPL (2023- 27). This competitive coexistence ensures a sustainable balance and not a dangerously monopolistic or chaotic scenario as multiple investors hedge each other. Cautiously enough, Disney Star managed to defray 50% of its giant ICC check and erased the disappointment of losing the IPL digital rights.
The broadcast game on the TV front will be pretty much status quo (over 200 million TV households according to BARC), as the technology has plateaued. On digital, with the rapid increase in broadband penetration, the influx of 5G and the ever-increasing accessibility of smartphones, the opportunities are immense. From the provider side, it’s a blank slate with innovative engagement models and thoughtful use of interactivity that will hopefully elevate digital content beyond just live streaming. Brand sponsors have a lot to add as content strategies need to integrate seamlessly with cricket fixtures, with influencers taking on new roles.
Shares of Disney Star and Viacom 18 will lay the foundation for digital cricket for the 2030s and beyond, when technology proliferates further and the hugely promising metaverse comes of age. Obviously, the profiling and digital escalation of digital users will make those rights much more valuable as an overall percentage, not the current 50-50.
In sum, everyone seems to win this game of cricket rights, especially the hungry customer. But Disney Star clearly has a particular advantage, the IPL TV and ICC digital awards a winning combination.
The author is a freelance brand communications consultant and copywriter
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