The next 12 months truly belong to Sony Sports channels: Rajesh Kaul

Sony Pictures Sports Network has a formidable line-up of the best international sporting action, including 200+ days of cricket, 700+ live football matches, WWE, UEFA Champions League, UFC, ATP World Tour and the biggest showpiece events of 2020 like the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020, India Tour of Australia and UEFA EURO 2020.

Currently, Sony Pictures Sports Network (SPSN), the official broadcaster of India tour of Australia, has been garnering tremendous traction with the broadcast of the India-Australia series, which started from December 4, 2020. The T20I matches will be aired LIVE and Exclusive on SONY TEN 1 in English, SONY TEN 3 in Hindi and SONY SIX channels in English, Tamil and Telugu from 12.30 pm IST.

In conversation with Adgully, Rajesh Kaul, Chief Revenue Officer, Sports Business, SPN, peaks about fortifying sports broadcasting in the new normal, ad revenues expected from the India-Australia series, role of digital, and much more.

What keeps Sony bullish on sports in the post-lockdown scenario?

In the first phase of lockdown, we at Sony Pictures Sports Network had an action-packed line up of programming to keep our viewers engaged and entertained. In addition to our Live offerings on television that included WWE events (RAW, SMACKDOWN, NXT and WWE monthly Specials) and UFC, we provided engaging content for our viewers of various sports like WWE Blockbusters @ 8 PM. This was followed by the return of Live cricket with the West Indies Tour of England, Pakistan tour of England and Australia tour of England as well as Serie A, UEFA Champions League and more, which were telecast on our network. Since then, we have continued with our live sports offering with the new seasons of Serie A, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, to name a few, and, of course, the ongoing India Tour of Australia, where Team India comes back after 9 months to face one of their biggest rivals.

Our whole aim is to serve sports fans, and we also used non-live content and our social media platforms to engage viewers. We had shows like ‘Sony Ten Chai with Raja’, where tennis fans in India got to watch global tennis stars in an unplugged avatar as well as ‘The Perfect Serve’, that featured the inspiring journey of three female celebrity chefs as they prepared to deliver first class menus at one of Australia’s most exclusive dining events, the AO Chef Series, during the most watched Australian sporting event in the world, the Australian Open. We also brought fans closer to some of the biggest names in Indian Olympic history with our digital series called ‘Sony Ten presents The Medal of Glory’ and shows like ‘Medal of Glory & the Blue Revolution’ that revisited one of India’s greatest victories in the 1985 B&H World Championship of Cricket, which was the first major tournament India won in coloured clothing and established its dominance in cricket across the globe.

We conducted FB live sessions with athletes across different sports to bring fans closer to their heroes like Marcus Rashford, Gabriel Jesus, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, Graemme Swann, Rahul Dravid, David Warner, Aaron Finch and WWE superstars like Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, The Big Show, amongst others.

We recently had a Facebook Live Session with The Undertaker, the WWE Legend, as a part of our tribute to his 30-year journey in the WWE industry. We have 30 days of special Undertaker-themed programming on our network with the premiere of two exclusive series on the WWE Legend on their network: ‘The Phenom – 30 Years of the Undertaker’, a special anthology series airing over 30 days, and the Indian television premiere of the critically acclaimed docuseries – ‘The Last Ride’.

Speaking of 30 Years of The Undertaker, the series received a lot of traction on social media. Could you take us through the making of the film and its promotion strategy?

It is not a common occurrence for a sportsperson to have a 30-year long career. This was the insight or the starting point for our ‘30 Years of The Undertaker’ promotion. The Undertaker is one of the most distinguished and decorated WWE Legends and enjoys unprecedented following in India and around the world. Sony Pictures Sports Network can think of no better way to pay homage to his glorious 30-year career in WWE than 30 days of The Undertaker themed programming dedicated to the WWE Legend. We also launched a tribute film, which the legend himself tweeted, that celebrates the 30 years of The Undertaker as well as his fans, who have been a part of his journey. We have curated for the first time ever, a live fan engagement experience with The Undertaker specially for our avid viewers in India, which has been scaled up to be simulcast across all our sports channels and official Facebook page.

There remains this connection or bond with the Undertaker that is strong even when their interest in the WWE could have faded with time. With fans like these, the legend of the Undertaker shall live forever. This thinking and evoking this nostalgia was the genesis of our campaign. The nostalgia-evoking film starts in the early 90s and takes viewers on the journey of two brothers capturing and celebrating the important milestones of The Undertaker’s career and closing the circle of life by highlighting the long, illustrious career of ‘Taker and passing on their fandom to the next generation.

With sporting events reviving across the world, what does Sony’s content basket look like over the next few months?

The next 12 months truly belong to Sony Sports channels starting with the present India tour of Australia and moving into 2021 we have a stacked calendar, which includes international & local marquee events. We have 3 more India tours with India tour of Sri Lanka, India tour of Zimbabwe and India tour of England along with marquee sports events like Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and UEFA EURO 2020, the Australian Open 2021, WWE, UFC as well as club football on the network with properties such as UEFA Champions League, Serie A and UEFA Europa League & FA Cup, among others.

What is the kind of ad revenue that you are expecting for India vs Australia series?

The response from advertisers has been outstanding. We already have 15-16 sponsors on board and both the Twenty20s (T20s) and the ODIs have completely sold out. For the test matches, 80% of our inventory has already been sold out. We have sold the T20s at about Rs 7 lakh and in the case of standalone spot buys, at about Rs 10 lakh, the ODIs at around Rs 6 lakh and the Test matches for somewhere between Rs 1.2 lakh and Rs 1.5 lakh.

How are you creating a buzz around the Ind-Aus series?

With the objective of reaching out to the critical mass across the country, we have deployed a strategic 360 degree marketing plan across media channels like TV, digital, print & radio. We leveraged the network strength across channels for TV supplemented by incremental spends with additional TV, Print, Radio and Digital. Along with regional customised creatives to ensure that the campaign maximises its reach, creates recall value and increases the association of the series with Sony Sports, thereby, colouring every Indian blue, we took impact print ads on the first day of the tour across leading National and regional Publications to reinforce our message. In addition to that, our campaign film, #CricketKaAsliRang, was released in seven languages – English, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Bengali.

How strong a role will the digital have in the series?

We are using the strength of our social media platforms and YouTube marketing to ensure the campaign reaches the consumers across critical markets across a sharply defined target audience and regional versions for more relatability, namely the big metro cities – regional targeting.

You had also created a lot of buzz around the UEFA Champions League with your ‘Aaj Koi Nahi Soyega’ campaign. Could you tell us about the thought and ideation behind this campaign?

‘Aaj Koi Nahi Soyega’ was created on the success of the last season’s campaign and is an extension of ‘Sona Mana Hai’, which was about the fear of missing out the world’s biggest club football tournament. It is a call to action for viewers and a natural progression from ‘Sona Mana Hai’. We use sharp consumer insights that resonate with our audience and drive our messaging and this was evident in our recently launched campaign, ‘Aaj Koi Nahi Soyega’. This campaign is a very natural proposition – How can anyone choose to miss the greatest footballing action of the world at UEFA Champions League every Tuesday and Wednesday night. The campaign resonates with hardcore football lovers and fence sitters. During the Champions League, there are many who stay awake to watch the world’s best football action as well as those who go to sleep, but aren’t comfortable with that decision as they know they are missing out on something great.

How are you gearing up for the Lankan Premier League (LPL) T20 Tournament? What kind of promotion initiatives have you planned around it?

This is the inaugural year of the Lanka Premier League and it is being promoted very well across the Sony sports channels and social media platforms.

How do you view the future of ticketing and sponsorship, even as the cost of organising a sports tournament has risen drastically? What are the cost-cutting avenues for both sports organisers and sports broadcasters?

For India’s tour of Australia, tickets were sold out within hours. This is the first cricket series that is allowing crowds back in a limited capacity. The future is extremely bright because fans can’t wait to watch sports at the venues. As we progress, things will only become better. Also, we now see many different ways to do a sports broadcast using technology. The pandemic has encouraged us to look at more efficient, cost effective ways and we will continue to explore such options with keen interest.

In today’s era of snackable content, how are you creating engagement for all five days of Test matches?

The test matches will be broken into smaller clips and highlights on social media. These will be available to view across our social media assets and on SonyLIV as well. We are extracting the best bits of the day’s action into multiple byte size capsules and engaging viewers by breaking these clips into interesting headers of highlights – 4’s/ 6’s and wickets.


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