Sports network ESPN has announced a partnership with Multi Screen Media (MSM), the Indian unit of Sony Pictures Television, to create co-branded sports content on both television and digital platforms. The two companies will jointly create new sports channels and roll out a localised multisport website and application in the coming months. ESPN is to deliver more than 1,000 hours of programming per year from its portfolio while the two companies are also looking to develop original sports programming. The components of the collaboration are subject to regulatory approvals.
ESPN, majority-owned by the Walt Disney Co, exited India in 2012 after selling its 50% stake in ESPN Star Sports, a joint venture with News Corp established in 1994. ESPN remains active in the Indian subcontinent with its cricket website ESPNcricinfo. Alongside the growing popularity of its football website ESPNFC.com, the planned multisport website will further complement ESPN’s digital portfolio in India.
MSM operates three sports channels in India under the Sony Kix and Sony Six brands. MSM will rebrand Sony Kix to Sony ESPN while retaining the Sony Six brand. Its Liv Sports video-on-demand platform has been live since June 2014, offering sports content for streaming.
The partnership with ESPN will bolster MSM’s market position, and will strengthen its hand in the bidding for upcoming contracts - notably Indian Premier league (IPL) cricket. MSM's sports programming spend still trails behind Star India. IHS estimates the 21st Century Fox-owned network invested in the region of $400 million on sports programming in 2014 - double that of MSM. The Sony-owned company's rights include the NBA and Rugby Championship (to 2015), Euro 2016 and the World Cup 2018 and the Australian Open. Sony owns worldwide rights to the IPL for ten years through to 2017, having paid $198 million.
Star India spent a whopping $63 million for the 2012-2018 ICC Cricket World Cup rights, 23% higher than the price paid by the previous owner Nimbus Communications, and has reportedly set aside $2 billion for sports programming in 2014-2019. Star also owns rights to Indian, English and Australian domestic cricket, Formula One, French Open tennis and the fledgling Indian Super League football.
In the long term, the partnership is expected to result in market consolidation as Star India and MSM continue to dwarf spending by other players. Spending on sports programming by the third largest commercial broadcaster by revenue, Zee Entertainment, is estimated to be less than $50 million.