Digital lights up IPL: Facebook, Airtel, Jio bid more than Rs 3,000 cr

Topics IPL

Star India chairman, Uday Shankar(left) and Diana Edulji, member of the Committee of Administrators (CoA), during a press conference after the auction of IPL media rights
Even as Star India walked away with the honours at the just concluded auction for the media rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL), the buzz around the game’s digital rights on Monday was unmistakable. With Facebook, Reliance Jio, Airtel, Times Internet and Star India (for Hotstar) all in the fray; and with three of the five bidders valuing the rights at above Rs 3,000 crore, there was no doubt that IPL is being seen as the game changer for digital viewership in India. 

But what drives such confidence and what does it tell us about the game, advertisers and brand engagement with the league in the years to come. The true impact of the potential of the game has been evident for a while but the numbers hit the roof in 2017. The tenth season of the IPL saw brand values rise by 26 per cent to Rs 34,000 crore from Rs 27,000 crore in 2016 according to a report by Duff & Phelps. The same report also said that IPL viewership on Hotstar (which has won the rights as part of the Star India combined bid) rose to 130 million in 2017. 

Industry experts who have commented on the game and its potential in the course of the past few months to this newspaper have all averred that digital is where the game’s future viewership lies. And this has been corroborated by the jump in ad spends on digital media during the league. For the 2017 season, media estimates pegged advertising revenues on Hotstar from the IPL at Rs 180 to Rs 200 crore, which show a clear mark up on the rights fee of Rs 100 crore a year. 

The digital pie is large and has grown exponentially since 2013 when Times Internet picked up digital streaming rights for the IPL for an estimated Rs 160 crore for five years. In 2015, Star India picked up the rights for a sum of Rs 302 crore for three years. Starting with the 2015 season, the IPL helped the network popularise its then newly launched OTT platform Hotstar and since then, the tournament has been one of the tent-pole sports properties on the platform.

No surprise then that the battle for the IPL’s digital rights in 2017 was hard fought, even though the bid amounts for TV rights were much higher. Five companies bid in the end although two more, Twitter and Amazon, had evinced early interest. Having seen the potential of the digital medium, Uday Shankar, Star India chairman and CEO said, “We were clear about one thing. We did not want to win one platform and lose out on another. Given the way digital has grown, and the importance of TV, we wanted to be sure to have both.” 

The highest bid for digital streaming rights in India was placed by Facebook at Rs 3,900 crore for the five-year period between 2018 and 2022.

Airtel was next with Rs 3,280 crore, followed by Reliance Jio with Rs 3,075 crore. Ironically, Star India’s bid in the category was the lowest, and by a fair margin but that did not matter in the end as the company managed to get the global composite bid right.  

Sports marketers say that one of the big positives for Star India has been that it bid for the rights jointly (digital and television). “If you see the players involved, Star India was the only one single entity that could do justice to multiple platforms, and not only in India.

While their strategy was risky, it paid off because now, they have the full package of media rights,” says Indranil das Blah, partner and COO at CAA KWAN, a sports marketing and talent management agency. 

However, there was ample value in the league’s stand-alone digital rights too. For  Facebook, the IPL presents an avenue to ramp up its video presence.

For telecom players like Airtel and Reliance Jio, it was a matter of fortifying the content on their respective platforms. Interestingly, Sony Pictures Network did not submit a bid for the digital rights, despite having an OTT platform in the form of SonyLIV. 

Analysts project the growth of the digital advertising for the IPL to be manifold. Some estimates peg this Rs 200 crore annual advertising figure (from 2017) to grow to Rs 600 or even Rs 700 crore eventually.

In India, the IPL is streamed for free on Hotstar, unlike some of its other sports properties in football. Star India has also expressed interests in launching the platform overseas, and the IPL could be a launchpad for this.

As viewers congregate in larger numbers around digital platforms, their behaviour is likely to impact the way brands engage with IPL fans too. A hint of things to come is available in the way such properties have evolved in the West. According to a report by Nielsen (The year in sports media 2016) brands look at big data to optimise fan relationships and maximise revenue. And this is leading to a greater demand from marketers for consolidated campaigns that are not focused only on TV or just on online platforms. If that is the case, Star India has just struck one out of the field.

IPL's online avatar
  • 2013 – Times Internet wins digital rights for a reported Rs 160 crore for five years 
  • 2014 – Times Internet shares streaming rights with Star India 
  • 2015 – Star India wins the rights for Hotstar for the remaining three years in the cycle for Rs 302 crore 
  • 2018-2022 – Star India wins the global media rights for Rs 16,347 crore, Hotstar to continue streaming



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