Amazon and Reliance are now fighting over cricket broadcasting rights in India 

Will Star and Sony be out?
Will Star and Sony be out?
Image: Reuters/Mike Hutchings
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Amazon and Reliance Industries’ latest battleground is taking place around India’s cricket fields.

The two behemoths are already embroiled in a retail war in India, and will soon compete for TV broadcast and online streaming rights for the coveted Indian Premier League (IPL), Reuters reports. Previously, Sony and Disney-owned Star have bagged the rights for the lucrative and hugely popular tournament.

An exclusive five-year TV and digital broadcast package is up for grabs. For these rights, broadcasters are expected to pay a record 50,000 crore rupees ($6.7 billion) to the Board of Control for Cricket India (BCCI).

“Cricket is the second biggest sport in the world, with two-and-a-half billion fans, and IPL is like its Super Bowl,” Anton Rublievskyi, head of Parimatch, a betting company that advertised at the IPL last year, told Reuters.”If you’re not there, you do not exist.”

The IPL and advertising opportunities

In 2018, Star India was granted these rights by the BCCI for Rs16,347.50 crore ($2.55 billion). Since then, it has been raking in thousands of crores in ad revenue for each edition.

Cricket has long been the only profitable sports property in the country. And it’s only becoming more lucrative. For instance, in 2021, Star was charging Rs14 lakh ($19,000) for a 10-second ad spot, up from less than Rs12.7 lakh a year ago.

Just the first half of the 2021 IPL—which was halted and relocated due to covid-19—garnered over 350 million viewers. With two new teams being added, and the number of games rising from 60 to 74, more opportunities will open up for sponsorships and ads in the next edition.

Amazon Prime Video’s push

Amazon is playing to increase its Prime Video viewership. After all, Star’s streaming platform Hotstar’s success has largely hinged on live cricket.

Amazon doesn’t have a TV channel partner, and there has been speculation it would make a joint bid with Sony.But Amazon could make a play just for the digital rights, for which Facebook offered Rs3,900 crore in 2017.

Reliance’s IPL play

Last year, Viacom18—the joint venture between Reliance’s Network18 and US-Based Viacom—started taking sports broadcasting seriously.

It set up a sports channel, hired execs from Star Sports and Disney+ Hotstar to handle sports and ads, and bought the rights to several major global sporting events: Spain’s La Liga, the FIFA World Cup 2022, the Abu Dhabi T10 cricket series, and more.

Further, Reliance’s deep pockets are getting deeper. The Mukesh Ambani-led firm is reportedly in talks with foreign investors to raise up to $1.6 billion for Viacom18.

Who will win the rights to telecast the IPL?

There could be more than one winner. Rather, there should be, because of the risk to TV coverage—and consequently, the IPL itself—if a digital-only company wins the rights, according to Kunal Dasgupta, founder and CEO of Triplecom Media, and a former CEO for Sony in India.

Star could afford the buy both sets of rights last time around, but their value has increased substantially. “If IPL is not on TV for five years then that will be tantamount to killing it,” he says. “The BCCI should segregate TV and digital rights.”