Star India has big plans for Indian Premier League 2018 as it prepares to host the annual twenty-20 extravaganza for the first time, including blocking a six-month calendar for the tournament, dedicating 10 channels on its sports network and innovating with technology to attract digital viewership and engagement.

"The IPL is the biggest property in India and the challenge we had in front of us was to reimagine it and more importantly scale it up. From two languages in 2017, we will be taking it to 6 languages in 2018 across 10 channels. And when I say 6 languages, I mean six different feeds, each with localized packaging, commentary and pre/post programming," says Star India MD Sanjay Gupta. Gupta says that the investment scaling up the property is huge, "but nothing compared to Rs 55 crore a match (in rights fee)." Star India won the global media rights to the IPL earlier this year for Rs 16,384 for 5 years.

As of 2017, the IPL was seen by 410 million people on TV and another 130 million tuned in on digital (Hotstar). However, since until last year, the viewership was fragmented, Gupta believes the full potential of the tournament was not realized. While the TV rights were with Sony Pictures Networks (SPN), Star India had the digital rights for the past 4 years. In 2018, for the time, the IPL will have just one destination. Using this to their advantage, Gupta and team aim to capture more eyeballs this year, more than 700 million. "I feel the TV reach can increase to 510 million and digital reach can touch around 200 million in 2018. That is the target for us," he says.

This, of course, will lay the ground for attracting advertisers in the coming years. Expanding the coverage to six months already gives Star a hefty inventory to play with. Gupta reveals that this will also help push rates without alienating brands. The IPL is perhaps among the most expensive advertising avenues in the country. Star intends to make it possible for smaller local players and the national bigwigs to join the tournament.

"I think with a longer calendar for the IPL and six language feeds, we are opening the scope for all 200 sports relevant brands and those beyond them too, to advertise on the IPL," he adds. As of 2017, a total of 60–70brands came on to the IPL. Sony alone clock ad revenue of Rs 1300 crore on TV while Hotstar clocked around Rs 200 crore. With a wider channel base broadcasting the IPL, and a longer calendar on the tournament, Star hopes to increase the TV inventory rate by around 20 percent.

Star has put its bet on two aspects of broadcast - localization and technology. "At Sony, the IPL played in the HSM belt. At Star, it will be truly national. Localization has helped the network grow in the drama over the past ten years and we have seen that growth mirrored in sports too," Gupta says. Along with dedicated language feeds, the network will also have a Super Fan Feed available across cable, DTH and on Hotstar. This will be a curated feed for the intense fans who want more than just to watch the game. It includes features like data layers about the teams and players during the telecast and multiple camera angle options while viewing.

The Super Fan feed is also a monetization avenue for Star on its video streaming platform Hotstar. "We will be looking at monetizing this feed on Hotstar whether through the direct to customer approach or through tie-ups with telecom companies. Additionally, since this is the first time Hotstar will have live IPL (as opposed to the five minute delayed telecast till 2017), we also plan to offer the live feed to our premium (paying) subscribers," says Ajit Mohan, CEO - digital, Star India.

Hotstar will include some engagement features during the IPL, which will make tournament viewing on the app a community experience says Mohan. The app will add the check-in and emoticons feature for users to engage with the tournament and tell their friends about it. "While our first campaign said 'Go Solo' and talked about viewing Hotstar on the personal screen, sports is a more community experience. So we have introduced features where viewers can share the game (viewing) with their friend, even if they are in different cities, and emote about the moments in it. Till now, the traction Hotstar got was because of ease of access and mobility while watching the IPL. Now we want to lead growth on the platform through engagement which will come from technology innovation," Mohan adds. – Business Standard