Prasana Krishnan, EVP and Business Head-Sports Cluster, Sony Pictures Network

"Currently, in India, the challenge is differentiation. The catalogue of live sports accessible to the consumer is among the highest in the world owing to the number of channels we have in the country."

Prasana Krishnan
EVP and Business Head-Sports Cluster,
Sony Pictures Network

SPN, through its sports joint venture with Disney's ESPN, is bringing in sports-led documentaries for Indian audiences and has planned a rush of online activities to promote its new lineup. Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD will now telecast award-winning ESPN Films documentaries. The channels believe that an introduction of ESPN Films will disrupt the sports broadcast market in the country and take things within SPN up a notch.

SPN owns nine sports channels, including the two under the JV with ESPN and five which it acquired from Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEEL). In terms of live sports, the network has the rights to telecast several basketball, cricket, and football championships.

ESPN Films has produced more than 100 documentaries that have showcased some of the most compelling stories in sports. The strategy to introduce documentaries on its sports channels was adopted by ESPN in the US and was well received, the company says. The attempt will be to replicate the experience in the Indian market, says the SPN team.

Adding non-live sports content on the channels could also help adding categories to the bank of advertisers on Sony ESPN channels. However, given the manner in which advertisers tend to behave, most would want to wait and gauge the audiences' reaction to the films before buying into the idea. By not being aggressive about ad sales from the start, the channel also avoids the risk of underselling the ad-spots at lower inventory rates, which is something many channels have fallen prey to.

The strategy of waiting for the content to prove itself worked very well with Star Sports and the Pro Kabaddi League. Advertisers are not shy to invest in new sports and concepts, as long as they have some proof of the success of the content among audiences.

Apart from television, the series will also be available on SonyLiv and, the digital platforms owned by the two members of the JV. ESPN is also looking at generating greater interest in its programs through online activities and regular engagement with viewers on social media.