The sector, which became a Star-Sony duopoly in the last few years, now also has Viacom18 backed by Reliance, the Zee-Sony combine and Amazon 2022 will be a decisive year for the sports broadcasting industry as media rights for marquee properties like the Indian Premier League (IPL), International Cricket Council (ICC), and possibly the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will come up for renewal. The IPL media rights will be the first to come up for grabs followed by ICC and BCCI rights. The current five-year rights cycle for IPL will culminate with the 2022 season of the tournament which is slated to be held in the April-May window. The current eight-year ICC and six-year BCCI media rights cycle will conclude in 2023. The sports broadcasting sector, which became a Star-Sony duopoly in the last few years, has also seen a slew of key developments in the last few months. Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Limited (RIL)-promoted Viacom18 has ventured into sports broadcasting. The network has roped in veteran ad sales executive Anil Jayaraj as the CEO of its sports business. The other big development in the industry has been the merger deal between Zee Entertainment and Sony Pictures. Incidentally, Zee had exited the sports business by selling Ten Sports to Sony for $385 million. However, Zee has now re-entered the sports broadcasting business with the acquisition of media rights for the UAE T20 League. As things stand, Viacom18 backed by Reliance and the Zee-Sony combine will lock horns with Disney-owned sports broadcasting giant Star Sports for the upcoming cricket rights. In 2022, the stakes are particularly high for Disney as it owns the rights to all three properties. E-commerce giant Amazon has also shown interest in sports with the acquisition of New Zealand Cricket rights. Amazon Prime Video might also make an aggressive bid for IPL, ICC, and BCCI rights. Experts believe that these properties will not just decide the future of sports broadcasting in India but also the media industry as a whole. Disney-owned Star and Sony-Zee combine are the biggest media and broadcasting companies in the country. Apart from broadcasting, the ownership of IPL, ICC, and BCCI rights will also decide the pecking order in the streaming industry. Being the owner of all three properties, Disney+ Hotstar is the biggest streaming platform in the country in terms of subscribers as well as revenue. Media veteran and Triplecom Media Founder-CEO Kunal Dasgupta believes that the sports broadcast industry will revolve around IPL rights. He feels that the BCCI can rake in at least Rs 40,000 crore from the sale of IPL media rights for the next five-year cycle from 2023-27. He noted that the record revenue generated by BCCI from the auction of two new IPL teams has set the tone for the upcoming sale of media rights. "Everything in sports broadcast will revolve around IPL rights. How much money IPL takes up will decide where the rest will go. Last time, IPL got Rs 16,000 crore for five years, and now that the number of teams has increased and the number of matches is going up 1.5 times, that Rs 16,000 crore now equals Rs 21,000 crore at the same old price. The bid for two new IPL teams, particularly from the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, has gone beyond our expectations. The IPL media rights bid will cross Rs 40,000 crore which will be almost double of Rs 21,000 crore factoring in the increase in matches," Dasgupta elaborated. He, however, pointed that whoever puts in such a huge bid will not be able to digest ICC and BCCI rights. According to him, the IPL media rights will see aggressive bidding from all the key players while the ICC and BCCI rights will see fierce bidding from the players who lose out on IPL rights. "Right now, Star has the upper hand as it has IPL, BCCI, and ICC rights. That is going to go through a shake-up. Even if Disney wins IPL at Rs 40,000 crore, that is more than all the rights together that they have. Disney may not have enough firepower to take other rights if they get IPL. The IPL rights will establish a new benchmark. The future of sports broadcasting will be decided in the next couple of months. Once the IPL bid is decided, everything else will double in value because others who have lost out on IPL will go hammer and tongs after BCCI and ICC rights. Disney cannot double all three rights. For IPL, all the big players will go all out which will lead to a bloodbath," he added. Dasgupta also believes that the IPL might become a loss-leader for the winner. It is pertinent to note that both Sony and Star have made money on their investments in IPL. "Sony made a huge profit from IPL because they got it at a cheap price. Star has just about broken even on IPL rights even as they paid double of what Sony paid. IPL will become a loss for the next five years as recovering Rs 40,000 crore will be a daunting task. Over five years, the IPL winner will have to be ready to lose at least Rs 10,000 crore unless someone monetises it smartly particularly on digital. There are so many ways to monetise IPL on digital like NFT, cryptocurrency, etc," he stated. According to a top official from a leading media company, the level of competition will remain the same despite the Zee-Sony merger and the entry of Viacom18. He feels that IPL will be the one property that will see maximum interest from all serious contenders. The official also said that the acquisition of IPL rights at a huge price will not be a deterrent for the winner to pursue other rights. "If you look at Star, they got BCCI rights after acquiring the IPL rights. Each property needs to make money on its own. I don't think the acquisition of IPL rights at a huge cost will be a restriction for any player. Even if we accept Rs 40,000 crore as the IPL rights value, the winner will have to pay Rs 8,000 crore per year. In that Rs 8,000 crore, you will make some revenue as well. Everybody, including Amazon, will have money to bid for all three rights," he added. The official also averred that the ICC and BCCI rights will see a huge increase in value. "Take ICC rights for instance, the way they are constructing their events calendar, it's not very India- friendly because though you will have more number of games, the percentage of India games will go down. They are going to hold matches in places like the USA which is not a good thing from a time zone point of view. Even BCCI will have a lot of games with weaker teams like Afghanistan etc," he said. According to a leading sports media executive, the sports broadcasting market has traditionally been a three-player market barring a four-year interval when Zee walked out of sports by parcelling Ten Sports to Sony. The market will again become a three-horse race thanks to Viacom18's entry. The executive believes that heightened competition in sports will only benefit the top-tier events like IPL, ICC, and BCCI. "We are used to a three-player market. It got converted to a two-player market due to the acquisition of Ten Sports by Sony. Now we are again looking at going back to a three-player market. That will lead to escalation of rights value. All three networks are large and well-funded companies. There is enough content among IPL, ICC, BCCI, Cricket Australia, and England Cricket Board (ECB) rights to sustain three networks. Ultimately, it's also going to be a question of how much innovation is going to happen. Reliance-owned RISE Worldwide has Indian Super League (ISL) while Star has Pro Kabaddi. With the international sports properties, there isn't enough pressure on broadcasters to work on additional supply," he stated. The executive also pointed out that every other sports property except IPL, ICC, and BCCI has seen a correction in media rights value in the last few years. Even England, Australia, and South Africa cricket boards have seen a sharp correction in their media rights value. "While the cost will go up for the primary set of rights, it doesn't necessarily mean that suddenly everything will see a cost escalation. The pressure is then on the creation of additional supply which could be in the form of ISL and PKL kind of things. Lack of dependence on non-India cricket rights might force broadcasters to invest in local Indian leagues. At the end of the day, if somebody overpays for New Zealand or Ireland rights, it's not going to lead to an increase in viewership for those events. Viewership is dependent on fan demand and fan demand is there for the main set of rights. The fight among key players will be for marquee rights because that's where the distribution revenue will come from," the executive contended. The executive doesn't believe in the hypothesis that IPL will be a loss-leader. He noted that the IPL ad revenue, just from TV, was roughly Rs 3000 crore in 2021. That addition of more matches from 2022 onwards will mean more ad inventory to sell. He feels that the IPL rights owner can earn Rs 19,000 crore over five years just on the increase in the number of matches without factoring in any ad rate increase. "Currently, Star is making Rs 3000 crore on TV in ad sales. From this year, the number of matches will go up, so the inventory will increase by 25%. So Rs 3000 crore should automatically go up to Rs 3750 crore for TV. For five years, just the TV ad revenue will be Rs 19,000 crore without any price increase. If the rate goes up 5-10%, the TV ad revenue will be Rs 21,000 crore. Then you have distribution revenue, and OTT revenue," he stated.