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Will People Pay To Watch Matches On Starsports.com?

(by Apurva Chaudhary and Nikhil Pahwa)

Star India has launched a new sports website at starsports.com, with live streaming of  matches, live commentary in Hindi and English, match fixtures and results, reports Business Standard.

According to the report, Star India has invested over Rs 100 crore on the website, which appears to be inordinately high (and probably exaggerated), given that ESPNSTAR.com already had a live streaming setup in place. Surely, its front end interface can’t be that expensive. STAR has plans to charge users a fee to access the content, however, it is currently free for a limited period while the website is in Beta.

Why Launch StarSports.com?

Recently, the ESPN-StartSports, a joint venture between ESPN and Star TV (owned by News corporation) split when Rupert Murdoch owned News Corporation  acquired ESPN Star Sports (ESS) by acquiring Disney’s 50 percent stake in the joint venture, paying $335 million for the deal. Espnstar.com, previously run by the jonint venture, is now being re-directed to Starsports.comm, so this could be a part of the plan to transition users from the co-branded property to STAR Sports.

ESPN currently runs espncricinfo.com, which offers live match scores, news and articles, statistics,  fixtures, photos, among others.

Will People Pay For Watching Matches On StarSports.com?

Sports content is premium: it’s immediate, fans are more likely to pay for watching a great game in progress, than go home and watch highlights on TV. There is value in immediacy, which is lost once a game finishes. Willow.tv appears to have made the paid model work, but the question that STAR faces is – will Indian users pay for online streaming of a Cricket match?

In the past, at least in India, Cricket matches have been free to watch, and monetized with advertising. The assumption has been that it’s easier to scale monetization via advertising than trying to get enough paying subscribers to cover even costs. Our guess is that no such business has yet made a profit, whether Neo Sports, with its CricketNirvana initiative, or YouTube and then Times Internet Limited with the IPL. STAR will find it tough to go paid: the current India-Pakistan series was probably its best opportunity for monetization.

Portal & content

If there’s a live cricket match, the website will stream the live match on its video hub, provided Star India has the Internet streaming rights for the match. On other days, users can watch the most recent matches on-demand, or browse through video highlights on Video hub. Star India uploads highlights of online matches in real time to the Video Timeline allowing users to re-watch the highlights of the match. Although the website currently doesn’t store user accounts, it stores user’s activity to track recently viewed videos. It clears up once a user clears their browser cache.

Apart from that, the website also provides match fixtures and results. What we like about the site, is that users can choose to watch full replays or highlights of the matches right from the fixture page. In the match center tab, the website provides match previews and more information on the teams, apart from news and articles related to the match. The scorecard has additional data like a wagon wheel (indicating scoring areas for the team), Manhattan (runs scored in each over, and the worm (indicating the increase in score through the innings, alongwith fall of wickets).

The match page has live text commentary:

The website surprisingly misses out on search form and the user has to depend on other forms of discover-ability of content.

Mobile: Apparently, the website is restricting access to the video stream of a live match on its mobile website. When we tried to access the website on iPhone 5 on Vodafone, the website displays “your operator is not subscribed to this service”. We believe star India will monetize mobile video stream once they strike a deal with telecom operators.

STAR India’s Rights

Star India  had won the broadcast, internet and mobile rights for all Indian cricket matches for the period 2012-2018, for an amount of Rs 3851 crore, covering 96 matches. Apart from that, ESPN STAR Sports (ESS), and The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had recently announced a seven year contract for exclusive multi-platform rights to broadcast its domestic and home international matches. The deal will run from 2013 to 2019 and incorporates exclusive rights for television, online, mobile and radio, covering major cricket markets of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh among others across Asia.

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