Hotstar’s lack of streaming rights is an indication of bigger bother

I’ve typically requested myself this query. In January 2020, Components 1 launched an official broadcast report and India was listed as considered one of its top-5 markets with 31.1 million followers.

For a rustic that’s within the top-5 markets for Components 1, the present state of affairs for Components 1 in India is a little bit of a dichotomy. For the primary time in round 20 years, Components 1 doesn’t have an official broadcaster in India. 

Star Sports activities, the official broadcaster via the ages, selected to not renew their rights with Components 1. Because the begin to the 2023 Components 1 season neared, Components 1 did not sign-up an official broadcaster for India — forcing the game to launch its personal stay streaming service, F1 TV, in India. 

The choice got here as a shock to Components 1 followers in India, nonetheless, the game has been in a gentle state of decline since the previous few a long time. This holds true for India internet hosting a Grand Prix and for Components 1 broadcast in India. 

However first, the highs

Components 1 skilled a excessive in India within the early 2000s — with Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok getting ready to racing within the sport. The hype was additional fuelled by a broadcast cope with free-to-air state tv, Doordarshan. It was reported that Bernie Ecclestone, the then-owner/CEO of Components 1, ‘paid’ Doordarshan to broadcast the races. The outcome was a viewership of roughly 60-70 million in India. 

As the game moved away from free-to-air tv, ESPNStar (Star Sports activities’ earlier avatar) was the official broadcaster. In actual fact, for a few seasons, Components 1 motion was broadcast concurrently on ESPNStar and TEN Sports activities. I keep in mind switching between the channels when the opposite selected to take an advert break!

Because the seasons glided by, ESPNStar added pre/post-race programming to their broadcast. Steve Slater turned synonymous with Components 1 broadcasts in India, as did his legendary race opening line, “Because the 5 pink lights illuminate…and as they exit, the race is GO!”

Chris Goodwin, Matthew Marsh, Alex Yoong and Paula Malai Ali turned family names in India. ESPNStar’s broadcast of Components 1 went a great distance in shaping the Components 1 followers of that technology, me included.

The decline

As ESPNStar morphed into Star Sports activities, one of many first impacts that Components 1 broadcast confronted in India was with the dropping of the pre/publish programming round Qualifying and the Race. For years main as much as 2022, the official broadcast solely included the ‘world feed’ that Components 1 would provide to all broadcasters. 

Mainly, Star Sports activities stopped investing in peripheral Components 1 content material — a key step in the direction of participating followers additional with a highly-complex sport. Whereas followers have expressed their displeasure over time, for Star Sports activities, this was a enterprise determination they wanted to take.

Years later, the printed moved away from the usual definition format (with wider attain) and have become high-definition solely. Whereas the standard of the feed improved for the followers, certainly it might’ve impacted the attain of the game. 

The numbers

Whereas India options within the top-5 fan markets for Components 1, it has been reported that from a tv viewership stand-point India fails to function even within the top-20 listing. The stay viewership per race is roughly within the area of 6 million (TV and streaming) – a quantity that’s a shade of what different sports activities can garner by way of eyeballs.

Compared, the home-grown and ever-popular Indian Premier League reportedly attracts a viewership that’s 10x of Components 1. Equally, the opposite home-grown leagues resembling Professional Kabaddi and Final Kho Kho have attracted bigger audiences at an inexpensive price. In some ways, the success of home-grown leagues and sports activities has impacted Components 1 in India.

Understandably, Components 1 followers have blamed the bias in the direction of Indian sports activities leagues for the dearth of curiosity proven by broadcasters. However there are some information that have to be understood for broadcasters to maneuver on this path.

Components 1 vs. India

A lot as each different worldwide enterprise desirous to increase internationally, Components 1 has additionally repeatedly expressed that India is a key market — the most-recent admission coming in February 2023 when the FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem visited India for Components E’s Hyderabad ePrix. Nonetheless, Components 1 has struggled to crack the Indian market regardless of having a Grand Prix within the latest previous and an Indian-owned group, Drive India. 

After Liberty Media’s takeover in 2017, Components 1 has, by their very own admission, centered on stabilising itself within the conventional European markets whereas specializing in progress in the USA of America. In 2023, Japan and Singapore are the one races in Asia – a far cry from when China, India, South Korea, Russia and Malaysia additionally hosted Grands Prix not too many seasons in the past.

This leads me to the primary query: if Components 1 isn’t prioritising India, why ought to Indian broadcasters prioritise Components 1? After years of deliberate advertising and marketing actions and publicity, Components 1 is lastly getting a stronghold within the US. For the primary time in a long time, the US will host three Grands Prix in a single season. It’s solely truthful for different markets, resembling India, to anticipate comparable wooing and investments from Components 1 to develop the game regionally. 

The second query is of price vs. worth. Is Components 1 delivering as a lot worth for the price it comes at? After failing to signal a broadcaster in India in early 2023, Components 1 launched an official assertion explaining their plans for India and giving some insights into why there wouldn’t be an official broadcaster. “We additionally clearly talked to Star and one or two different extra conventional platforms and we felt that they did not worth our rights in the way in which that we did,” mentioned Ian Holmes, Components 1’s Director of Media Rights, in an announcement to Reuters. 

Primarily based on my understanding, one of many larger considerations for broadcasters in India was the worth at which the Components 1 rights had been pitched at. Sure, Components 1 has seen a world growth in fan base, however for India, the rights appeared overpriced. As considered one of my buddies within the media joked, one may host one other season of a home-grown league for the worth of Components 1’s rights!

The third query is about industrial success: Advertiser curiosity in Components 1 has additionally seen a declining pattern within the final a few years. I’m instructed by trusted sources that Components 1’s broadcast within the mid and late 2000s attracted extra promoting cash than it has within the recent-past. This places into perspective why internet hosting one other season of an Indian-sports league, which the advertisers love, can be extra profitable than shopping for Components 1’s rights. Once more, trusted sources have lengthy indicated that Components 1 rights had been loss-making or in an excellent 12 months, nearly breaking even. 

Lastly, it is very important iterate the position of a broadcaster in advertising and marketing a sport and fascinating its fan base. Simply as each different nation, India too has skilled a constructive impact of Netflix’s Drive to Survive, Components 1’s highly-popular documentary. The fol
lowing step for a fan to get nearer to Components 1 can be to eat stay and non-live content material. That is the place the broadcaster performs a key position. 


It may be argued that F1 TV may match into this position, however not in a market like India the place most customers aren’t used to subscribing to a service to entry a single sport at a worth that’s a lot increased than what was paid within the a few years earlier than.

What’s subsequent?

India can be seeing a shift in broadcaster mindset — possession vs. hire. There’s long run worth to be created by proudly owning a league (on-ground and on-air; a la Professional Kabaddi during which Star Sports activities is a majority associate) than simply ‘renting’ rights to a league owned by another person, which regularly goes to the very best bidder. Indian broadcasters have lengthy performed the bidding recreation when it got here to rights to broadcast cricket and possibly they didn’t see Components 1 value out-bidding one another for.

And eventually, speaking of bidding for rights — I think that the battle for Indian Premier League rights in 2023 was one more reason why Components 1 did not signal a broadcaster. Understandably, the stakes are very excessive with the Indian Premier League, and it was solely a coincidence that Components 1’s rights renewal got here in a 12 months when two of India’s largest broadcasters had been engaged in battle to seize a big piece of the pie that’s cricket’s most-lucrative league. 

I’ve a sense that Components 1 is perhaps profitable in putting a deal as soon as the present season of the Indian Premier League ends in Might. 

Might June deliver excellent news for Components 1 followers in India? I actually hope so.

Kunal Shah is a former single seater racer and an FIA-accredited TV & print journalist for Components 1 and Components E. He was the Head of Advertising and marketing & Sponsorship for the Drive India F1 Staff and is the founding co-host of the Inside Line F1 Podcast.

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