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Will the Accessibility of Streaming be a Positive or Negative for Indian Sports?

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Boasting a population of over 1.3 billion and the nation’s love of sports being showcased at every international cricket and hockey match, it’s clear that India is a colossal sports market. Domestically, even though these leagues are enjoyed elsewhere in the world, the likes of the Indian Premier League and Kabaddi Pro League continue to put up mighty attendance and viewership figures.

Back in 2016, India moved into the prestigious spot of being the second-largest internet user market, and while China is still in the number-one spot today, the subcontinent closes the gap significantly each year. This is primarily propelled by the explosion of smartphone adoptions across the country, which is predicted to see some 820 million smartphone users across India by next year. Naturally, such a massive internet audience has been keen to dig into its offerings, with streaming, such as through OTT platforms, being a colossal market now. Already valued at US$1.5 billion, the video over the top market will grow, per expectations, to US$4 billion by 2025.

India’s love of sports and streaming content online are already converging, but will the easy access to streaming and live streaming of sports prove to be negative or positive for the nation’s competitions?

Packing the stadiums across India

 

While not a major player on the international scene, India is quite the follower of elite-tier football, with the UEFA Champions League of interest to many – as is the English Premier League. Still, it’s very clear that cricket is the most-loved sport in the massive country, particularly since international success was found in shorter formats. In fact, many cite the triumph in the third ever ICC Cricket World Cup as the one that fired cricket to the top in India. Since then, Twenty-20 cricket has hit the international circuit – which India has also proven to be a dominant force in – and just last year, the national team made it to the final of the inaugural ICC World Test Championship. So, India is a colossus in all forms of international cricket, but at home, the IPL has truly sent cricket on the subcontinent to the top of the billing.

With all of the money, extravagance, and big names capable of taking hattricks and smashing sixes, the IPL is the world’s premier domestic cricket contest. Despite only starting in 2008, the IPL was already averaging attendances of 40,000 per match in 2019 – more than any other cricket league in the world. Furthermore, in 2014/15 Business Insider released a report that found the IPL to be the sixth-highest attended sports league in the world, with the competition only becoming more popular since. With the stadium atmosphere being such a huge part of the prowess of the IPL, it could be reasoned that easier access to live streams of the sport may detract from attendances, weakening the product.

Benefits of streaming to the masses

 

While the IPL boasts mighty attendance figures, it should be noted that the league is only comprised of eight teams, with the franchise format not seeing other clubs promoted in or relegated from the top competition. So, there are hundreds of millions of Indians who aren’t within a reasonable distance of an IPL team, despite how spread out they are across the subcontinent.

Though adding more teams could impact the concentration of quality on the show, an expansion would certainly pack out more stadiums. Still, with only eight teams, most fans have to tune in to watch the action, which has resulted in the IPL becoming the fifth-most watched domestic sports competition in the world. Now at the forefront of reaching the largest possible audience for the IPL is the streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar, which is loaded with sports but, naturally, leans heavily on its IPL coverage. To enhance the experience, not only is it hugely accessible thanks to it being internet-based, but the streams boast a huge range of experts across its shows and languages, including Brian Lara, Brett Lee, Kevin Pietersen, RP Singh, and Parthiv Patel.

Thanks to the commitment to quality in the form of replays, convenience, expert commentary, and different viewing angles, streaming is a viable alternative. Other entertainment sectors have found this to be the case, too, with Broadway’s WICKED even going live on TikTok to increase its accessibility to reach more fans. Increasing accessibility to a live experience has also proven effective in the realms of casino entertainment. Now, customers can play at physical tables with human croupiers in real-time via the live casino platform. Here, to get the in-house experience, customers live stream to a table and play card games, roulette, and game show titles all while they’re happening somewhere else in the world.

Going live is becoming an ever more popular option for content providers as people are accustomed to convenient access now. You can even tune in to Pakistani Drama Live for a new way to watch their TV shows, and the UK’s National Theatre has been ramping up its efforts to show its live performances beyond their given stages, reaching 2,500 screens in 60 countries.

With so many live experiences turning to streaming, it seems unlikely that the rise of streaming in India would hinder its largest sports product. In fact, research into the use of live streaming under the National Theatre Live banner found that they didn’t harm attendances and boosted attendance at venues showing the live feeds. Being such a small league in terms of the number of competitors, the IPL can easily benefit from streaming. Those who want to experience the raucous atmosphere of the games will need to travel and attend, but the convenience and quality on offer through streams offers a viable alternative option for fans.