By Shirish Nadkarni
Eyeballs is the name of the game. The greater the number of viewers, the greater the potential for attracting advertising at higher rates; or, in broadcasting terminology, monetising the content. And for that, exclusive and innovative content is the need of the hour.
Consider these statistics of the world’s second most valuable sports rights, behind the USA’s National Football League (NFL) – the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament, which is held over two months every year during the hottest part of the Indian summer, in April and May. This year, the IPL began on March 31, and will conclude with the final on May 21.
The league, launched in 2008, and currently in its 16th consecutive season (it remained undisturbed by the worldwide COVID-19 restrictions in 2020), has 10 teams and boasts a total of 74 matches, each of which spans about four hours. It is presently sponsored by the Indian multinational conglomerate, Tata, and has attracted viewership in India of over 400 million viewers per season.
Seven IPL seasons were auctioned in June 2022 for the 2023-2027 TV and over-the-top (OTT) rights cycle, reaping the equivalent of US$6.2 billion. This equates to US$15.1 million per match, substantially more than the English Premier League’s (EPL) US$11 million per match, and only just trailing the American NFL’s $17 million per game.
It was thus a coup of sorts when IPL rights holders Star Sports (domestic TV broadcast), Viacom18 (domestic OTT on JioCinema) and Times Internet (international to the USA, Canada, the Middle East and North Africa via Cricbuzz) announced last month that they had selected broadcast technology and media services provider, Planetcast Media Services, to bring next-gen viewing experiences to hundreds of millions of IPL cricket fans around the world and drive monetisation for content providers.
Planetcast has been a leading provider of media services that have already touched over a billion lives in India and South-east Asia, and has pioneered several technology innovations.
“Planetcast brings a rich heritage of cricket video experience to its work with Star Sports, Viacom18 and Times Internet, having provided the media distribution backbone for most of IPL’s 16-year history,” said Sanjay Duda, the company’s recently appointed CEO.
“We have enabled IPL 2023 broadcasters to deliver live high-definition (HD) and 4K ultra-high-definition (UHD) coverage, with services including playout, feed management, live feed acquisition, graphics management, multi-language commentary and AI-based highlights editing for instant highlight creation, and near-real-time ad insertion.”
Fresh off the back of Planetcast’s strategic investment in Desynova, a cloud-based content management platform, the company continues to build momentum in driving its next stage of global growth.
“We are supporting the first 4K production since the launch of IPL by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in 2008,” said Duda. “The league’s matchday coverage is among the world’s most complex live sports video challenges, with simultaneous matches broadcast and streamed over numerous channels and OTT services in multiple languages.
“The work we’ve done at IPL matches almost every season since the first in 2008 has enabled Planetcast to build a reputation for handling incredibly complex and valuable live events.
“With the IPL now the world’s second most expensive sports rights on a per-match basis, media leaders more than ever need to give TV viewers the best possible viewing experience, including UHD viewing on TV and mobile devices.”
Planetcast is the technology mainstay for 17 Star Sports channels and several pop-up channels, with feeds in eight languages. The entire media services framework is deployed across 10 stadiums and three Viacom Sports Hubs in India.
“IPL 2023 will see us continue to push the envelope in consumer experience in live TV sports,” said Venugopal Iyengar, Chief Operating Officer – Digital, for Planetcast International.
He added, “We are launching a number of IPL broadcast innovations this season, including AI-based editing with player facial recognition to quickly provide key video highlights, fast and flexible upstream ad insertion, and handling multiple language audio commentary tracks.”
To enable Star Sports’ UHD broadcast, Planetcast will be supporting HD 1080p distribution using a satellite news gathering (SNG) kit at Dharamshala and Guwahati venues, representing India’s first SNG transmission of live sports using the latest HEVC technology with Dolby Atmos.
“We have created an IP setup based on the latest standards for 4K production, enabling parallel HD and UHD content delivery via compatible televisions and devices to consumers across India – with the opportunity to support high dynamic range (HDR) in the future,” said Iyengar.
Indeed, content is King. And leveraging cutting-edge technology to deliver high quality live exclusive sports content over multiple platforms is Queen!