Amazon primed for India cricket rights push

Amazon Prime Video is building a live cricket offering in India as it seeks an edge over international rivals in the country’s fast-growing media market.

The US company last month secured the rights to stream New Zealand cricket in India from 2021 to 2026, its first foray into live sports in the country and a move seen by industry experts as a warm-up for a potential challenge for more lucrative rights to elite Indian matches.

Disney’s rights to the two biggest prizes, the Indian Premier League and Indian national cricket, expire in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

“Expanding into a space which the country loves makes sense,” Gaurav Gandhi, Amazon Prime Video’s country manager, told the Financial Times, adding that the company would weigh further opportunities to secure cricket rights.

“You have to work for the rights structures, when the rights are available and so on,” he said. “I do feel that it does add an interesting dimension to our overall offerings . . . We’re happy to look at each individual opportunity that goes by.”

Global streaming platforms are increasingly looking to draw in audiences through live sports, in addition to films and series. Amazon already streams some NFL matches and Premier League football, as well as US Open tennis.

But in India, Disney’s dominance of top cricket tournaments has helped propel it to the top of the streaming market. It is expected to end the year with 28m subscribers thanks in large part to this year’s IPL, according to Media Partners Asia, against 17m for Amazon Prime and 5m for Netflix.

Star India, which Disney acquired through its deal for 21st Century Fox, beat Facebook and Sony in 2017 to secure five years of rights to the IPL for $2.6bn.

For Amazon, New Zealand matches alone are unlikely to pull in bumper audiences in India, not least because the time difference means many games will take place in the early hours of the Indian morning.

“The New Zealand cricket rights probably sit at the tail-end of the hierarchy, largely because of the timing,” one industry executive said. “And yet . . . it tells you that whenever the IPL rights come up, or other major cricket rights come up, the competition this time is going to be very serious from the new technology and internet companies.”

Amazon this month released a series shadowing a team competing in India’s kabaddi league, its first Indian sports documentary series following the global success of its All or Nothing franchise. Kabaddi, a contact sport, is India’s most watched game after cricket.

“We’re here, we’re really serious and we’re committed to the long term,” said Vijay Subramaniam, Amazon Prime Video’s head of India content. “It’s moving in the direction that we’re very happy with.”

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