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ESPN Returns To India With Sony Deal

ESPN and Sony India have joined hands to launch Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD and both will launch by airing live the first tennis grand slam of the year - Australian Open

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The success of any sports channel depends on two key elements - the amount of live sporting properties it can telecast and the maximum number of eyeballs it can reach.

To meet these twin objectives, ESPN, the sports channel brand from Disney will be back on Indian cable and satellite platform from January 17 in a new avatar. ESPN and Sony India have joined hands to launch Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD and both will launch by airing live the first tennis grand slam of the year - Australian Open.

As a result, SonyKix, one of the sports channels of Sony India stable will be switched off and re-branded as ESPN Sony come January 17. However, Sony Six and Sony Six HD will continue to be on air unaffected by the ESPN-Sony tie-up.

The move is crucial for ESPN, which had to exit the Indian market after the termination of its long-standing tie-up with Star India in 2012 that ran for over 17 years. Since then Star India has gone solo launching and rebranding its sports bouquet having crucial live sporting properties including rights from the Board of Control for Cricket in India, and other important cricketing action from England, Australia, among others.

Star, Sony and TEN are the three main sports broadcasters in India having 16 channels between them (adding standard definition and high definition channels). Public broadcaster Doordarshan has a couple of its own sports channel under DD Sports that airs national and state level games which are not taken up by the three main private sports broadcasters.

Commenting on the tie-up, NP Singh-led Sony Pictures Network India (earlier called Multi Screen Media India) said: "As a network, SPN is focused on becoming the first choice in television and digital entertainment. Our collaboration with ESPN is a targeted step in that direction, as it helps us ink another milestone in our growth trajectory of providing high-quality international sporting content to viewers in India and across the sub-continent."

What To Expect?
ESPN-Sony alliance is expected to also bring in to India live sporting action from the US. Reports suggest ESPN has the telecast rights to major US college football, major US college basketball, NCAA college sport championships from baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer; boxing, X Games among others. Some of these content will get aired on ESPN Sony platform going forward.

Russell Wolff, the executive vice-president and managing director, ESPN international, had recently said that the long-term collaboration between ESPN and Sony will serve Indian sports fans with exceptional products, content and coverage through the combined strengths and expertise of the two companies.

In India, ESPN's digital portfolio is dominated by ESPNcricinfo, the leading digital cricket destination in India which will further get strengthened with more offshoots covering other sports, sources said.

Meanwhile post its break-up with ESPN, STAR has the rigts to some of the major non-cricketing sporting actions in India including the popular Indian Badminton League, Hockey India League, the Indian Super League and the Pro Kabaddi League, all of which are now in the second or third year.

Sony India's sports rights portfolio also includes the UEFA Euro 2016, European football leagues like La Liga and FA Cup, NBA, the National Football League, Rugby World Cup, TNA Wrestling among others. Its IPL rights come up for review later in the year.

ESPN is expected to further augment this programming mix by getting sporting events live from the US market.

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