Viacom18 in catch-22 with Voot
Why Viacom18 is going all out to promote the JioCinema app with the help of popular cricket celebrities is understandable. The company has bagged the complete digital streaming rights of IPL for a whopping ₹23,758 crore for five years and will obviously leave no stone unturned to push the app into every home to draw viewership, and, in turn, advertising
Mumbai: On Tuesday, Viacom18 Sports announced T20 batsman Suryakumar Yadav as the brand ambassador for JioCinema, the company’s digital app that will live-stream the cricket Indian Premier League (IPL) this season. He is the second cricketer to be signed up after MS Dhoni who was also appointed brand ambassador to promote Viacom18’s vision of making live sports viewing synonymous with digital.
Why Viacom18 is going all out to promote the JioCinema app with the help of popular cricket celebrities is understandable. The company has bagged the complete digital streaming rights of IPL for a whopping ₹23,758 crore for five years and will obviously leave no stone unturned to push the app into every home to draw viewership, and, in turn, advertising.
Viacom18, majority-owned by Reliance Industries, not only operates a large broadcasting business led by Hindi entertainment channel Colors, but also runs a streaming service Voot. When it bagged IPL, people wondered if Voot would live stream the matches. However, the idea was quickly dismissed as Reliance and Viacom18 had already announced a strategic partnership with Bodhi Tree Systems in April 2022 to form one of the largest TV and digital streaming companies in India. Bodhi Tree Systems, a platform of James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems and Uday Shankar, was supposed to invest ₹13,500 crore in Viacom18, to “pioneer the Indian media landscape’s transformation to a “streaming-first” approach,” a release from the company had said then.
People involved in the deal at that time had spoken about building a totally new streaming app for hosting IPL. However, not much has been heard about the deal since then and there is no sign of the new app either. But when the partnership was announced, Reliance-owned JioCinema was transferred and merged with Viacom18 Media Pvt Ltd. The app will stream the matches free this season.
During last year’s FIFA World Cup, JioCinema had faced flak from consumers for glitches on the app which it remedied quickly. But people in the know at Viacom say the company doesn’t want to take any chances with IPL which kicks off on March 31st. So, it is keeping Voot alive, at least until the time it can make sure that IPL streaming on JioCinema is smooth. “Voot seems to be their backup plan in case there are snags in JioCinema. I doubt if Voot will shut down before IPL is streamed successfully,” said a person familiar with the plans.
Currently, Viacom is focusing on strengthening JioCinema so that the app does not buckle under pressure during peak viewing time. Although it is streaming the ongoing Women’s Premier League, the surge in traffic from concurrent viewers (those watching a match at the same time) during IPL will be at another scale. If Women’s Premier League saw a concurrent viewership of say 5 million, for IPL the app must be prepared to host nearly 20 million viewers at the same time. That was Hotstar’s peak concurrent viewing when it held IPL digital rights.
In multiple interviews, Anil Jayaraj of Viacom18 Sports has said that they are targeting a reach of 550 million for IPL on the back of growing internet penetration. Latest numbers from Nielsen’s India Internet Report 2023 support his targets. The report says India has 700 million active internet users as of December 2022, adding that there are 450 million smartphone users and an equal number of video watchers.
But the push for JioCinema has left Voot in the lurch. Viacom18 did not respond to queries regarding Voot’s future. The streaming platform has an estimated 3-4 million subscribers and counts Bigg Boss, Aparahan and Kaise Hai Yaariyaan, among its popular shows. Some of its content is behind a paywall under Voot Select.
Of course, eventually, Viacom18 is likely to keep only one streaming platform and migrate Voot’s content to JioCinema. It makes little sense for a broadcaster to operate two streaming services with separate marketing and content teams. Besides, for JioCinema, sports can only be a customer acquisition strategy. To retain the viewer, it needs to build other content.
A brand refresh may also happen, but only much later. For now, the company is focusing on delivering very high resolution, multi-language and multi camera feeds to viewers who download the app.