Siddharth Sharma, Executive Vice President of Viacom 18

The FIFA World Cup just months away and millions of Indians will tune in to watch the games, but this time, there will be a different feel to the viewing experience. The matches will not be telecast on traditional sports powerhouse channels; rather, this time, the bragging rights for FIFA World Cup telecast go to Sports18, which was launched earlier this year. EastMojo sat down with Siddharth Sharma, Executive Vice President, Viacom18 Sports, to understand how Sports18 plans to bring new programmes to our screens along with increasing the coverage of all sports.

Excerpts of the interview:

Sports18 has an array of international football properties, including the upcoming
FIFA World Cup. Is this a sign that Indian viewers are watching more of international football?

Football remains the most popular sport globally and one of India’s three most popular
sports. While traditional football-loving regions like Kerala, North-East states, Bengal, and Goa continue to be the torch-bearers of football fandom in India, we are seeing a visible growth in football consumption in metros across both digital and TV.

We have three of the top five European football leagues and the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 on our network because fans want to see their favourite teams and players in action. There is more football on our platform than a fan can handle, and we want to reach fans where they are and bring them closer to all the action.

Our strategic tie-up with Jio will give us unmatched access to a sizeable digital-savvy
audience, widening the reach of the FIFA Football World Cup Qatar 2022 and making it the most-watched, engaged, and consumed FIFA event in India ever.

Viacom18 platforms, especially digital, will offer advertisers a compelling proposition to reach a much broader, relevant, younger, fast-growing and highly-engaged audience as targeting and personalisation opportunities will be unmatched.

We are not just focused on international football but also offering fans the best of Indian football through the live broadcast of the 131st edition of the Durand Cup on Sports18 – 1, Sports18 Khel, our FTA Hindi sports channel, and Voot. To complement our live football offerings, we recently started a non-live show called Football Goal’d, available on Sports 18– 1 and Voot. The 30-minute show is a weekly roundup of high-octane action from across LaLiga, Serie A and Ligue1.

Your roster mainly consists of international tournaments. But you also went for the
Durand Cup, one of India’s premier football tournaments. What was the thought
behind it?

The legacy of the Durand Cup is unmatched, and its contribution to Indian football is
immeasurable. The addition of Asia’s oldest football competition and Indian football’s season opener strengthens Viacom18 Sports’ robust portfolio of football properties, including the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, LaLiga, Serie A, Ligue1 and other global sports events.

As we continue to build our offerings, we also want to make sports accessible to a broader audience nationwide through our FTA Hindi channel Sports18 Khel. Durand Cup made a good fit with that thought. Not just Durand Cup, but we also broadcasted Olympic bronze medallist Vijender Singh’s comeback win at the Jumble Rumble live on August 17.

Durand Cup is Asia’s oldest football tournament. Last year all the matches were not
broadcast. What are your plans for its broadcast?

We are offering Durand Cup across our linear and digital platforms. The matches are live on Sports18 – 1 SD & HD and in Hindi on Sports18 Khel, our Free-To-Air sports channel. In addition, Voot is live streaming the entire competition. Former India player Henry Menezes and India women’s team goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan are a part of the commentary panel alongside former association footballers Karan Sawhney and Darren Caldeira across Sports18– 1, Sports18 Khel, and Voot.

We know that few states are more inclined to football. Are you planning to take it to
other markets as well?

The football audience in India is spreading far and wide. As a sports network, one of our most significant focus areas is to make sports accessible to as many fans as possible through TV and digital. While markets like Kolkata, Kerala, Goa, and Northeast India are football hotbeds, we offer nationwide fans more football than they can handle across our platforms. We will continue to enhance the viewers’ experience with our bouquet of international and national footballing action around the year to become the home of the best football.

Our coverage of football will take a paradigm shift as we near the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. We will create unmatched excitement around it and capture the emotions of fans not watching it from the stadium. In turn, we will give them the best-ever experience of the showpiece on digital and TV like never before.

Guwahati and Imphal are the hosts, along with Kolkata. How important is Northeast India as a market for Sports18?

Northeast India, as we all know, is one of the most sports-loving regions of the country. The number of top footballers and champion athletes coming out of the states has been nothing less than impressive, showcasing how sports are deeply ingrained into the culture. The people love their sports, their heroes and football is the number one sport there. 

Unsurprisingly, the Durand Cup organising committee included Guwahati and Imphal as co-hosts, along with Kolkata. As a sports network, we will deliver great competition across all our platforms to gain their trust so that they return to watch all the football we have to offer, among other things. 

Tell us about your other key properties.

We are home to some of the best sports properties in the world, including the NBA, Diamond League, Serie A, LaLiga, Ligue1, and select BWF and ATP events, among others. We are also broadcasting the ongoing BWF World Championships exclusively live on Sports18 channels and Voot.

Soon the FIFA Football World Cup Qatar 2022 will take over India and the world. Our strategic tie-up with Jio will give us unmatched access to a sizeable digital-savvy audience, widening the marquee event’s reach and putting us in a position to make it the most-watched, engaged, and consumed FIFA event in India ever.

We have a healthy mix of live and non-live programming on our channels. On Sports 18 – 1, Sports OTT is our daily sports news show, Home of Heroes is an interview series with leading figures in Indian sports, and Flashpoint is a series dedicated to the stories behind sport’s most famous photographs.

On Sports18 Khel, we run several timeless shows like Garv Hai – India Ke Champions. This series chronicles India’s historic performances across various sports. Last week, we launched five other shows starting with Woh Lamhe, a series that will tell viewers the stories behind some of the most iconic images that captured a seminal moment in sports history.

Shortlist will focus on the most memorable sporting moments, including comebacks, greatest debuts, sports dynasties, etc. Fans can enjoy stories of their favourite sports heroes through a show called Dhaakad. 

Sports Ke Sikander will be a celebration of the careers of the greatest names in sports, a mix of athletes and coaches who have etched their names in history forever. Takkar, as the name suggests, will re-live some of the biggest rivalries in sports.

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