On Sunday, football fans were glued to their TV sets to cheer on team India as they lifted the trophy in the Intercontinental Cup 2018 Finals, telecast on Star Sports. Those who prefer to do their viewing online turned to Hotstar. Similarly, for live streaming of cricket matches, there’s Cricbuzz, ESPNcricinfo, Yahoo! Cricket, and Hotstar, and for news and updates, there’s Sportskeeda. But these are India’s most loved games, and there’re a host of websites, TV channels, and apps focused on them.
There is no single online platform where one can stream cricket matches, watch tennis or boxing, get football updates, and catch up on news from around the sports world. Realising this gap, Raman Raheja, a seasoned entrepreneur with experience in both live entertainment and sports franchising, decided to build a one-stop online sports platform that would cater to all the popular sports played in India. The result: Sports Flashes.
In Raman’s words, the company aims to become an online ESPN for the Indian sports community. “Everything that you can think of sports will be available on Sports Flashes. This is what we are building,” says Raman Raheja, founder, Sports Flashes.
Online sports video content aggregator Sports Flashes streams live videos, provides live scores and updates as well as the latest news through a website and a mobile app. The platform recently added an online radio channel to its other properties — Live TV, Live Score and News — becoming the first startup in India to do so.
The startup is backed by India’s biggest media conglomerate, the Times Group, which has also invested in Cricbuzz. Recently, Sports Flashes raised $1 Mn in a Pre-Series A funding round from the US-based early-stage venture capital firm SRI Capital. With the funding, the startup aims take impactful and strategic initiatives to expand its business.
Sports Flashes: Upping The Online Sports Content Game
Raheja, who has previously handled projects for the Commonwealth Games, the World Kabaddi League, the IIFA Awards, and the IPL, among others, also ran an event management company of his own. He found his entrepreneurial goal after he kicked off Sports Flashes in August 2016.
Unlike most other websites and apps, which are limited to cricket, football, or a handful of other sports, Sports Flashes aggregates content across 34 sports and games genres and events — football, kabaddi, hockey, archery, shooting, wrestling, taekwondo, volleyball, basketball, and even yoga — both in India and abroad, bringing it to users a single platform.
Sports Flashes streams live sports events, airs interviews, live commentaries, and fanbase commentaries on Live TV, provides real-time event updates and scores on Live Score, and also has a section for news. The live matches are later available as recordings.
Although the primary medium is English, it also curates regional news content in multiple Indian languages, including Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, and Hindi. It plans to add Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada to its language repertoire soon.
Sports Flashes: Show Me The Money
The startup has built a B2B module around sports and categorised its revenue monetisation mainly into four categories — content indication, content creation, content broadcast, and advertisements. It has plans to expand into paid subscriptions later. Here’s how Sports Flashes is running its business:
- Content Indication: It is an established model which has big players such as Yahoo! and Google consuming contents from India on sports. Raheja says being a platform that provides content in seven Indian languages, the startup has an advantage over other existing sports platforms which mainly cater to English and Hindi audiences.
- Content Creation: Franchises, club owners, and event organisers organise a host of sports events in kabaddi, hockey, football, billiards, snooker, weightlifting, etc all round the year in India. Sports Flashes has a bunch of specialists who create content that is not easily available — interviews, feature articles, news stories, audio-video bytes etc, in multiple languages — and can be monetised.
- Content Broadcast: The startup plans to help smaller sports events at a regional level get a wider audience. “Regional events don’t usually get the opportunity to be highlighted on the major TV channels, so we broadcast such events on our platform,” says Raheja.
- Advertisement: Sports Flashes also runs ads on its website like many other content aggregators.
- Subscription: The startup is in the process to garner more premium content. “Once we have enough premium content, in a year or so, we will introduce paid subscriptions,” says Raheja, citing Hotstar’s example, which was a free platform earlier. “Slowly, they decided to push their content towards paid subscriptions. That’s what we will eventually do as well,” he adds.
What About Competition?
As a traditional medium, television continues to dominate major sporting moments. An over 1.5 Bn global audience tuned in to TV broadcasts of the Commonwealth Games 2018. According to the Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC), Sony Pictures Network (SPN)’s coverage of the 22-day FIFA U-17 World Cup was viewed by over 47 Mn people across India. Similarly, IPL 11 saw up to 378.6 Mn TV viewers.
Apart from websites of major sports channels like ESPN, Star Sports, etc, and online-only sports platforms like Cricbuzz and Sportskeeda, there are online sports platforms in India that cater to specific sports categories. For instance, Khel Now is a mobile-based social networking platform for sports, Athletto is a sports venues and fitness arenas finder, Football Solutions provides solutions on football, and others.
Television viewership may not change majorly, but time spent online is poised to increase to many times than it is today. According to a recent report by Ficci-EY — Reimagining India’s M&E sector — India, by 2020, is expected to become the second largest online video viewing audience globally, fuelled by the exponential growth of video consumption in digital media.
There are currently around 1-1.5 Mn “digital-only consumers” in India and this is poised to touch over 4 Mn by 2020, generating significant digital subscription revenues for the country’s media and entertainment sector. Startups that are providing digital contents include POPxo, Arre, Yaap, Voot etc.
In such a crowded space, we asked Raheja how does Sports Flashes plan to carve out a space for itself. Also, how scalable is the business model that he has created? “We are not going ballistic when it comes to pitching Sports Flashes as the ultimate sports platform. Our approaches are specific. Our marketing initiatives are very localised to certain communities. It is not about going over-the-top (OTT),” says Raheja, about his marketing strategy.
According to him, Sports Flashes has touched over 5 Mn viewership so far, and the number reach for live sports events is between 100k to 300k. The startup has an employee strength of 55 in its Delhi office and about 50 stringers across the country.
Keeping Up The Sporting Spirit
Sports Flashes has also acquired some exclusive sports content rights from both international and domestic markets. “This includes TV rights,” Raheja said. “Even Star Sports may haven’t acquired some of these rights,” says Raheja.
Raheja maintains that Sports Flashes is in the process of acquiring more rights for broadcasting international and national sports content. It has already bought rights from United World Wrestling to telecast wrestling matches live and exclusive for Indian viewers. Then there are other non-exclusive content, which don’t require rights, that are available on the platform.
Sports Flashes is adding value to the content it streams with real-time graphic representations, says Raheja. For instance, the graphic below does a live representation of on-field action — which team possesses the ball, who’s attacking, offside positions, who’s throwing, who’s making goals, etc — with live notifications.
The startup has developed an in-house intelligent system which monitors users behaviour to provide relevant feeds and notifications by tracking the first 10-30 mins of the time spent by users on the platform. “We don’t seek any user data. Moreover, users don’t have to upload any information on the platform,” says Raheja, on the issue of data privacy.
The Game Ahead
Like most digital companies looking to go tap into the next 100 Mn Indians who are going online, Sports Flashes is also taking a hyperlocal approach to make its platform popular. In a bit to bring its viewers a wide selection of sports events across genres from a regional level, the startup has tied up with league organisers, sports federations, and franchises of different leagues.
“For instance, if there is a kabaddi match happening in Haryana, our production team goes to the venue to provide live coverage of the match on our platform,” he said.
For all those football fans who are waiting eagerly for the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018, Sports Flashes will be streaming ‘Special Shows’, bringing commentary from football enthusiasts across the country.
It also plans to stream sports matches from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, among others. “There are some big announcement to be made soon,” Raheja signs off, cryptically.
While Sports Flashes in its initial stages and still hasn’t got “everything about sports” down pat, it has big plans, and as Raheja says, big announcements waiting. Let’s see what these big announcements are and if Sports Flashes manages to achieve its goal of being a one-stop online sports content destination for Indian sports enthusiasts.