ESPN STAR Sports, a 50:50 joint venture between two of the world's leading cable and satellite broadcasters, expects positive viewership growth in Asia in 2011 from the slew of sporting events taking place this year.
According to ESPN STAR Sports managing director Manu Sawhney, the satellite broadcasting company started 2011 on a strong note with the first tennis Grand Slam in the Australian Open (in January) to kick off a stellar season of sports.
“Football fans across Asia saw Japan clinch the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup Qatar 2011 (January) which garnered very positive viewership as compared with previous edition. Cricket fans (also) celebrated India's victory at the recently concluded ICC World Cup that drew a record audience in the tournament's history,” he says in an e-mail interview.
ESPN STAR Sports has a cumulative reach of over 300 million viewers in Asia through its 21 television networks and two broadband networks.
“Due to the size of population, the bulk of the viewership for ESPN STAR Sports channels continues to come from India and China,” says Manu.
He also says the Flag-off the 2011 Formula One (F1) season in March saw nearly 30% more male cable viewers aged 15 years old and above in Malaysia tune in to the live broadcast of the inaugural race of the season.
“As we move forward, more top-notch sports on our networks are around the corner, including the Barclays Premier League (BPL), the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League culminating in a fantastic month football finals to look forward to in May.
“We just showcased the first Golf Major at the Masters and will be bringing the two more golf majors in The US Open (16-19 June) and The Open Championship (14-17 July), in addition to the biggest tennis Grand Slam in the Wimbledon Open Championship (20 June-3 July).”
Manu also pointed out that the new BPL season would kick-off again in August, followed by the Rugby World Cup in September.
Manu says that the top three most watched sports in Malaysia are football, F1 and tennis and increasingly, sports news is becoming very popular among the audience.
“In fact, it would actually rank third based on viewership numbers,” he says, adding that Malaysia, a sports-loving nation, has a combined in-home viewership of more than 5.9 million for ESPN and STAR Sports channels in 2010.
“Football, by and large, is the most popular sport in Malaysia, with the BPL leading the way with five million in-home viewers for the football season during August 2009 to May 2010.”
Manu says that the current BPL 2010/11 season, up until March, has drawn more than 4.7 million in-home net viewers in Malaysia, adding that matches featuring teams Manchester United and Liverpool are still the highest rated, with the highest rating being 6.4.
“Asian football also continues to resonate well with the AFC Asian Cup and the AFF Suzuki Cup proving to be big draws, each garnering more than 2.3 million home viewers in Malaysia.”
Manu says motorsports has garnered strong viewership in Malaysia, with the F1 season this year already off to a promising start.
According to him, some 542,000 fans tuned in at home for the first race in Australia in March, which was nearly 30% more male cable viewers aged 15 years old and above tuning compared with the same race last year.
“The viewership continued to build during the Malaysian Grand Prix (GP) (in April) where 685,000 viewers tuned into STAR Sports' television coverage (28% more over last year's edition).”
The subsequent race in Shanghai, China, saw a viewership of over 600,000.
“This is more than the total number of viewers for international general/business/news channels for the entire week,” says Manu, adding that F1 continues to enjoy robust viewership and a strong following in Malaysia, with more than 3.4 million viewers last year.
Manu also the broadcast of F1 in high definition will help increase the fans' engagement and interest in the sport.
He adds that the new broadband network ESPN Player showcased F1 in Malaysia last year and fans enjoyed the unique opportunities this platform provides in terms of convenience, engagement and interaction with F1 content.
“In addition, this season of F1 has five former world champions competing for the title. This sets up a very competitive and therefore entertaining prospect for the sport and fans alike.”
Manu says tennis continues to enjoy a dedicated and growing fan base in Malaysia with 3.4 million home viewers last year.
“The rising profile of Asian players such as Zheng Jie and Li Na from China has further heightened the profile of tennis with viewers across the region drawing unprecedented support for players flying the Asian flag.
“Both players have progressed further than any individual Asian player ever before and Li Na's appearance as a finalist in the Australian Open women's final has garnered strong viewership in Malaysia at this year's event.”
Sports news as a genre also continues to draw strong viewership, he adds.
“The new sports channel ESPNEWS has drawn strong viewership since its launch last year, and maintained its successful run as Malaysia's top regional English news channel, hitting past the two million viewers mark from January to March 2011.
“Significantly, ESPNEWS continues to lead by more than double the viewership against major regional English cable news networks, such as CNN, BBC, CNBC and Bloomberg TV, and draws twice as much male PMEBs (professionals, managers, executives, businessmen) against its competitors with 367,000 male PMEBs and white-collar viewers.”
Manu adds that the flagship sports news shows, SportsCenter on ESPN and Score Tonight on STAR Sports, reached a significant number of viewers with more than four million Malaysian-home viewers in 2010.
While not wanting to reveal figures, Manu says he is optimistic about ESPN STAR Sports advertising revenue. “We're optimistic about 2011 because advertisers know that we can deliver a very valuable audience, and deliver it across platforms.”