Broadcasters will have to “figure out a different monetisation model” if the current anti-China sentiment persists in the country amid the tense border face-off and the government’s ban on 59 mobile apps with Chinese links, according to Uday Shankar, president, The Walt Disney Company (Asia Pacific) and chairman, Star & Disney India.
Shankar said the Covid pandemic and the China issue present an “unprecedented mix of storm and crisis”. “Rationality is not the default mode for anyone at this time. This is totally unprecedented. Probably there are other ways and better ways of handling this, frankly, because it doesn’t help anyone, it doesn’t help resolve the tension,” Shankar said at The Indian Express E-Adda Tuesday.
Shankar was in conversation with Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group, and National Sports Editor Sandeep Dwivedi.
Asked if his network, which holds the IPL broadcasting rights, will be impacted if there is a boycott of Chinese firms and products in India, Shankar said: “If company X or Y is not there because in larger social or national interest it has been decided (to ban them), then we will have to figure out a different monetisation model.”
In 2017, Star India bought the IPL broadcasting rights for Rs 16,347.50 crore in a five-year deal. The BCCI last month said it was reviewing the IPL’s sponsorship deals with Chinese companies.
Shankar, however, said their investment was not made “on the back of any country or specific company”. “We believe cricket has a power and that power comes from the depth of engagement it has with Indian consumers. If people like something so passionately, there will be people willing to back it financially,” he said.
Shankar was also asked about the possibility of sports commentators being dropped because of public opinion. “There is a distinction we need to make between cricket journalists and cricket commentators. A journalist is at liberty to say what you want to say. A commentator, in my view, is not a journalist. A commentator is part of the entire package to make the game more entertaining, more popular. I routinely see a tendency among commentators who make this mistake. There is a role for a journalist and role for a commentator. I have very clear views on that,” he said.
However, Shankar admitted that “commentary, especially in cricket, has been too sanitised”. “That is why a lot of fun has gone out of the matches. What we call colour, and I am not saying colour in a flippant way, the more well-rounded, lively description of the sport has gone away. We keep talking about the life going out of cricket and it becoming too transactional but I think we are also responsible for that. We need to think about how we create well-rounded, lively experiences for people that go beyond scores and runs,” he said.
On the possibility of conducting the IPL this season, Shankar said it is “important that people get the IPL experience for the love of cricket and signalling that life triumphs”. The cricket board was forced to indefinitely postpone the IPL, which was to begin in March, because of the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown. “Internally, we are discussing and planning (about IPL) but we also wouldn’t want the tournament to be held unless the atmosphere is safe,” Shankar said.