Game day in the U.S. usually means a bottle of Bud and football on the television for a few hours. But for Willow TV‘s million registered users across the globe, it means cracking open a Kingfisher, firing up the PC and enjoying literally a day’s worth of Cricket.
Founded in 2003, Willow TV gradually acquired the rights from international cricket boards to stream matches live online. By 2007, through a combination of deals, the site carries 90+ percent of the cricket matches live. It’s registered user base of more than a million people lives predominately in North America, with 25 to 30 percent of the broadband audience outside the continent.
Willow TV provides livestreams of cricket matches on a pay-per-view or subscription basis, with packages starting around $5 up to $200. The company offers multiple bit streams, 700 Kbps and 400 Kbps, and plans to offer a 1MB stream next year as well.
And when fans sit down to watch Willow TV, they make themselves comfortable. According to company co-founder Vijay Srinivasan, on a match day, the average user spends four to five hours on the site, which isn’t that hard to believe once you realize cricket matches go on for eight hours.
Srinivasan says that the company has been profitable pretty much since it started, which may explain why Reliance ADA, the largest media company in India, plunked down $60 to $70 million this month for a 75 percent stake in Willow TV and to expand its operations (how much went to the acquisition and how much is for expansion was not disclosed).
Reliance wants to expand Willow TV’s reach beyond the PC and onto set-top boxes like the Apple TV, the Verismo box or the Roku (but not cable co. or satellite set-top boxes).
Willow’s expansion couldn’t have come at a better time as the cricket business is booming. A shorter version of cricket called Twenty20 that condenses the games from eight hours down to four is catching on, and earlier this month ESPN coughed up $900 million for the global rights to the Twenty20 Champions League.