The IPL fever is back, though with a difference. The pandemic pruned the tournament in early May and the rest of it will start in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Monday.
Cricket always engenders excitement in India and even the worst cynics would concede that the team's victory in England in the longer format helped in sustaining interest. The broadcasters and advertisers would certainly hope that is the truth.
As the tournament gained traction over time, it managed to do two things well. One was to get a larger set of viewers with the ladies' high levels of interest viewed as a breakthrough.
Then, there was the no small matter of widening the audience base and that came on the back of the emergence of new businesses - straightway it led to more advertising. Nothing is more obvious than e-commerce and banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI), with online gaming now the new kid on the block.
One just has to go back in time by three years. Though no official estimates are available, media planners and buyers highlight some salient parts of this change.
Around 40% of the media spends on the digital medium (OTT or Hotstar in the case of IPL) came from e-commerce, automotive and FMCG.
That proportion with a bump of another 5% now is accounted for by e-commerce, mobile handsets and online fantasy games.
Automotive today is less than 10% and FMCG is in the same territory. Banking and financial services, thanks to the boom in online booking and of course, the likes of PayTM and GPay, is at a significant 20%.
Historically, the IPL was held in peak summer, and it worked well for brands that were consumed in large quantities then - soft drink major Pepsi was the lead sponsor for a few years.
This edition coincides with the festive season, which started in mid-August all the way to Diwali. Yes, there will be a battle for the buck, but cricket is expected to triumph.
Nitin Bawankule, Head (Ad Sales), Star & Disney India, the network that owns the broadcasting rights thinks newer categories have shown interest in the IPL driven by its scale and impact.
"We constantly innovate and create customised ad solutions basis the brand agenda, making it a must-have in the marketers' media plan. This year, we have seen heightened interest from advertisers across categories among which are edutech, e-commerce, fintech, healthcare, fashion, food and grocery delivery," he says.
For most of these businesses, the mass appeal of IPL is the absolute clincher. The impact of COVID on the story can hardly be underestimated.
"We have noticed a spike in the BFSI category over the last two IPL seasons. It is a growing space and adoption levels have gone up during the pandemic," points out Harish Iyer, EVP, Interactive Avenues, a full-service digital agency.
The IPL, as an advertising medium, is clearly the most expensive proposition (around Rs 13 lakh for a 10-second spot) but it also entices many an advertiser.
Take the case of Livspace, a player in the home interior and renovation space. "Given its reach, it is probably one of the best platforms in India, especially for a relatively young brand like ours," says Kartikeya Bhandari, the company's CMO.
Three years ago, the media spend pie in the IPL had a lot of automobile and cellular operators, with that slowly reducing in proportion.
In that sense, names such as Groww, Upstox and Livspace are interesting. Bhandari emphasises that the impact of the IPL gets amplified more than a normal cricketing event given its duration (it holds out for about two months).
"The combination of a massive reach and its highly immersive nature makes the IPL a great property for any brand to invest in," he adds.
One significant change is the number of screens - earlier it was only the television, but OTT is a big story too - and that has propelled viewership with the convenience that comes with it.
Watching Hotstar, for instance on the television, is commonplace today. As Iyer puts it, "Telcos are powering the growth of online video. Also, diverse content and an investment strategy in sports drives user growth in tier 1&2 cities, which in turn generates advertising interest."
Equally, there have been trends that provoke the mind. Balu Nayar, who conceptualised and monetised the IPL, refers to the swings in viewership patterns.
"Some of that appears to be counter-intuitive. While 2020 reached all-time highs, there was a drop in the following year, though significantly better than 2019," he says.
In fact, this year has been the first time one has seen "the first year of de-growth in OTT numbers for the IPL." Nayar, while pointing out that the reasons are still not clear, is not one bit worried.
"This may be only a blip in the long-term growth story for OTT, especially sports OTT in India," he sums up. For now, it's time for cricket as the IPL jamboree kicks off.
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