It’s not quite the same with the IPL (Indian Premier League) this year, is it? That certainly is the story playing out with the worrying dip in viewership numbers. Data put out by the Broadcasters Audience Research Council points to a drop in 12-17 per cent in week 2 as compared to the first one across age groups. Speaking for reach, it is down 14 per cent.
Cricket is the biggest sport in India. It is so big that we, as a country, run the global cricket economy. As a format, the IPL is quite unbeatable. Twenty overs per team and the game is done in a few hours. Lots of fun, colour and some balls flying out of the park has, since the first season in 2008, made for a kind of cricket that all of us have got used to. Advertisers today cut big cheques (this year, a 10-second spot is said to have gone for over Rs 17 lakh with the number of companies interested in being on air only increasing). Be it television or digital, this tournament, spread over about two months, has held the fancy of every cricket lover.
However, there is something not quite adding up this year. It is the last season for Disney Star to air it unless they bag it again for a five-year period. In 2017, the network, then called Star India, shelled out a massive Rs 16,348 crore for five years or about 2x more than what Sony paid for the first ten years – actually 4x if you consider the number of years for which the rights were sold. This year, the base price set is upwards of 2x of what Disney Star paid. How a marked drop in viewership has a potential impact on the bidding process, which is still underway, is the moot point.
First off is why is the fan losing interest? Balu Nayar, former MD of IMG and a key architect of the IPL, thinks the period during the pandemic saw hypergrowth, which he thinks was abnormal.
“This comparison is with the first season of IPL 2021 and if you look at this year's ratings with those of the second season, in October 2021, the numbers are at similar levels,” he said.
Each time, cricket fatigue is mentioned, the argument rarely manages to sustain. After all, nothing can give you the reach that cricket does just by way of a captive audience. And, if you look at this year’s IPL, there are two new teams – Ahmedabad and Lucknow – making it a total of ten and 16 more matches. That has also resulted in a bit of a challenge.
“The familiar team-player combinations are being broken and that is more than what has seen before. It could see some discomfort, though that is probably temporary,” Nayar added.
Given that 90 per cent of the airtime is booked well in advance, the broadcaster is sitting pretty. Madan Mohapatra, independent marketing and media consultant, points out that the tournament so far has seen the popular team such as Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings losing matches.
“Besides, a lot of matches are not going down to the wire since the result is quite obvious by the tenth or twelfth over. This is a dampener for a fan with a strong allegiance to any of these teams,” said Mohapatra. Besides, all the matches are being played in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune does not help the cause since the home crowd interest is hard to generate.
All eyes are now on the bidding and how large the cheques will be. There are murmurs on the impact of lower viewership but not enough to create any sense of worry to the cricket board.
“I don't think this will have any impact on the bidding process since the ownership of IPL rights is no longer about arbitrage between rights costs and advertising income. For Disney, Jio, Amazon, Apple, and perhaps a Meta or Netflix, this is about building strategic digital assets for the long term. While lower viewership will be studied closely, this will not impact interest,” Nayar explains categorically.
Mohapatra calls IPL the “Mahakumbh of viewership” for over a decade now. To him, it is the only media property that cuts across regions, age groups and genders.
“Bids are not decided solely on the advertising revenue. IPL plays a very strategic role for a network in terms of dominating the broadcast and digital story. Besides, it helps in giving muscle power to both the advertisers, subscribers and everyone else there is,” he explains.
Maybe, just maybe, viewership numbers will start to look up.
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