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Star India’s ‘sports’ play on IPL 11 gets a thumbs up

With an overall gain of 15% in the total viewership (all 60 matches) and 41% during the final as compared to the 10th season, Star India has come out with flying colours, feel industry experts. Viewership growth in male TG and urban markets, the segments most advertisers generally look at, has been as high as 31% and 25%, respectively

Media agency heads have indicated that advertisers have responded positively to the viewership growth that Indian Premier League’s (IPL) 11th season has posted on Star India.

The network was under intense scrutiny from advertisers and media planners after it sought a hike in ad rates for the cricketing tournament.

The pressure on the network came from the fact that advertisers paid an average rate of nearly Rs 10 lakh for a 10-second slot during IPL. However, the recently released BARC data has come as a respite for the channel as it validated that the network had tread the right path by repositioning IPL as more of a sports property and taking it to the regional markets.

The final match this season managed to get 41% more viewership on Star as compared to the last season’s final aired on Sony. The total viewership of IPL has grown by 15% as compared to the last edition.

As per BARC numbers that came on Thursday (June 7), the final match of IPL 11 played between Chennai Super Kings and Sun Risers Hyderabad garnered 55.6 million Impressions. The IPL 10 final between Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiants had garnered 39.4 million Impressions. IPLI1 (60 matches) garnered 1.4 billion Impressions against 1.2 billion Impressions garnered during IPL10.

Another data set mentioned by BARC India states that IPL 11 saw huge growth of regional language viewership. Hindi language contributed to 54% of viewership, followed by English at 24%, and regional gave as much as 22% of the total viewership.

A lot of advertisers and media planners had earlier said they expected a 25% increase in the tournament’s overall viewership. But now after the tournament is over, even a 15% increase doesn't disappoint them as they feel Star has also got loyal cricket fans to follow the premier league.

Anita Nayyar

Anita Nayyar, CEO, India and South Asia, Havas Media Group, said, "This surely is a healthy growth, 15% incremental. This might have been the expectation too, since they had a huge regional play this year. Initially, the viewership was a little concern, but just as any other tournament, the viewership increases as the matches get more intense and more deciding. Star was working in this direction.”

Nayyar also pointed out, “Not to forget that Hotstar was also as good as live TV this time. So, I am sure that it would also have shared some amount of eyeballs. Hotstar’s popularity and its audience profile have also gone to another level. This might have taken a marginal share from TV, but it all remains with Star India, at the end of the day. And they were also offering the packages.”

But are the advertisers really satisfied with the viewership growth on television and is this growth in line with Star’s promise to them?

Anupriya Acharya

Anupriya Acharya, CEO at Publicis Media India, said, “The numbers achieved are very much in line with the projections made, even though there could be variations at the market level. Hotstar in fact has outperformed, setting a world record in the finals. None of this is surprising given the reach that Star India as a network enjoys and the manner in which IPL was rolled out. Star India has rolled out extensive coverage not just by deploying their network's strength across TV, including regional TV and digital through Hotstar, but also created a surround sound through the virtual reality viewing experience offer on Hotstar, a customised Super Fan feed, aggressive marketing efforts and engagement opportunities for fans apart from full distribution.”

Adding on the digital bit, she said, “In fact advertisers who participated on Hotstar have benefitted beyond expectation. In any case, advertisers leverage IPL as per their requirements between Star's TV and OTT platforms, and we find their individual strategies have worked well.”

Star India had a huge play on regional this year. For the last 10 years, Sony had played IPL on Set Max (SD), Sony Six (SD/ HD) and Sony ESPN (SD/ HD). Only once in 2015, was Sony Aath roped in for the Kolkata Knight Riders matches, a strategy which was never repeated. Star took the whole regional game to another level this year by putting the whole tournament on Star Sports 1 Tamil, Star Suvarna Plus, Star Maa Movies and Jalsha Movies, along with Star Sports 1 (SD+HD), Star Sports 1 Hindi (SD+HD), Star Sports Select 1 (SD+ HD) for the HSM and other national markets. Nayyar had mentioned that regional add-ons were one of the most interesting parts of IPL 11.

During the final matches, it was taken to the next level when Marathi and Malayalam feeds were also included and were telecast on Star Pravah and Asianet Movies, respectively. The final match of the tournament was also played on Star Plus and Star Gold. However, as the viewership numbers show, none of these channels seemed to have gained exceptionally high performance in their respective genres. Wouldn’t that be an area of concern?

Shashi Sinha

Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG Mediabrands, said, “It is an excellent growth in viewership. The overall numbers are very high, no matter on which channels the game was showed. 41% increase in the final match is quite an increase. While the overall tournament has shown a 15% increase on 2+ All India, the growth is as big as 25% in the TG that a lot of the advertisers look at. The male viewership is especially higher. Advertisers only go by numbers, whether it is portrayed as sports and played on sports channels doesn’t matter. Advertisers are very happy with the viewership.”

Some of the sources working closely with Star India for IPL mentioned that the idea of using these channels for the finals was to make sure that the whole network was painted in the IPL 2018 finale mode. It just wanted to offer different types of experiences to different types of viewers, possibly that’s why even with the sports cluster, Star Sports Select Dugout was much different that Star Sports Hindi or Star Sports 1, while all the language feeds were actually different visuals. “The Star Plus and Gold bit was added to get the last segment of ‘viewers’ into the fold, which were the entertainment seeking ones,” he added.

Acharya gives an interesting point of view on Star India’s strategy of ‘putting the finals on Hindi GEC and movie channels’. She said, “The decision of putting the finals on Plus and Gold is a great move as it ensures minimal loss of eyeballs by expanding the reach to those platforms also. Plus it was a Sunday evening slot and hence minimal disruption of regular programming too.”

As one of the broadcast veterans puts it, the fact that Star Plus and Star Gold numbers didn’t go through the roof has proven that Star has successfully built IPL as a sports property, which is not dependent on an entertainment or a movie channel anymore. In fact, he also said that an overtly good performance of finals on the IPL matches would have dampened the impact of the Star Sports cluster.

Sharing a similar view and adding another point, Nayyar said, “I think the idea to go on these channels was to grow incremental viewership, apart from those who were already tuned into the tournament. My take is that it’s an attempt to treat it as a sports property and that’s the way it should be. To my mind, the way things are going it needs to be treated as a sports property. Unless they had looked at GEC for supplementing viewership, it is good as it is going.”

Additionally, she said, “They have handled the non-live programming quite well. They had a very strong set of people from cricket background, along with Amitabh Bachchan and other Bollywood stars walking in. I don’t know if this would have given them any extra viewership, but it allowed continuity in watching those channels.”

Having said all of this, there’s always more to learn and improve the next step. Whether there was a lesson that Star India might look at taking from this viewership and implement in the coming seasons, most people said it is ‘too early to analyse.’

However, Acharya predicted an interesting leap into the future, “By next IPL, Disney would have a role to play I guess. Disney-Star could possibly expand their network reach further and add kids/ tweens segment of audience. Also, they could further build techno-solutions aiming to capture and engage the young viewers and smartphone users.”

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