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Sony’s IPL woe: FA Cup semis ratings drop owing to sudden shift of channel

IPL forced the Sony network to push major football events out of its sports cluster to its English GEC - AXN - on Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24. Soccer fans gave vent to their angst on social media and the TV viewership saw a serious drop in ratings

Raushni Bhagia | Mumbai | May 11, 2016

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The sudden rescheduling of FA Cup matches from Sony Six to AXN has resulted in a serious drop in television viewership of the semi-final matches of the keenly followed tournament. Social media too trolled the network with the scheduling stunt of Sony Pictures Networks the past weekend when two major footballing events – FA Cup and La Liga – failed to find any spot on four sports channels of the network. Reason: Indian Premier League.

As per BARC data, the earlier 16 FA matches that were televised on Sony Six from January 31, 2016 to March 13, 2016 garnered 487 Impressions (in 000s). In contrast, the two semi-final matches on April 23 and 24 got a total of just 16 Impressions (in 000s).

The match on Saturday, April 23, played between Manchester United and Everton at 9.45 PM (IST) got 11 Impressions (in 000s), while the Sunday match between Crystal Palace and Watford clocked a mere 5 Impressions (in 000s).

Along with Twitter, many discussion forums like Quora.com and bookcomplaints.com were abuzz with threads around this topic. It didn’t end there. Socccr fans even went on to start a petition on change.org to ensure that the football matches weren’t ignored hereafter.

Also, the Spanish La Liga’s Real Madrid versus Rayo match started at 7.30 PM (IST), which again was nowhere to be seen. However, the late night matches of La Liga were telecast on Sony ESPN HD, after the IPL matches ended!

While fans kept surfing between the sports channels of the network, the match was being telecast on the English general entertainment channels of Sony – AXN SD and AXN HD.

The drop in viewership is not because of the displacement of the matches, but due to lack of major clubs playing the semi-finals, according to Prasanna Krishnan, Executive VP and Business Head, Sports Cluster at Sony Pictures Networks India. He stated, “To be very honest, barring Manchester United, all major clubs were absent from the semi-final matches. Ultimately, for a country like India where football is still not a mass, if major teams are not in action, traction decreases. Also, IPL was parallel to the semi-final matches; that too would have definitely played a part in diverting viewers.”

It must be noted that after the recent deal with ESPN, the Sony network now has four sports channels, two in standard definition and two in high definition. However, the football matches couldn’t find a place anywhere on this impressive sports channel portfolio.

Sony is obviously facing a problem of plenty in sports properties at this juncture because of IPL. It shifted FA Cup and other football matches to AXN. The network has telecast a total of 290 La Liga matches and 32 FA Cup matches, excluding semi-finals and including the HD channel of Sony Six.

While it is true that IPL has a larger target base, greater appeal and better reception, IPL was being played on Sony Max (Hindi movie channel), Sony Six, Sony Six HD, Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD, along with occasional telecast on regional channels of the network. So, five channels were playing the same content on Saturday, while a section of sports enthusiasts were deprived of their favourite game – till they accidentally realised that AXN had it.

When asked about this, Krishnan explained, “We had five language feeds (English, Hindi, Tamil Telugu and Bengali) for IPL this time around and we had to make sure that we accommodate all of them. It is a call which we had to take looking at the best interest. Also, FA Cup matches were telecast on AXN and its HD channel, which shows that we are supportive of non-cricketing sports too.”

The network had reportedly invested huge monies in acquiring the rights of FA Cup last year. The tournament was earlier telecast on Star Sports and prior to that the rights were with Sony’s English movie channel of Sony Pix.

While Krishnan clearly stated that the football event was always scheduled to be telecast on AXN, the fans have, on various platforms, mentioned how the promotions of the tourney mentioned Sony Six as host of the matches.

The network’s social media team was definitely reverting to posts, informing them about the AXN content. Moreover, the network claims that the tickers, scrolls and astons were being continuously played during IPL, informing people about the shifting of football matches to AXN, but, the social media buzz doesn’t give any proof of that.

Even for the FA Cup final to be played on May 21, the network is planning to play it on AXN, with major promotions to happen only closer to the match and on the D-day. Though Krishnan said that the final scheduling will still take a couple of days to firm up, if at all the FA Cup final goes to AXN. He said, “The ideal platform to promote is IPL, there’s no point promoting the matches on AXN starting today, when I can do it on the day on IPL, which will be easier for the viewer to switch channels if he wishes to.”

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