In 2008, when IPL was launched, it was conceived as an entertainment property to be broadcast on Set Max, a movie channel. After 10 years of being in the entertainment mode, the current broadcaster Star India has now turned it into a purely sports property by deciding not to broadcast the matches on its popular movie channel Star Gold and restricting it to the sports cluster in the HSM.
As per data sourced from BARC, Max grew close to 200% during the initial weeks of IPL 10, compared to its average viewership without IPL. Star Sports 1 Hindi has jumped close to 2000% during the same time in 2018. Still, the reach is less than that of last year. Close to 70-80% viewership generated by IPL on Sony last year was from Set Max.
The difference in reach is majorly because of the change in the genre. It is an unconventional step taken by Star India to increase the ‘sports’ value in IPL, and decrease some of its ‘entertainment’ value.
A few advertisers are wondering why Star is shying away from using the power of its movie channel to expand the reach of IPL.
B Krishna Rao, Category Head, Parle Products, said, “There is no comparison in the reach of Set Max and Star Sports. Set Max treated it as entertainment property and got fabulous viewership, however, Star chose to put it on Star Sports that has relatively limited reach. Despite the fact that they have ramped up the distribution significantly and they have undoubtedly gone all out to make sure that the channel is visible across all the distribution platforms. It is still constrained, because there is a huge natural gap between a mass movie channel and a sports channel.”
Rao strongly feels IPL deserves to be treated as an entertainment property, rather than a sports or cricket event. “This deviation in the positioning is possibly causing the difference in viewership numbers. On the other hand, it has improved significantly its reach and numbers in the regional markets, where it chose to telecast on the movie channels, except for the Tamil Nadu market. It has given them a very good lift. Had they chose to put it on Star Gold, the viewership would have been much better.”
It is pertinent to note that the viewership charts are positive for Star India, in terms of Impressions, but the reach is marginally lower than last year. While advertisers pay for reach, the 14% growth in viewership of the first 34 matches of IPL 11 is almost insignificant.
Vinita Pachisia, Vice-President, Carat, said, “Star has been getting decent viewership since it has been airing it on 10 different channels. Also, this being the first year of the event moving to Star, it was bound to see some difference in the numbers. Considering the number of days left of the tournament, any change in strategy now will not have the desired impact.”
She added, “Ideally Star will need to take a complete stock of the success of the event after it gets over and decide the strategy for the next year accordingly.”
Analysing the decision of Star India, Rao of Parle Products, said, “It is very natural for a broadcaster like Star India to treat it like serious sport/ cricket, because that’s how they have been treating all the sports events. Actually, they should take a learning from their own network, in the way they treated kabaddi. It was put on Star Gold and they got mass audiences. That’s one of the reasons for PKL’s success. Had they repeated the strategy, it would have been much better. IPL, ultimately, is more entertainment than cricket. Star Plus is also an onground partner with BCCI, through which they are also placing their TV actors and characters on the ground, on the matches. There is a considerable screen space too that’s given to these celebrities. This is nothing but glamour and this is what the audiences want to watch. Even in the regional markets, they can bring the local stars to do this.”
However, some top advertisers prefer IPL to be a purely sports play.
IPL has a lot of involvement from celebrities, both from Bollywood and the corporate world. There are many links to the IPL that connect it to glamour and entertainment. However, everything still revolves around those 40 overs that are played with passion and spirit.
Sujata Dwibedy, Head of Buying and Trading, Amplifi (the media trading division of DAN), said, “IPL is supposed to be strictly sports, what more is expected? They have got the ratings right in the relevant audience set. They have also managed to gain a lot in the south market, right? It is not fair to assess a sports event on the basis of the extra shows and treatment on the event; it should be evaluated on the main sports event.”
She also pointed out that Star has the experience of handling a cricket event of this stature, considering that they have been handling World Cup for a long time.
Nadia Chauhan of Parle Agro admits that the brand has always been using IPL for the value it gives and also because it is in summers. “At the end of the day, it is a sport. People are watching it because the format of IPL itself is extremely exciting and calls a lot of people. For us, IPL is a sports property that comes right in the midst of the main beverage season and we have seen great value in being a part of the property. However, we have gone a step further this year by associating with a team. We are the beverage partner with CSK this year and we hope to build that too as years go by.”
Advertisers, however, believe that the platform won’t matter much. It is the content that brings a viewer back to that channel and makes him/ her stay on the channel. A senior planner in one of the leading media agencies opined, “A Hindi movie or a sports genre can only make a person sample the content, whether to watch it or not and to come back tomorrow or not is completely dependent on the content. If it is a dull match, people walk out, no matter where is the match playing versus people queuing outside the TV showrooms for a good competitive match. It is all about content. I don’t think Star needs to change the platform, really. It will surely satisfy a few advertisers’ appetites, but the bigger value of sporting it as a sports property will give the broadcaster and the players a long-term benefit of ‘image’.”
Parle Products, by their own admission, have significantly ramped up their spends on IPL this year.
However, the viewership being delivered is not what was promised.
Movie channel or not?
If the industry rumours of Star telecasting the last few matches on movie channel are true, will it be right from Star India’s point of view?
Well, if they do so, the reach will go through the sky, but then, it might defeat the cause of bringing it on the sports cluster in the first place.
“I believe that building it into a serious sports property is like doing some justice to the game. The sportsmen were being commoditised, in lieu of making it an entertainment property. Star India, in my view, is bringing a lot of serious decision-makers to the fore as viewers, by putting the property on sports channels,” said a senior media observer.
Denying this, Rao pointed out a very important fact in this. “It is not an official sport it is more of a local league, confined to India. The performances are not counted in the international records. It is more for entertainment, along with the fanfare, cheerleaders, celebrities, Bollywood, sports personalities and the glamour that it has. It has to be given that flavour, which, to my mind, is missing right now.”
Explaining the move by Star to be sports only, a media planner said, “Star has been handling sports for a long time. In the recent times, it is the most experienced sports broadcaster in India. It knows how to play that game well and this must have given them the confidence to limit it to sports channels. It is doing some serious sports coverage and that is visible not only from the channel they have chosen to telecast, but also from the way they are treating the non-match content and the marketing campaigns.”
More discerning audience?
Along with the difference in the reach of sports and movie genres, there is another major difference that the two genres sport. It is about the core audience that it caters to. While movie channels will always attract audience who are looking for entertainment content, with a mix of all age-groups, NCCS and all genders, sports programming is assumed to be attracting more discerning and decision making audience. Which one is a better audience set for IPL?
Dwibedy said, “The two seasons are on different channels. Unlike last year, IPL is now being played on a network that has its own strengths across both TV and digital platforms. With each year, the audience is also changing the pattern of viewing content. It is more and more about screen-agnostic viewing today. And digital and TV still don’t have single source measurement to track that. Also with some of the cellular services providing it free at a low data cost, viewership trend is truly different this year. This was the first year and they set up their strategy differently to strengthen the base viewership also by expanding the reach by airing across multiple new channels and HD platforms that definitely worked in many ways. We still have days to conclude the event.”
Do advertisers see more value in the serious sports watchers?
Mentioning that it differs from brand to brand, Rao said, “At least for a brand like Parle Products, we need the global mass audiences – the families. We want more female audiences and that’s what showing it on movie channel brings to us.”
Anushree Tainwala, Executive Director, Marketing, Samsonite, felt that IPL doesn’t have much value for the brand. Explaining further, she said, “In India, the lines between entertainment viewer and sports watchers blur, when it comes to cricket. There is a huge overlap between the two. But from my brand perspective, I would value entertainment audience more than the serious sports watchers. For us, April and May are the biggest travel seasons and that’s why these are peak advertising times for us, irrespective of IPL or not. This is when we will traditionally do our largest campaign. In fact, IPL only deters us from spending during this time, because the GRPs drop for all the non-IPL content during this time. Generally, our budgets are such that we don’t see getting bang for our buck for advertising on IPL, but the GRPs drop for other genres.”
Giving a planners’ analysis on the audience segment, Pachisia said, “IPL is an established property by now which was telecast on an entertainment channel as well as a sports channel. Moving it from an entertainment channel to a sports channel would not affect the viewership tremendously considering that Star Sports is an established sports channel from a strong network. The male audience will watch it irrespective of the platform, which is also clear from the numbers that we have seen in IPL this year.”
She cited the example of an Australian event, BBL, which is also shown on the sports channel and not an entertainment channel, thereby specifying that content is what matters. Explaining further as to how IPL is mix of entertainment and sports, she said, “I don’t think it can suddenly become a sports property since the content of the property is the same and will attract a similar set of audience. The audience is used to the format now and it is a two-month long property on Star, which has sustained over the years. Since it was a new format Sony obviously wanted the property to be successful from the first year and the movie channel catered to the TG that IPL was targeting. Also, Sony, at that point, did not have a strong sports footprint. Since this format worked in the initial years it was better to keep it that way to continue reaching the widespread audience that it had been covering since its launch. However, they did extend it to its sports channel – Sony Six – to reach a wider audience.”
World Cup is not mass, IPL is?
For last 10 years, everyone has given that one common tag to the IPL, ‘biggest mass entertainment property on Indian television’. While the World Cup is much bigger with much more value for cricket and sportsmen even that is sold as a niche sports event. But is IPL so popular to get ad rates more than the Cricket World Cup too?
Rao feels so. He said, “The Cricket World Cup ad rates are tad bit lower than that of IPL.”
Pachisia explained, “World Cup is played for a month and IPL is spread over two months. Moreover, the IPL format is such that every team has prominent Indian players who have a fan following across the country, in a way it is like any Indian series which would garner the most eyeballs and higher rates. World Cup, on the other hand, also has matches which are played between non-India nations, so the average rate of the tournament will always be lower than IPL since the non-India matches do not attract very high rates.”
Another planner, who did not want to be quoted, said, “If you have to compare IPL finals versus the India matches in the World Cup, it will be almost similar, but the World Cup rates will be marginally lower, unless it is an India-Pakistan match. I don’t think IPL has been able to beat the India-Pak ad rates yet.”
Speaking to a wide spectrum of media planners and buyers, it was understood that while World Cup rates for India matches are in the range of Rs 10-12 lakh per 10 seconds, the IPL finals are almost always in the upwards of Rs 15 lakh per 10 seconds. In fact, if the market analysts are to be believed, this year, Star India has almost got its inventory packed for finals and is quoting Rs 20-25 lakh for a 10-seconder, from the last entrants.