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Reimagining IPL: How Star brought cricket to centre stage and still raked in the moolah

Despite naysayers claiming that IPL wouldn't work if you take entertainment out of it, Star India proved that serious cricket always works if you back it with the right marketing strategy. The broadcaster focused on three main pillars – cricket being the only entertainment, languages and regional and making digital mainstream

When Star India won the five-year broadcast rights for Indian Premier League (IPL) by paying a whopping Rs 16,000 crore, many in the industry questioned how the broadcaster was going to make returns on that high investment.

But Star managed to surprise everyone. Preferring cricket over entertainment, Star India decided to telecast all IPL matches, barring the finals, only on Star Sports in the Hindi market.

At that time, industry veterans claimed a sports channel will never give as high a reach and viewership as a movie channel. The previous broadcaster Sony used to telecast IPL on its movie channel Max.

But Star, in the last few months, took everyone by surprise: be it by fetching the premium on advertising rates for IPL, getting increased fee from distribution platforms or a 14% increase in viewership and increasing the total revenues through IPL by 35% (Rs 800 crore) as compared to last year.

"The network has proved that be it sales or marketing, it is at the top of the game,” said a broadcast industry expert.

The tournament had several firsts to itself, including that it was shown on six regional channels in local languages.

BestMediaInfo tried to find out how Star pulled off the event.

"The challenge would have been to look beyond what was already done. How to take something this big ahead. It is not that what was done in the past was wrong, but looks like Star clearly wanted to do it differently," an industry observer said, on condition of anonymity.

On its previous platform Sony Max, IPL was served as a mix of cricket and entertainment. But Star promoted it as pure cricket play, a move that also attracted some criticism from advertisers.

A senior executive in one of the leading creative agencies analysed the marketing campaigns and told BestMediaInfo.com that the marketing strategy for IPL looks like revolving around three main pillars – cricket was the entertainment in IPL, languages and regional and making digital mainstream.

"This is probably the biggest promotion investment that IPL has seen across all channels. It has been high-impact, high-velocity, massive campaign. This is about different campaigns and different markets. Digital was the mainstay of a lot of what they did," he added.

Cricket was the entertainment

A media veteran in sports broadcasting said, "There are people who watch IPL and there are those who watch cricket, the ones watching IPL are still a sub-segment. So, there are people who were consuming cricket, but not IPL. So, while IPL is entertaining, it is still serious cricket. It looks like Star wanted to go after the cricket-watching, non-IPL fans and hence they promoted that while IPL is highly entertaining, cricket is the source of this entertainment.”

From there Star India might have decided to pitch as IPL has the great field rivalry of world-class players.

"The earlier positioning was a different premise and platform. Star clearly wanted to bring the focus back on cricket and that must have led to the entire positioning of Best vs Best, which was stressed through the anthem," said the veteran.

The broadcaster created non-live properties such as Super Sunday and Dugouts, which focused on cricket with very limited non-cricketing entertainment. A team of 100 commentators pulled off the event.

Super Sunday, match of the week and even Dugouts are properties for the future. Looking at things from a different lens, data on the Best vs Best campaign shows it got millions of views on Twitter. All buzz metrics rated the campaign at a high.

“There was a lot of data programming and highlights, along with the live matches. This must have brought close to 130 million incremental viewers to live. When the network started off, it had said IPL will be a six-month property, from retention, to auction and to the tournament that has just ended,” said a senior executive at a media agency.

Languages and regional play

Star wasn't just dubbing the campaigns and programming for regional channels but was creating original campaigns for the six regional channels – Tamil, Telugu, Bangla, Malayalam and Kannada, along with Hindi and Bundelkhandi.

"For each of the regional markets that had original feed, there was a different message and campaign with different stars. The whole thing was about ‘most fun part is to watch it in your own language’. And it was not the same campaign moving about in all the markets, it was about customising. Taking regional insights from each market and customising regional campaigns," said one of the leading media agency executives, who appreciated the efforts of Star.

"Languages are a new normal now. Whenever one ad film was launched in a language, demand for some other language came about. Feedback for Marathi and Malayalam was quite high and that might have been why the channel brought the language feeds it in the final matches. The aim was to bring in a lot of viewers to enjoy IPL in the language that they want to enjoy," he added.

“It has got an interesting aspect to marketing, with both mass marketing and customised regional communication," the executive added.

Dividing the event into different chapters

Another different aspect that Star tried was breaking the whole league into chapters.

"Best vs Best was promoted for the opening game, for the launch of the tournament. This year, every week had a ‘match of the week’ which was promoted and there was another weekly property called Super Sunday. In the middle of the series too, these matches were promoted. Generally, during the middle of the tournament, which is the lowest in a game, the marketing campaigns generally hit their lows. Star continued bringing new campaigns during this time.

Something new was created as the race to playoffs, do dooni chaar, and then for the finals, a new film ‘World’s Toughest Finals’ was made. This level of ‘chapterisation’ that has happened during IPL 2018 has probably never happened before for the property," a marketing executive of a leading advertiser said.

Viewership, till now, is up 25% in urban on TV and 40% if digital is also included, as claimed by Star. The U+R on television is up by 14%. “By viewership numbers, it looks like Star India took the right path in terms of marketing, but the aggression and promotion of the campaigns could have been more," he said.

How Star took the final match to a different level

The broadcaster roped in its movie channel and GEC for the final match to create the right buzz. A lot of people felt that the reason for this was the dropping reach and it looked like the decision taken in the 11th hour. However, one of the senior broadcast executives, on condition of anonymity told BestMediaInfo that it is impossible to pull off broadcast of live matches along with non-live programming in a flick of a second.

"I feel that Star Plus and Star Gold were always on the cards. The network might have wanted to bring the event closer to Super Bowl and that’s why reimagine awards. Super Bowl is a huge event and the network would have been required to leverage everything that it can to make it that. The plan was to make the finals big. The network also would have planned ahead to use the finals to refresh Star Plus. Marathi and Malayalam also came in to make the finals big," the senior media observer said.

Meanwhile, the final IPL match also gave Star the opportunity to reveal the refreshed look of Star Plus. Star India has always done refreshes like this. It refreshed Star Gold during Singham premiere, similarly Star Sports was revamped during Sachin’s last game and the channel changed packaging in the middle of that. This looks like the network’s strategy to aggregate the audiences through promotions of the property and then unveil the look.

Marketing challenges

"IPL after 10 years of campaigning and promotions in a certain direction must have been one of the most challenging, ambitious and audacious marketing campaign ever," an anonymous media expert said.

Sony had IPL for 10 years and Star was looking at what can be the association the channel can have with it. It was continuously focused on bringing the Star Sports connection out in the open before the launch of tournament.

"This might be the highest investment on any television property promotion. The investment in IPL promotions is generally prior to the tournament and people switch off the campaigns after that. This year, every week, there was a different campaign," he said.

A senior leader in a sports management company analysed, “We saw the 2015 World Cup when Star launched Mauka, but this looks far more challenging and much more intense, as a marketer. It is not one campaign, it is quite extensive."

Also read: Did Star miss 'mauka' on IPL marketing?

When asked to summarise what could have been the marketing strategy for the event, one of the leaders at another broadcaster said, "The combination of a national campaign, along with the customised regional films, a massive campaign about elevating stature and driving the focus on cricket without missing the entertainment did wonders for the network."


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