New Delhi: The world’s richest Indian Premier League (IPL) has seen a strange drop in viewership, especially in the vast Hindi belt that is considered one of the biggest triggers for television viewership.
The tournament is almost halfway through, but viewership only increased at a disappointing 11 per cent over last year despite Star India, the official broadcaster telecasting the tournament across its 10 channels as compared to Sony’s five channels last year.
Lets check the figures first. Southern India, thanks to the return of Chennai Super Kings to the IPL fold and some excellent commentary in regional languages. It helped Star increase its viewership by four percent. Star is telecasting IPL across its multiple channels, including regionals like Star Suvarna Plus, Star Maa Movies and Star Jalsha.
But in northern parts of India, third week’s ratings showed a 18 per cent drop. In numbers it means 197 million viewers across ten channels as compared to 240 million across five channels last year.
However, IPL 11 has eventually managed to clock 731.3 million impressions but the figure is not exciting compared to 660.2 million in IPL10 after 30 matches, says data from Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), the TV ratings agency. BARC said IPL viewership picked up in the fourth week at 35 percent for the nine matches played between April 28 and May 4, clocking 196 million impressions in the fourth week compared to 145 million impressions a year ago.
What is important is that the numbers also include viewership from state-owned DD Sports which airs IPL matches on a one hour deferred feed.
In India, television channels now clock their numbers through Impressions, also known as television viewership in thousands (TVT). It has not replaced the once-popular television rating point (TRP) that helped the channels understand the popularity of a event telecast.
“This is a low number, 11-12 per cent is not what one expected especially when Star has regional channels airing the tournament. There is a bit of viewership fatigue,” says Anita Nayyar of Havas Media.
Star had hoped for a 35 per cent jump in viewership with its multiple channels and Hotstar. Last September, Star won the Indian and global media rights (both TV and digital) to broadcast IPL for the next five seasons for a whopping Rs 16,347.50 crore, shaking up the whole market.
It is a cause for concern because Star had assured advertisers of a much higher reach by delivering on languages and the low viewership could put pressures on the channel’s digital rates. “I hope they will pick up the numbers at the end of the tournament,” says Rajeev Dubey, marketing head of Dabur.
Market planners say Sony scored their numbers primarily because it aired IPL on on Set Max, a mass distributed Hindi movie channel.
“There is a bit of fatigue, I know the numbers will not satisfy Star. Also, lets not forget Karnataka polls has got the nation is a total spin,” says Gullu Sen of From Here On advertising and marketing agency.
Besides the Karnataka polls,. regular dustups between the ruling BJP-NDA and the Opposition Congress, especially controversies relating to rapes and financial scandals like Nirav Modi and ICICI Bank triggered breaking headlines more than anything else.
The pressure is on Star, even since it picked up the IPL rights for a massive US$2.55b (Rs 16,347.5 crore) in September last year and followed it up with the Rs 6138 crore worth BCCI bilateral rights this month, the onus is now on the channel - the newly-acquired India arm of Walt Disney — through their takeover of 21st Century Fox — to justify the money spent on buying these rights.
Star, however, seems unfazed.
Star officials were recently quoted by a newspaper saying there was a dip during late night hours because the matches were stretching almost close to midnight because of new game rules. The dip, claimed, a senior Star official, was as high as 40 per cent. But else, claimed Star, IPL remained a high property for the channel.
“We are delighted with the growth that we are seeing across markets, with growth in Urban + Rural TV viewership at a healthy 14 per cent, Urban TV viewership at an even higher pace at 25 per cent and consumption in Urban across screens (TV + Digital) at 40 per cent in the first four weeks of the tournament,” the channel said in a press release.
Cricket, India’s biggest trigger after religion, is proving to be a tough gamble for the broadcaster.