Every 100 miles, dialects change in India. And for a country with 22 officially recognised regional languages, there are a few passions which unite us all. Cricket, of course, tops the chart.
Taking a cue from this, broadcasters such as Star India and Multi Screen Media (MSM) are using sporting events such as the ICC World Cup and Indian Premier League (IPL) respectively to not only increase their reach but also get more advertisers on board. MSM, which airs the IPL tourney every year on Sony Max and Sony Six, has this year started airing it on its new channel Sony Kix to cater to its Tamil, Telugu and Bengali audiences. Says Rohit Gupta, president, MSM, “It will help the network get additional viewers.”
The move comes after last year’s FIFA World Cup experimentation when it broadcast the matches on the network’s Bengali channel, Sony Aath.
The regional channel saw an increase in its viewers’ base after this. “We experimented with FIFA last year as the popularity of the game in Bengal is higher than the other regions in the country. It worked very well for us and with IPL we want to carry forward the trend we started,” said Prasanna Krishnan, business head, Sony Six and Sony Kix.
Star India this year, for the first time, aired the World Cup not only in English and Hindi but in Tamil (Vijay TV), Kannada (Suvarna Plus), Malayalam (Asianet Movies) and Bengali (Star Jalsa Movies) to garner 635 million viewers, making it the highest viewed event on Indian television. The regional feeds strategy proved successful as they contributed to almost 77% of the overall viewership. The network sold ad spots for the World Cup to the regional players as a separate package, which was a lot cheaper than what national advertisers had to shell out on English and Hindi feeds. Among the regional players which grabbed this opportunity were V Guard, Ramraj Clothing, Narayana Schools, Dalmia Cement.
Srinivas KA, co-founder of Amagi Media Labs, which has a number of regional advertisers including Maiyyas, Sunpure Oil, Double Chaabi rice, Purvankara, El Dorado, Meghdooth Industries, Rentio Toor Dal, biskoot.com, Silvercoin Atta, Sunny Oil, etc., as its partner channels through its split-feeds, says local advertisers especially the ones from the SME sector are flocking to television and are willing to shell out big money on events that attract the whole country.
“During the India-West Indies-Sri Lanka tri-series in 2013, where we had split the sports feed (for advertisers) for the first time in India, we saw significant participation from regional advertisers. Region-focused advertisers such as Dreams GK (a real estate company in Bangalore), Bluestone (online jewellery brand), Hi Bond Cement from Gujarat, Jagran Lake City University from Bhopal, etc., jumped onto the platform enthusiastically,” says Srinivas.
However, this IPL, MSM is playing the wait and watch game. It isn’t opening its regional feeds for local advertisers, yet. Says Gupta, “Though it will add numbers, I don’t see regional feeds making a huge difference to the viewership. And we want to create a large base in other regional markets before monetising through these feeds. Also, if a national advertiser can spend R 5 lakh for a 10-second ad, I don’t think a regional player would be comfortable about spending the same.”
Jai Lala, head, trading and partnerships, GroupM agrees with Gupta. According to him, the move by MSM to have regional feeds is a good one as during the IPL tournament, people tend to cheer for their regional teams and this in turn improves viewership in that region. “Also, there will be operational challenges as the network will have to get local advertisers for all its regional feeds which might not be a good idea now. However, perhaps by next year, one can invite the local advertisers to come on board as the network will have numbers to back it up. Till then, it’s safer to block ad inventory for advertisers, which have pan-India presence.”
Vodafone, which is a co-presenter of the tournament, sees regional feeds in the context of the overall media plan and not in isolation. “Since our brand campaigns target a broad range of target audience from SEC A to SEC E across India, regional feeds help our campaigns in building reach,” says Ronita Mitra, senior vice president – brand communication and consumer insights, Vodafone India.
V Guard, which advertises pan-India with IPL, chose to target the Kerala market during the World Cup. Mithun Chittilappilly, managing director, V Guard, says the rates charged by Star are reasonable. “For small regional advertisers who don’t have the budget to spend pan-India, such initiatives are good news. And with viewership data from the newly set up Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) coming in from this month, one should be able to get a clearer picture.”
Vinit Karnik, national director, GroupM ESP, believes that with feeds available through internet, regional channels, mobile applications, etc., content is truly taking centrestage. “Creating regional linguistic feeds is a great opportunity to not only capitalise on reach but also strengthen its positioning in sports broadcasting when multiple and overlapping tournaments happen,” he says.
The big networks have experimented with regional feeds of popular shows earlier. Star India had simulcasted Satyamev Jayate in eight languages including Tamil, Bengali, Malayalam, Marathi and Telugu, and subtitled in English, apart from Hindi to ensure maximum reach. “South, as well as West Bengal, always has been big markets unlike the Hindi speaking market which do not have strong regional channels. Star, through adversioning, where regional ads replace national ads on regional feeds, got regional players on board as it had split the feed of World Cup,” says Lala.
Adds Karnik, “The IPL, according to the trends released this year, is far bigger and better than the previous years as it is not only encompassing technology, fan engagement and enriching consumer experience, but is opening a whole lot of new avenues for sponsor and brand engagements. This year being the first where Sony is starting regional feeds, it would be a wait and watch game and the numbers will then decide the threshold and way forward for the next big tournament.”
The cost involved in this cannot be ignored too. As regional feeds require separate sets of studios and commentators, the cost of production goes up. Says Krishnan, “Of course, logistic costs do go up as we need 4-5 panelists in each language who should not only be fluent in the language and the game, but popular faces too. It is an investment, but right now we are looking at improving the viewers’ experience. And with digitisation, it’s easier to deliver that to the consumers.”
And with phase III of digitisation under way, the sports broadcasters are happy as they develop new ways to reach out and deliver more to their TG. “With numerous sports and sporting events gaining popularity in the country, sports broadcasters need multiple channels to reach out to as many viewers as possible,” says Gupta.
Lala believes that depending on the sport, say for instance, Pro Kabbadi League, regional feeds will enhance viewers’ experience, and play in favour of the broadcaster and will attract local advertisers. “The broadcasters know this is the way forward and have started the process with the sport of the nation – cricket. Operational and technical challenges have delayed it for a while, but henceforth, regional feeds will rule the game,” says Lala.
Perhaps by next year, MSM can invite local advertisers as it will have the numbers to back it up. Till then, it’s safer to block ad inventory for pan-india advertisers. Jai Lala, Head, trading and partnerships, GroupM