For all who those who thought it was the end of the road for controversy’s favourite child—the Indian Premier League (IPL)—the tourney has returned in a bigger and better avatar. In its eighth season, the Twenty20 cricket tournament has already got everyone’s attention, clocking an average rating of 4.4 television viewership ratings (TVR) for the first five matches against 3.1 TVR recorded in the previous season. As per data collated by audience measurement firm Tam Media Research (TAM), the first half of the opening match of IPL between Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Mumbai Indians (MI) aired on Sony Max recorded 3.59 TVR and reached 2.83 crore viewers. The second half of the match recorded 4.73 TVR and was watched by 3.23 crore viewers. This year IPL has recorded a 41% increase in viewership compared to the previous edition.
Only three months before, all this seemed nigh impossible. Two IPL franchises—Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) former president N Srinivasan owned Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR), owned by Jaipur IPL Cricket Pvt. Ltd found themselves caught in the IPL spot-fixing scandal. The franchises’ fate at the time resided in the hands of a three-member committee of retired Supreme Court judges appointed by the apex court. As the apex court came close to suspending the two teams, IPL’s brand equity and future hung by the proverbial thread.
But all this is a thing of the past now. Calling 2015 one of the best years for the IPL, Rohit Gupta, president of Multi Screen Media (MSM), the official broadcaster of IPL said, “IPL has courted controversy every year. But none of it has had any effect on its viewership. Viewers want to watch basic cricket. As long as the quality of cricket played is maintained and continues to improve, viewers will keep returning to the tourney every year.”
For the record, the 2014 IPL had recorded an eight per cent increase in TVR from the previous edition. The tourney clocked an average television viewership in thousands (TVT) of 8,481 in 2014 compared to 7,835 TVT in 2013. The cumulative reach saw a jump to 190 million in 2014 from 155 million in 2013. According to a report by FICCI-KPMG, the cumulative reach of IPL in 2014 was 560 million.
The uncertainties and chaos also did not deter the advertisers who made a beeline for the IPL, notwithstanding that many of them had invested big sums of money in the ICC World Cup which concluded in March. Ad rates are up 10-15% over the previous season, when a 10-second spot went for R4.5 -5lakh. MSM has signed up 12 sponsors including PepsiCo, Vodafone, Hero Moto Corp, Paytm, Intex Mobiles, Amazon, Cardekho.com, Magicbricks.com, Raymond, Cadbury and Parle Products besides sundry other advertisers who have bought ad spots, thus expecting to collect at least R950 crore as advertising revenue.
Smita Jha, leader (entertainment and media practice), PwC India, an audit company, says a property on television which is consistent in terms of viewership is bound to catch advertisers’ attention. “Every live event or tourney goes through ups and downs. After a drop in viewership in one or two editions, IPL’s viewership on television has stabilised now. The fact that viewers will continue to watch the sporting event, is reason enough for advertisers to invest in it,” said Jha.
And this is precisely the thought that MSM espoused in its IPL ad campaign as it positioned the tourney as ‘India Ka Tyohaar’. Conceptualised by DDB Mudra, the ad film showcased how the tourney binds people together irrespective of caste or religion.
This year, to further give a boost to viewership on television, MSM has launched a new sports channel Sony Kix which will broadcast the games in Tamil and Telugu feeds. Additionally, the Bengali feed will be broadcast on the network’s Bengali channel Sony Aath. “While most people understand Hindi and English, it’s the southern region where there is a bit of issue related to language.
Also, the idea is to offer everything that viewers demand, even if it is about starting language feeds. The language feeds will help in incremental increase in viewership,” added Gupta.
Unlike last year, where many last-minute deals were inked with advertisers, this year brand owners have been queuing up for the tourney. Presenting sponsors such as Vodafone and Amazon have paid R60-70 crore while associate sponsors such as Cardekho.com and Paytm have paid R35-40 crore.
MSM has already sold about 90% of its advertising inventory. “IPL’s format is such that as a property it is relevant for all brands. No to forget that the tourney provides non-stop access to consumers for a period of 45 days, which is why over the years we have only seen an increase in advertisers’ interest,” added Gupta.
Agrees Ruchira Jaitly, senior director-marketing (social beverages), PepsiCo India who says IPL provides a very good platform to drive engagement. “We have launched a campaign called, ‘Crash the IPL’. Under this initiative, we have invited consumers to create their very own ad films, which will be telecast during the tourney. This way we will not only be able to get viewers to create content for us, we will be able to get user-generated content, which usually tends to do better in terms of driving communications with consumers,” said Jaitly.
Of the R950 crore ad revenue expected, online companies are estimated to account for 20-25%, that is, R190-240 crore of the ad spend. While Amazon.com, Paytm and Cardekho.com have bought sponsorship rights for the tourney, Snapdeal.com has bought air-time which is equivalent to being an associate sponsor. “It all started last year with Amazon India advertising during the tourney. From e-commerce companies such as Amazon and Snapdeal to mobile wallet and m-commerce firm such as Paytm, Cardheko.com, Magicbricks, etc., this year a number of online companies have come on board as advertisers,” said Gupta.
According to analysts, the fact that IPL allows brands to target the youth directly is why online companies are investing big bucks on the property. For Shankar Nath, senior vice president, Paytm, a brand’s objective is to be present wherever its target consumers are present. “As an advertiser I can utilise the time to drive engagement with consumers. Apart from launching a new campaign on television, we will be leveraging the social media platforms to drive the buzz,” said Nath.
In fact, Paytm isn’t the only online company going offline. According to LK Gupta, chief marketing officer, Girnar Soft Pvt Ltd, the parent company of Cardekho.com, the IPL is the perfect platform for the online brand to reach out to the masses. “After the tourneys organised by the International Cricket Council (ICC), the IPL is the only property which has the apt combination of entertainment and sports. This year the aim is to truly transform into a mass brand, and for that IPL is the best platform,” said Gupta.
Meanwhile, Star India’s digital video platform, hotstar has recorded 7.2 million video views for the first IPL match. This is six times the viewership on starsports.com last year for the first match of IPL 2014. Coming on the back of the World Cup which recorded the biggest digital traffic for a single sporting event for a broadcaster globally, the surge in traffic suggests that the tourney is likely to set new global records for hotstar. Around 60 brands are expected to advertise on hotstar and Starsports.com. Last year, Star India signed on 21 brands for IPL 7 and clocked 27.7 million viewers. “The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 witnessed unprecedented viewership in India, both on TV and digital. Mobile has emerged as a preferred platform for the 87 million Indians, and we will look to renew the fans’ relationship with their sport again with the Pepsi IPL on hotstar,” said Sanjay Gupta, COO, Star India.
However, not everyone is expected to return next year. “While long term advertisers look at the tourney to drive engagement, there are those who use the platform for the reach it provides. Depending on how the tourney has performed, some advertisers may opt to return next year and a few may not,” said Kartik Iyer, managing director, Carat Media, a media planning and buying agency from the house of Dentsu Aegis Network.
With around 5-10% of the inventory saved for last minute deals, MSM is betting big on the final match. The broadcaster is expected to command R15-18 lakh for a 10-second spot. MSM’s Gupta says the broadcaster follows a fairly simple strategy when it comes to selling advertising inventory. “IPL has its set of dedicated viewers and the numbers have only grown with time,” said Gupta.
Agrees Jha of PwC who says a portion of the inventory is always kept free. “This is a strategy followed by all broadcasters for live events.
However, it should be kept in mind that there are times when broadcasters fail to sell even that small portion. Whether MSM will be able to sell the remaining inventory at a higher rate only time will tell,” added Jha.
** The tourney provides non-stop access to consumers for a period of 45 days, which is why over the years we have only seen an increase in advertisers’ interest. Rohit Gupta, President, Multi Screen Media
** With our new campaign we will get user-generated content, which usually tends to do better in terms of driving communication with consumers. Ruchira Jaitly, Senior director- marketing (social beverages), PepsiCo India
** Mobile has emerged as a preferred platform for the 87 million Indians, and we will look to renew the fans’ relationship with their sport again with the Pepsi IPL on hotstar. Sanjay Gupta, COO, Star India