The Great Indian Cricket Tamasha

Written by Alokananda Chakraborty | Updated: Feb 24 2008, 04:29am hrs
They say it doesnt matter whether you win or lose; what matters is how you play the game. But if you were to look at the frenzy generated by the players bid last week, it seems there are no losers in the Indian Premier League. The biggest gainer, say media analysts and brand managers alike, is of course, the game. In fact, cricket aint a game no longer. Its become one huge entertainment, a mega event, a mind-boggling show, a juggernaut thatll roll right over opponents in a deadly crushing attack.

This is marketing at its best, says Ravi Kiran, chief executive officer for South Asia of Starcom MediaVest. A great product, in a great package, at a fantastic price. And in my opinion the fourth biggest milestone in the history of Indian television.

The first milestone, according to Kiran, was the era of Ramayana and Mahabharata, when the streets across India wore a desolate look because people scurried home, entrenched themselves before their television sets, hands folded in reverence and neighbours in tow, absorbing every twist and turn as the epics unfolded before there eyes. The second, he says, was the time when Indians got the first taste of salacious scandal and never-before drama on satellite television as ZEE unleashed Tara and Banegi Apni Baat on its audiences and made the likes of Navneet Nishan a household name. Kaun Banega Crorepati was the next big leap in the sense that it taught an entire generation of people how to get rich overnight. IPL will bring back the magic of television, adds Kiran.

He has a point. While general entertainment channels with their fare of soaps, serials and reality shows etc are still the No. 1 genre among Indian households, the ratings of individual soaps have been on a decline for some time now.

A recent study by Starcom India shows that the top TVR (television rating) for a soap has dropped from the mid-20s a few years back to sub-10 in recent times. Time, in short, for a change. An alternative.

And what better alternative than cricket, which has rarely let brands and their agencies down. Among other things, the Twenty20 format proved a point last year when Indias matches in 2007 managed to record 40% more viewership than Indias ODIs in 2006. So what if the national and regional boundaries are set to vanish under the IPL format It will be pure unadulterated fun, says 40-year-old Abhijit Chakraborty, a cricket fanatic based in Kolkata. I can now watch the matches without worrying whether India will win or lose.

It is precisely on this audience that IPL will depend for much of its franchise. It is a male K-serial equivalent, says Atul Phadnis, CEO and chief evangelist, Media e2e. It has all the ingredients of a TV soapdrama, pace, unpredictability. And of course, the sex appeal with the dancing girls and the rock stars of cricket out there in the middle, he adds.

Of course, there will be no dearth of star appeal. The top 80 players in the ICC rankings will be playing in IPL, according to BCCI officials. This may also help pull the women viewers, who have not been the traditional strongholds for sports programming/ channels.

In a way, the total IPL package is custom made with an eye on prime-time family viewing. The fact that the players will be seated out in the openand not in the traditional dressing roommakes for great piece to camera, with every prayer, every nudge and every wink between players open for public scrutiny and debate, much like the way one debates Tulsis sarees and Parvatis bindis now. This might, in fact, force many programming heads at general entertainment channels to rethink their prime-time line-up really really seriously, adds Phadnis.

Amid all the hoopla, there are some voices of doubt. Analysts say the viewership pattern between weekdays and weekends are bound to be different to begin with. Then there will be a lot of appointment viewing. One will probably return home early on certain days to catch certain matches. Just imagine a 40-day movie festival on a channel, says Atulit Saxena, senior vice-president, Future Brands. Will you watch every one of them every day, back to back The first seven-10 days will have great interest, he says. Then he sees the viewership and interest levels dipping a bit. Viewers know they are not missing out on some lifetime opportunity, he says. However, the numbers will pick up post the quarter-finals or so.

But of course, we are still at the investment stage; recovering all the money being splurged on the property is another story altogether.