Tricky Pitch

Written by Pritha Mitra Dasgupta | Updated: May 31 2011, 06:27am hrs
WHEN the fourth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) opened on April 8, just six days after the ICC World Cup ended with India lifting the Cup, there were fears that viewers may have had enough of cricket. The general entertainment channels (GEC), which have seen their loyal viewers, mainly women, ditch their daily prime-time serials to catch the action on the cricket pitch in the last three IPL seasons, therefore, spied an opportunity to retain their viewership.

That, however, has not happened, though the first signs of a likely change can perhaps be seen. Despite low television viewership ratings (TVR), SET Max, the official broadcast partner of the IPL, has managed to remain at the top of the general entertainment roster both in terms of gross rating point (GRPs) and audience reach all along except for the last two weeks (the viewership data for the final week of the tournament has not come in yet).

Since the beginning of the tournament till the week ended 7 May, SET Max has been able to hold on to its viewership share. According to data released by television audience measurement firm TAM Media Research, in the week ended 7 May, SET Max garnered 343 GRPs, followed by Star Plus that generated 258 GRPs, Colors 167 GRPs, Sun 160 GRPs and Zee TV 141 GRPs, in the all-India market. In the Hindi speaking market, that week, SET Max garnered 371 GRPs, Star Plus 324 GRPs, Colors 221 GRPs and Zee TV 183 GRPs.

That has changed in the last two weeks. In the week ended 14 May, Star Plus garnered 325 GRPs, while SET Max clocked 306 GRPs in the Hindi speaking market. Basing its claims on that week's data, Star India issued a statement saying Star Plus remains untouched by the IPL this year as well and continues to retain its stronghold as the most popular Hindi GEC in India. It also claimed that Star Plus has witnessed an increase in channel share in both male and female TG (target group) by 16.6% and 20% respectively (pre- and post IPL thereby proving yet again that its (Star Plus) content enjoys greater viewer attention than IPL. In the following week ended 21 May also, it was Star Plus leading with 300 GRPs, followed by SET Max at 245 GRPs, Colors at 230 GRPs,and Zee TV at 191 GRPs, in the Hindi speaking market.

This year IPL has seen a serious erosion in TVR. Ashish Bhasin, chairman India and CEO South East Asia, of media communications conglomerate Aegis Group, says, "There are two reasons for this. Firstly, there is an overdose of cricket. Audiences reached some sort of a climax during the WC especially with India winning the tournament. Also, this is the first IPL without Lalit Modi and he was responsible for marketing the tournament to a great extent."

Compared to the last three seasons, the ratings that the tournament garnered this year were the lowest ever. According to TAM Sports, a division of TAM, the first 25 matches of IPL 4 garnered 4.28 TVR across six metros. For the same number of matches last year the channel had clocked an average TVR of 5.49. But the low ratings could not hinder the increase in reach. "The ratings are lower than my expectations but not disastrous," says Bhasin.

At the same time, a glance at TAM Sports data shows that IPL 2011 reached 146.4 million viewers in the first 36 matches. This is being considered a big feat because last year it took the entire season of 60 matches to reach 143.7 million viewers. In season 1 and 2, IPL reached 102.4 million and 122.7 million viewers, respectively.

TVR or TRP denotes the percentage of people watching a programme at a given point. GRP is the total of TRPs over a particular time period.

Rohit Gupta, president, Multi Screen Media (MSM), which owns SET Max, says, Though the GRP numbers of SET Max have come down marginally from past years, the channel is still at the top of the GRP roster. The reach has also gone up. For an advertiser, the television viewership rating is also important. However, because of the other two factors IPL remains unbeaten.

SET Max had increased the price of the on-air inventory of the channel on the back of IPL 4, even before the tournament started. The channel's rack rate increased to Rs 50,000 for a 10-second slot from the regular Rs 10,000. In the initial phase, for IPL 4, a 10-second slot was sold for Rs 5 lakh which is almost Rs 1.5 lakh more than the 10-second slot price of the 2010 edition. The channel claims that this is 40% higher than the advertising rates on ESPN for the World Cup. Media planners say in the last leg of the tournament, SET Max sold on-air advertising inventory for a 10-second slot sold between Rs 10-15 lakh. This year, SET Max is hoping that profits from IPL will go up by almost 20%. The channel claims that it clocked a profit of Rs 750 crore last year, which is expected to touch Rs 900 crore this year.

Explains Bhasin, "Around 80-85% of the advertising inventory was sold before the event. At that time advertisers were bullish on IPL. The remaining inventory may not fetch a substantial premium but this kind of target is still achievable."

As of now, IPL remains the biggest event in the general entertainment space. However, it is the media planners and buyers who face the biggest challenge because they are the ones who bet the advertiser's money on these claims. And the overall lower viewership ratings for IPL this year compared to previous years could force SET Max to set lower ad rates when it negotiates for its ad inventory next season.

"The channel will be able to sell inventory nonetheless but the benchmark will be this year's ratings and therefore the advertising rates will be set accordingly," says Bhasin.