The 2022 edition of the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) seems to have started off on a sticky wicket, with TV viewership across age groups falling by over 30% in the first three weeks of the season, according to media planners who cited BARC data. While the fourth week has seen a marginal improvement of 9% over the third week, the low ratings are still a matter of concern for advertisers. Sources said advertisers were asking broadcaster Disney Star India to compensate them for the drop in viewership, considering the fact that ad rates were hiked by about 15% this season. Disney Star India has charged advertisers Rs 14 lakh per 10-second spot this year — 2022 also marked the last of the broadcaster’s five-year media rights term, which will soon go up for bidding.
Sandeep Goyal, managing director, Rediffusion Brand Solutions, pointed out that over the last few seasons, established brands have reduced their investments in the property, which has mainly attracted new-age companies seeking to build awareness quickly. These brands are not very concerned about the falling TV viewership, he added, since their only objective is brand building.
Consider auto brand Maruti Suzuki, which has shrunk its IPL investments to Rs 25 crore this year, as opposed to Rs 93 crore back in 2019. Shashank Srivastava, senior executive director (marketing & sales), Maruti Suzuki India, explained that though the brand factored in a slight fall in viewership this year when allocating its budget, the drop had been a lot more than it anticipated, especially among its core TG. “In the first 25 matches this season, if you look at our TG, which is male and between 22 and 40 years of age, the TVR (television ratings) drop is around 58% and much higher than the average viewership decline of around 30-35%,” said Srivastava. “We are in discussions with Star Sports to provide additional FCT (free commercial time) on live matches so that the overall reach numbers and commitments that were made can be met.”
The fall in viewership could also be attributed to a cricket overdose over the past 12-18 months, which have seen two IPL seasons and the ICC T20 World Cup. Srivastava explained that the brand chose to devote a lower budget to the IPL this year on account of a crowded cricket calendar.
Goyal, too, observed that the IPL has become a “fatigued product”, since the format has remained unchanged over the years. He notes that the only reason the property saw higher viewership in the past couple of seasons was because the pandemic was raging and people were confined indoors. “The key to success for a property like IPL lies in building up team loyalty,” Goyal stressed, comparing the average IPL fan with the Indian followers of properties like the English Premier League and other European football leagues, who display steadfast loyalty to their favourite teams. Poor performances from the two most popular franchises, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, have only added to IPL’s cup of woes. Furthermore, with big guns like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard failing to fire up the season, fans have had little reason to watch the games. Another reason could be the increase in the number of matches in the current season, as Praveen Nijhara, CEO, Hansa Research, pointed out. “With a higher count of teams (10 this season versus eight last year) the match count from 60 in IPL 2021 has now jumped to 75. Viewers are now jaded due to more matches, with their favourite teams not performing well,” he remarked.
However, not all is lost. While TV viewership data may appear stark at first glance, it is important to read it with a couple of caveats, suggested Kavita Shenoy, founder and CEO of Voiro, a revenue management suite. “The data represents TV viewership alone, but OTT makes up a sizable and growing proportion of total viewership. Secondly, the year 2021 was an outlier in terms of consumer behaviour. The lockdowns dramatically increased viewership patterns across media, and a return to some kind of normalcy was always likely,” she observed.
Experts estimate the tournament’s OTT viewership to be over 100 million cumulatively, noting that the numbers spike during a close, thrilling match. For instance, the Chennai Super Kings vs Mumbai Indians encounter last week saw viewership hit the 8.2-million mark, close to Disney+ Hotstar’s 10 -million record last year, according to data shared by the streaming platform.
TV viewership notwithstanding, advertiser count on the IPL grew by 13% over the past two weeks, according to the TAM Sports-IPL Advertising report, which means that brands are still betting big on the cricketing extravaganza. “For an advertiser running a tournament-long campaign, viewership is not necessarily the key metric – the cumulative reach and impressions are. Since this year’s tournament is longer than the recent editions, I am sure they will be hitting those marks, which is why you will see more advertisers coming on board,” said Divya MS, business director, ITW Universe.
Describing the property as the cricketing version of the Super Bowl, Rammohan Sundaram, country head and managing partner – integrated media, DDB Mudra Group, maintained that the drop in viewership will not deter advertisers and expected weekend numbers to improve in May, as the tournament progresses. “It is only going to get bigger in the near future, and these temporary drops won’t dent sentiments. The expected bid price for broadcasters is only increasing over the years. That would not have happened if there was no advertising line-up,” he noted.
Disney Star India had bagged the bid for the ongoing term in 2018 for Rs 16,300 crore for five years, under the leadership of its then CEO, Uday Shankar. This year, the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) has doubled the IPL media rights price to Rs 32,890 crore for a five-year term.