Ahead of the 16th season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Viacom18 Sports outlined its objective of becoming “the largest aggregator of audiences in India.”
Speaking at a media round table, Anil Jayaraj, CEO of Viacom18 Sports, stated that the company plans to eliminate all barriers to consumption across affordability, language and access by streaming the IPL on its JioCinema platform for the first time with free access for viewers. “This year, our plan is to get the maximum number of viewers without any charge. In the future, we will evaluate and take a call on whether to keep it free or not. The ambition that we have set ourselves is to deliver high quality, premium long-form content viewing on digital,” said Jayaraj.
As per media industry observers, Viacom18 expects to collect upwards of Rs. 3,000 crore in ad revenue, a notable jump from Rs. 1,500 crore that Disney+Hotstar reportedly earned last season. The cost per thousand impressions (CPM) for IPL this year may be between Rs. 200-300, according to media executives.
Noting that digital is already set to become larger than television, Jayaraj expects the IPL advertising revenues on digital this year to become bigger than TV. JioCinema will be broadcasting the tournament in 12 languages, and will also include viewing innovations such as multi-cam and 4K. “The number of internet-enabled devices in the country is currently over 700 million. We want to reach viewers across India and provide access to everyone with an internet-enabled device. We expect IPL to be bigger on digital than on TV this year,” he added.
Jayaraj also noted that the FIFA World Cup last year, which was broadcast on Sports18 and JioCinema, saw higher viewership and advertiser interest on digital than TV. To an extent, the football extravaganza was Viacom18’s first real test ahead of the big ticket IPL this year. While there were concerns at the start of the football tournament on account of the buffering issues on JioCinema, Jayaraj said that they were resolved in the first few days itself and that on the final day, the platform saw a concurrency of 12 million viewers at peak.
“Realising that this is the IPL, we will see a viewership much higher than that. We have invested from both, a people and infrastructure point of view,” he remarked, adding that the platform has roped in ‘some of the best technology partners’ to ensure a high quality viewing experience, though he declined to share investment numbers or the names of the partners involved.
Since advertiser revenue will then be key for Viacom18 Sports during this IPL, Jayaraj claimed that advertisers are already showing keen interest from across sectors such as FMCG, auto and beverages.
Last year’s season of the IPL saw a dip in TV viewership, attributed largely to migration to OTT and viewer fatigue with more matches added. Jayaraj maintained that this will not be a big concern for JioCinema, since its ads are sold according to the number of impressions. “Falling viewership and an increase in number of games in fact affects TV players more because their ratings fall. Digital is more likely to benefit because if you increase the number of games, the number of impressions also increases,” he explained.
Last month, Viacom18 also won the media rights for the Women’s Premier League
Eventually, Jayaraj’s aim is to create a digital platform that will be a full spectrum player, which will offer more than just sports content. For now though, the focus is on leveraging the country’s capacity for sports consumption.