Face off: IPL is our baby; we won’t let it go, says Rohit Gupta

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Published: March 15, 2016 12:22:37 AM

Come April, all eyes will be glued to the television sets as the biggest cricketing event — Indian Premier League (IPL) — will commence its ninth season.

Face off: Rohit Gupta, President, Network sales, Sony Pictures Networks India

Come April, all eyes will be glued to the television sets as the biggest cricketing event — Indian Premier League (IPL) — will commence its ninth season. As official broadcaster Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) closes 90% of its ad inventory well in advance, IPL is all set to entertain viewers for the next two months. BrandWagon’s Meghna Sharma catches up with Rohit Gupta of SPN india to get an insider’s view on what is the channel expecting from this year’s tournament and what the future holds for the cash-cow property. Excerpts:

How is the upcoming season of IPL going to be different from last year’s? Google experimented with real-time advertising at Super Bowl 2016; how do you plan to innovate?

We have very strict broadcast guidelines. So, there is very little we can do in terms of inventory play; even for things like action replay, we are restricted. It is good from a consumer’s perspective. But since there is very little flexibility, we look at integrations by extending them on our shows. Take Extraaa Innings for instance; its ratings are four to five times higher than any other cricket wraparound show, so it works very well for us. We created the property in 2002 and fans look forward to it each year. The whole idea was to have fun and T20 as a format attracts all age groups. So here, we work with a lot of integrations for our sponsors as it is the only area we have where we can experiment. One must not forget that there is very little one can do with live sports. People don’t want too much to be done on live sports. What is more important for IPL is that after nine years, it has established itself as a property — with its own share of controversies — but it has always come out positively and on top every time. It shows that IPL is here to stay. Ratings don’t matter because by now, everyone knows that there is a certain rating which will definitely be there. So, for advertisers, it is a sure-shot way to reach the TG and they don’t mind spending. IPL is now in the league of EPL, NBA and all other global leagues which have a huge fan following. As long as the top players will play in IPL, nothing can stop it.

After Pepsi walked out, Vivo was brought in as the title sponsor. Popularity-wise, both are poles apart. Can this impact the property’s image?

Like I said, IPL is now on its feet. We have braved enough storms and always come out on top. Brands now vie for it and are willing to pay top money to be associated with it, because the returns are certain. In other series’, a lot depends on how India is playing; ROI isn’t guaranteed unlike in IPL where loyal fans will come in, no matter what.

The Lodha Committee has recommended that contracts between BCCI and its broadcasters should ensure only breaks taken by both teams for drinks, lunch and tea should be used to air ads, as is the practice internationally. How do you see it impacting Sony, if implemented?

It will have a huge impact on the way cricket financials work. If we look at it, it means that you get only one-third of the time so obviously the whole value system will undergo change. We won’t be able to pay BCCI the value we currently pay because advertisers won’t pay us. It is a vicious circle.

If we look at global leagues, they are all financially stable bodies. If Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event, it is because advertisers pay $1.5 million or more for a spot there. Similarly, if there is no money in IPL the players too won’t be able to earn the fee they are doing today. And surprisingly, at the Committee, no one has spoken to us, the broadcasters. They need to take our viewpoint too as we contribute to things as well. A move like that will redesign the whole bidding process.

Sony is eyeing `1200 crore worth of revenues this year from IPL. Even after almost a decade, what makes the property a cash-cow? Which are the primary categories spending on the property?

We are looking at `1100-1200 crore. Because of the audience IPL brings — children, men and women, across economic backgrounds — all categories can represent themselves at the property. Last year, e-commerce was the largest advertiser; in fact, it had a share of almost 20-25%. This year, apart from e-commerce, the handset category has come up in a big way. Because of 4G, adoption of handheld devices and an influx of Chinese brands, the category is trying to do this year what Indian brands like Micromax, Karbonn did seven-eight years back with IPL. Those brands were born out of IPL. This year, we have Oppo and Vivo. And of course, there are the other categories like FMCG, auto, banks etc.

IPL has had its own share of controversies (match fixing etc). Does this impact a stakeholder like Sony in the process?

What is happening on the sidelines doesn’t impact viewership. When the top players start playing, the consumer forgets the controversies and only wants to watch good cricket. IPL is very competitive cricket; over the years, international players have also understood Indian conditions. And with the addition of two new teams this year, things are going to get more exciting. The level of cricket is only going to get more competitive. It can be anybody’s trophy this year. We have also had unprecedented responses from advertisers, despite numerous series and the ICC T20 World Cup, before IPL starts. Now IPL is an integral part of marketers’ marketing budget plans. One can say it is as important as Diwali, as it sees new product launches and new campaigns. I would like IPL to touch the same heights as Super Bowl in terms of the interest in the ads. Everyone wants to know which the top three creatives during Super Bowl are. Our ad agencies and marketers too should come up with interesting campaigns during IPL.
IPL broadcast rights (for `8200 crore) will end in 2017. How does Sony plan to retain the property? Does it plan to acquire the digital rights for the league when they come up for renewal?

Of course, we want all the rights. We have created this property. We invested in the property, nine years back, when everyone raised questions. We knew the youth wanted a shorter format of the game and the T20 format provides that. Every year, we have launched interesting campaigns as well. When people told us cricket doesn’t need to be marketed, we disagreed. How else would we increase the audience base? Because if we don’t advertise, only males will watch. We have a lot of firsts to ourselves. IPL is our baby and we won’t let it go, for sure.

Meghna.Sharma@expressindia.com
@meghna0101

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