CHENNAI: As the Indian Premier League media rights e-auction came to a halt after three days on Tuesday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has got richer by Rs 48,390 crore (USD 6.20 billion). In the end, the IPL, apart from continuing its association with Disney Star also welcomed on board the Viacom18 joint-venture and Times Internet as television and digital partners for the 2023-27 five-year cycle.
With the auction having two different parties (Times Internet has overseas rights), the IPL and the Indian viewers are entering unchartered territory. Since the inception of the League in 2008, Sony and Star have enjoyed monopoly when it comes to television and digital space. With the BCCI opting for a new formula this time, that monopoly has ended. The Indian sub-continent audience, now are in a position to choose the platform on which they would like to watch the IPL.
Given all the growth the IPL has witnessed over the years, the need to cater the product to a family audience meant, when compared to other global leagues like the National Football League, English Premier League and the NBA, the broadcast has seldom been equitable. Every IPL season, apart from inconsistent umpiring, it is the commentary that faces the maximum backlash on social media. For a league that has positioned itself in the global arena, the broadcasting aspect, especially the commentary remains at a level where there is huge scope of improvement.
With the BCCI picking the commentators for the world feed, unless Disney Hotstar and Viacom18 are given an opportunity to assemble their own team, little is going to change. But in the previous cycle, the Select Dugout show on Star Sports Select HD and the vernacular languages – especially Tamil – proved to be a hit among fans. Sans the noise and the prefix to use the sponsor’s name for a boundary, six, new ball and slog overs, they were a lot more analytical and also brought the fun element that one expects for a family audience.
“Commentary is irrelevant. The IPL audience is different. They don’t watch other sports. If you watch other events, obviously you would say the IPL is amateur and not as good as western world. But they will catch up at some stage because to get ad revenue they need to get eyeballs. And to get eyeballs, you need to up the ante. People now have a choice to pick. It is not one single cake and everyone is going to compete internally. They will try to enhance the viewing model,” said Prahlad Kakkar, India’s premier ad film director.
With Viacom18 JV picking the digital space, it would be interesting to see how the viewership and advertisement dynamics change, with Disney Star taking care of the television side. Kakkar believes Viacom is going to change the landscape.
“What is going to happen is Viacom18 will be very powerful in broadcasting the digital side of the IPL as they have deep pockets. You can watch the IPL on phone or a tab and they are ready for that kind of leap. At one time people would say there are so many people in India who don't watch anything digital or do business digitally. Covid has totally scrambled the whole thing. If you are not digitally connected, you are isolated. So be it Tier II or Tier III cities, everyone is digitally connected while on the move. So Jio and Viacom are trying to tap on that substantial digital market,” he said.
While Disney Star will pay 57.5 crore per match, Viacom18 by going hard for Package C will be paying 58 crore per match for digital viewing. With television still enjoying a significant ad revenue when compared to OTT platforms, there are doubts if Viacom18 will be able to make returns. But Kakkar believes the split in broadcast will divide the advertising industry too.
“Only those who are traditional watchers will prefer television because they are used to watching it from their couch. But, television is now so advanced that you can just switch to firestick and watch it digitally. The marketers are going to advertise on two different broadcasters. The popular, down, low products which are universal will go on television. The white goods will go on the digital platform. So even the advertising cake will be divided. Data is a very crucial part of this whole game. You can’t fudge the data and the demographics. Any analytical company doing AI will give a segmentation of who is watching what on what channel and can plan their ad strategy accordingly,” Kakkar added.