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Looking for perfect balance on the telly

It’s a critical moment during a India-Pakistan match. Umar Akmal has just been bowled by Yuvraj Singh. Suddenly, the camera is cut. A heavyweight character, dancing in shorts promoting a product, takes over on the tele.

cricket Updated: Mar 03, 2016 17:35 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Cricket broadcasts make the most of high viewership, slotting in advertisements whenever possible.
Cricket broadcasts make the most of high viewership, slotting in advertisements whenever possible.(Getty Images)

Pakistan are in dire straits after losing their top-order, but Umar Akmal is one batsman who could change the situation. However, Yuvraj Singh nails him dead in front of the wicket. Akmal starts the slow walk back with a dumbfounded expression, while Yuvraj is crowded by his celebrating teammates.

Suddenly, the camera is cut. A heavyweight character, dancing in shorts promoting a product, takes over on the tele. The helpless viewers are left thirsting for more for the different emotions the two arch-rivals are going through in the charged atmosphere in Mirpur.

Among the recommendations of Justice Lodha Committee, the one to trigger a strong debate is about restriction of ad space during international games. The above example provides justification of why it needs to be curtailed if it affects the viewers’ experience. On the other side, there a genuine cause of concern if the ad space is cut heavily, it will seriously hurt the sport’s revenues.

Broadcast rights are the BCCI’s largest source of income and just airing ads during drinks, lunch and tea intervals could seriously compromise that.

“The largest source of revenue for the Board is broadcast revenue. The broadcasters are significantly dependent on selling advertisements. If there are restrictions, automatically the revenue generated from the market will fall. Automatically everything else (the licensing fee charged by the BCCI, the TV rights fee etc) could see a corresponding decrease,” said Prasana Krishnan, executive vice-president and business head at Sony Six and Sony ESPN, as all the stakeholders in Indian cricket wait nervously for the Supreme Court’s final directives on the Lodha Committee’s recommendations on Thursday.

Unlike some leading markets like the United Kingdom and the United States, for broadcasters in India advertising is the main source of income, Krishnan explained. “The dependence on advertising is high while subscription revenues are still relatively low. When you compare to the UK or the US, you pay huge subscription fees for sports channels. Here, the idea is to make cricket affordable to everyone, so consequently everything is dependent on advertisements.”

The other view though is that the broadcasters have brought the Supreme Court’s ire upon themselves by compromising on viewers experience by overselling ad space.

“What SC’s committee has recommended is not banning ads, but be reasonable. They shouldn’t be killing the goose which lays the golden egg. Also the audience shouldn’t get so frustrated that it switches to other forms of entertainments. If the requirement is of 40 ads, then don’t take more than that or you will ruin the game,” observed renowned ad film director Prahlad Kakkar.

Kakkar, who has done some famous cricket ads, was not convinced that reduced ad space will affect the broadcasters’ revenue drastically. It’s a case of supply and demand. Kakkar said less ad space means increase in rates. “For example, if Aamir Khan chooses to do only five ads, and Dhoni does 20 ads. Dhoni may charge R3 to 4 crore for each ad, while Aamir may charge R10 crore for each. Both make the same money.”

The best formula could be to allow airing of ads in the natural breaks during the game while allowing viewers unhindered view during the big moments like a wicket or a boundary hit.