In the April 1-7 week, TAM Media’s list of top 10 programmes viewed on television across India’s cable and satellite homes, saw five top slots – except the third – occupied by the ongoing Indian Premier League matches. The first six matches of the fifth IPL season were played during this week.
The average television viewership rating (TVR: the percentage of total cable & satellite viewers in a defined time) of 3.76% for these matches was much lower than the last season’s opening six-matches’ 4.63% average, and the lowest of all five IPL seasons. But the actual number of viewers for the current season’s matches – measured by ‘reach’ – was higher than all the earlier seasons except 2011’s, when the euphoria of the immediately preceding Cricket World Cup win for India spilled over into the start of IPL 4. Viewership numbers rationalised subsequently, dropping by 29%, according to an MEC report.A media agency, MEC, in its latest IPL TV Rating Estimation Study, has put IPL 5’s expected TVR average at 3.8%, a 2.5% increase over IPL 4’s average. Its viewer survey revealed that only 16% were weary of IPL and 12% would spend lesser time watching IPL 5.
The first seven days of this season’s IPL has seen a 56% surge in online viewership, and mobile views have risen by 50%.
To the fact that time spent during the first six matches of IPL 5 has declined from a 123 minutes average per viewer to 118 minutes this season, Mahesh Ranka, founder and CEO, Indus Sports and Sponsorships, said, “Watching 76 matches over 54 days is difficult. People watch more matches of teams they follow, which affects average TVRs and time spent. And a person may watch IPL on TV and online.”
Navin Khemka, managing partner, Zenith Optimedia India, said that IPL 5 is continuing to sustain viewership interest, with the six-metro TAM ratings over April 8-13 maintaining a prime time average of 5-5.5%. “The all-India ratings (not released yet) will be lower, but people are consuming IPL this season. Its initial years’ hysteria and hype have settled down. With the number of teams and matches increasing, viewership is bound to become more regional.” Possibly the reason why more regional brands are team sponsors this season.
Viewer loyalties for players have sometimes created problems when they shifted teams. "I was an orthodox Kolkata Knight Riders' follower. But since Sourav Ganguly changed his team to Pune Warriors, my emotional connect has blurred," said marketing professional Bibin Ghosh, 34.
Nonetheless, MEC’s survey shows that the most loyal fan bases for IPL are in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, irrespective of team performances. Cumulative support for Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings by viewers is 48%, followed by Royal Challengers Bangalore at 12% and Kolkata Knight Riders at 11%.
With the viewership of IPL 5 actually decent so far, why is advertiser interest tepid?
Neeraj Vyas, executive vice president and business head, Sony MAX, the IPL broadcasting channel, said, “We have sold 70% of our ad space, slightly lower than what we had sold by this time last year. In its fifth year now, IPL is maturing. IPL 4 had opened on a weekend, while this season opened on a Wednesday – 5.5% for the opening match is good for a weekday. I believe advertisers will wait to see a full week’s TVRs before taking decisions.” He expects the ad spot rate of Rs 5 lakh per 10 seconds to sustain, but not go up.
Khemka said that while brands bought into the earlier IPL seasons’ hype, they are now measuring opportunity costs. “Brands do want to be on IPL, but it’s a luxury buy and a brand will advertise on it only if it ‘has’ to be present in media at this time.”
Everyone, however, agreed that IPL as a brand will sustain and strengthen. Sanjay Tripathy, executive vice president and head marketing, HDFC Life, associate sponsor of Rajasthan Royals, said: "Till IPL happened, India never had a sports brand. It has spawned similar T20 formats in other countries. As IPL matures, people will follow teams irrespective of stars. If the playing quality is good, as this season’s is so far, viewership will be strong."