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When it comes to cricket, nothing, not even a humiliating defeat by the minnows can keep the crazy Indians away from adoring the demigods of cricket and turn their faces away from a live match on their television sets for a while. Cricketers, boards and more importantly, the marketers know it. Hence, even the very disgraceful exit from 2007 World Cup could force only a minor dip in the share of free commercial time (FCT) of the sports genre, according to the fifth edition of the Pitch-Madison Media Adoutlook survey.

As always, cricket bounced back in our country, which was evident from the Twenty20 World Cup crown after the ICC World Cup humiliation and gave more to the admen, handsomely making up for the brief lull. Looking back, the year was thus buoyant with some wins, stirred up with tussles, marred with controversies, and above all action-packed and promising with the emergence of two leagues— Indian Cricket League (ICL) and Indian Premier League (IPL). The year began with the India-Australia series in January followed by the India-England, India-Bangladesh, India-Pakistan series, the ICC World Cup in March-April, and the new Twenty20 World Cup in September.

The Pitch-Madison Ad Outlook 2008 analysis, based on the TAM viewership data, shows that the Twenty20 matches had almost doubled the TVRs for channels at close to four percent, while one-day internationals (ODIs) had close to two percent TVR and the tests had the lowest ratings. Similar pattern is observed for non-India matches as well where again the Twenty20 format won the hearts of viewers hands down.

But the bottomline is that cricket lives on as the most sporting passion of Indians, so goes it with advertisers and marketers as their favourite slot. “Cricket generates viewership, and high involvement at least in parts. A good series still has the ability to generate a decent TRP. Unlike soccer or tennis, here  is a much longer duration available for advertising,” is how Media Edge president Anupriya Acharya sums up the belief of his fraternity in the world of cricket.

Twenty20 Win Fans and Advertisers Alike
The Twenty20 format, sweetened by India’s win, proved a mega success not just for viewers, but for the advertisers too, who were smarting under the humiliation meted out to the Indian cricket at the hands of the minnows that Bangladesh is, in the world of cricket at the 2007 World Cup. As ESPN Software India managing director RC Venkatesh says, “it has come as the best compact format for  the sports, if there are still a few who are itching over wasting man-days for a full day or five days.”

“With the pace of life ever increasing, resulting paucity of time for television viewing, Twenty20 has actually managed to package the excitement and passion of one-day cricket in a tighter, more viewer friendly format. It works well too. Just as an example, the number of page hits for the Twenty20 World Cup final between India and Pakistan on the ESPN US homepage was the second highest in that day in a country which is quite unfamiliar with the sport in general,” he explains.

SET Max India executive vice-president and business head Sneha Rajani also supports this when she  terms it as the future of cricket. Because people have much lesser time today to spare for a full day for sports. But Neo Sports executive vice-president for advertising revenues Sunil Manocha also notes that from an advertisers’ angle,     the new format has really become more expensive.

The Humiliation that World Cup was
The unceremonious exit of team India from the World Cup, spoiling a billion dreams, naturally forced a brief lull on the otherwise ever-vibrant advertisers fraternity for this property. But the handsome Twenty20 win proved to be a leveler, both in ad revenues and share for individual channels. According to TAM, SET Max had higher ratings for ODIs due to exclusive rights for the World Cup 2007, while other channels like Star Cricket and ESPN Sports scored better than Max on the Twenty20 matches.

“Of course, the World Cup affected us badly, but not as badly as it was made out by the media. In terms of RoMI for marketers, for some it was really good, but for some others it was bad but not as bad as it was made out to be,” Rajani admits.

But the bad time was so brief as Twenty20 pegged the advertisers’ spirits  to a new high, or rather “phenomenal level” as Rajani put it. “What is common between cricket and cinema is that the immediate last movie or series changes the impression of one and all.” Neo Sport’s Manocha also explains this, noting that public memory is too short. “Soon after the World Cup, India played the India-Bangladesh series, and  the adverting rates were low but the overall response remained the same, perhaps fared better than the previous series.”

And this short-memory of audience coupled with team India’s unpredictable habit of bouncing back keeps advertisers in good spirit always, as ESPN Star’s Venkateish believes. “We work with major clients on a broad perspective where outlays are made on the basis of a full season and not on any particular property—this way the ups and downs have very little effect,” he says, detailing how Twenty20 justified the hopes of the advertisers community.

Though the World Cup catastrophe did hit the ODI format and usually strong ad income, test matches always yield less returns. As India played 10 test matches, the TAM rating data is very low, and even close to around just one percent. Although Neo Sports telecast the highest number of test series, Star Sports scored higher in terms of rating followed by Start Cricket on the second and Neo Sports on the third spot respectively.

The IPL-ICL Saga Unfolds
In the domestic arena, action was more out of the field with Zee Group chairman Subhash Chandra tried to do a Kerry Packer on the so-far unchallenged BCCI, by launching Indian Cricket League in April. Lining up veterans like Brian Lara on the field and Kapil Dev in the administrative side, its first Twenty20 format tournament took place in November. The flow of promising youngsters into the rival camp and tossing up lots of money for winners finally stirred the BCCI to announce Indian Premier League, fearing erosion of ground from under its strong feet. With the blessings from the ICC, the forthcoming Twenty20 IPL tourney promises to be a more exciting affair by all means, be it money for winners or the advertisers fraternity.

The tournament, featuring eight teams, would be held over 44 days in 12 cities from April 18. The top two sides in the tournament will qualify for an international Championship Twenty20 League, which will be held in October.

Teams of the IPL finally got their multi-millionaire star-studded owners on January 24. All the eight IPL teams have been sold at approximately around $100 million each, earning the BCCI a huge bounty in the bargain. The winning bidders include Vijay Mallya for Bangalore, Shah Rukh Khan for Kolkata, Mukesh Ambani for Mumbai, Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia for Mohali/ Chandigarh, GMR Group for New Delhi, Deccan Chronicle for Hyderabad, India Cement for Chennai, and Emerging Media for  the Jaipur matches.

With the off-court battle directly benefiting the cricket ultimately, more exciting year awaits advertisers too.  “Quite a lot is riding on the back of the IPL. I believe it should do well, given the overall markets buoyancy and the changing taste of audiences in cricket. The expectation is so high that the performance to various parties may look tepid,” Acharya opines. Also boosted by the dominating performance of team India in the shorter version, the Twenty20 promises to be a golden goose for marketers.

What to Expect
Along with huge excitement in the waiting, the current year also carries lots of challenges. While people have great expectations from the IPL, sports channels are gearing up to face the increasing fragmentation and gain higher viewership and involvement. “The challenges are the channel clutter and the resultant severe fragmentation. To maintain growth goals in terms of reach and revenue will be tough. I think this will be the biggest challenge. As a group we are the No 1 Hindi movie channel and the No 3 GEC channel, it brings us further burden too,” explains Rajani of   SET Max.

However, Manocha of Neo Sports is not betting on the success of the IPL as it is too early to comment. “As the format is interesting enough for India, the challenge will be to get the viewer involvement. We are very sanguine about 2008,” he says.

But ESPN’s Venkateish is confident that their content would help them win the race 2008. “We have a pretty strong content lined up for the year. There is a host of big-ticket properties like the CB3 nation series in Australia, the Champions Trophy, Euro2008 along with Wimbledon, Australian Open and the French Open as well among others. We are quite bullish that we will be able to achieve our objectives based on such quality content and would be able to serve the Indian sports fans to the best of our ability,” he is optimistic.

At the same time, there also words of caution, like what comes from Sashi Sinha of Loadstar. “I think the kind of money involved in the IPL is huge thereby over-hyping the sport. This year has not started with good economic note. With the US economy going through rough waters it is bound to affect the entire world. Therefore, growth in all industries will be very slow. The year 2008 should be fine but may not be as exciting as 2007,” Sinha says cautiously.

“Cricket delivers high ratings, but I personally feel this is just going to increase advertising rates of cricket. Cricket today has become very expensive. It does not give a fare value for the money spent,” he sums up realistically.

About the author / 

Neeta Nair

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