How good is the IPL as a TV product?
By Aamod Desai, India ‘… And it’s time for the strategic time-out,’ the commentator says only to reappear – or rather, only to be reheard – about five seconds short of 2.5 minutes as the crowd at the ground counts down those seconds on the ticker. In between we have all the brands who have affiliated with the IPL promoting their products.
Cricket is probably the only sport that allows its advertisers so much live airtime, and the broadcaster often attempts to squeeze out every second possible for his investors. There’s nothing wrong with the advertiser or the broadcaster trying to maximise his potential gains.
During the current season, we have had two outstanding high-scoring ‘afternoon’ games, involving teams chasing down big totals (CSK v RCB and RR v DC), followed by the second game of that day. In between, the broadcaster manages to fit in only the post-match presentation and two-three minutes of packaged highlights; for a TV viewer this is too short a time to recollect the match that has transpired, especially when it’s a cracker of a match like those big chases.
In general, more often than not we ardent fans end up watching highlights of an outstanding innings, a tight game or a brilliant bowling spell again and again. The broadcasts of the IPL matches don’t provide the viewer the chance to ruminate on whatever he has seen. Undoubtedly the IPL is more of a commercial product, using the glamorous avatar of the game, but we ought to look at it from the perspective of it being a prime-time sporting event too.
Those who advocate for the IPL will always cite the audience it attracts on TV. The time slots are set with a view to accommodate those who struggle to follow ODI cricket or Test matches during the daytime. Entire families go out to the stadiums to cheer their favourite sides, while a few other thousand families enjoy the three-something hours of ‘cricketainment’ over dinner in their living room. In keeping with this family audience, to keep things light, the broadcaster has traditionally roped in VJs to anchor the pre, mid and post-innings shows, direct studio analysis and ground reports. This probably helps the ‘non-ardent’ cricket followers connect with what is going on.
TV ratings were the talking point of the IPL after the first week. The ratings are down and experts will debate over the possible reasons. Despite the shabby numbers, the IPL remains good enough as a cricket product and can compete as a TV product, even when compared to successful TV soaps or weekend events. But things can’t be taken for granted. IPL as a TV product will have lots of questions to ponder, for the ratings aren’t growing. The fourth edition had a valid reason to back the drop in ratings, considering most fans were quite possibly sated with the preceding World Cup. Season V though will struggle to provide reasons unless the ratings improve.
Good televised packaging leads to higher viewership. Move around IPL viewers and you will find a section of people who like to watch the live cricket, and then move on somewhere else to read previews or reviews and match analysis, for he doesn’t get what he wants form the post-match show, or the depth and time needed to contemplate on the action that he has just witnessed. The problem with multi-genre viewership is to identify the group that has the majority and cater accordingly. The IPL has such a diverse fan base that the organisers and broadcasters won’t have an easy task accommodating the demands of all their viewers in their final package, and so keep the ratings on an upward curve. This could be a reason for the drop in the TV ratings. And it poses a big challenge for the brand itself, for the IPL is and will remain primarily a TV product.
Nikita Bastian is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo