September 17, 2008

Tuning in to Twenty20

Judhajit Basu
Cricket's newest format, has come along in leaps and bounds, and the viewership figures prove as much

The ICC World Twenty20 final between India and Pakistan alone attracted a viewership of 48 million © Getty Images

Twenty20, cricket's newest format, recently attracted the highest amount paid for commercial rights to a global cricketing event on a per-game basis, when ESPN Star Sports (ESS) shelled out US$900 million for the Champions League in a 10-year deal. It has been criticised by some as excessive and an overvaluation, but figures on Indian viewership patterns obtained by Cricinfo suggest that Twenty20 is gaining in popularity at the expense of the two older formats, Tests and one-day internationals.

A recent study conducted in India by the Television Audience Management (TAM), a joint venture company between ACNielsen & Kantar Media Research/ IMRB, points to the exploding interest in Twenty20 cricket -- the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) attracted 101 million viewers, with 36 million tuning in for the final between the Rajasthan Royals and the Chennai Super Kings in Mumbai on June 1. The figures, according to the study, were calculated on a cumulative reach basis - the number of people who have viewed the content for at least one minute.

The TAM Peoplemeter data collated across cable and satellite (C&S) homes in the 4+ years category across India has also sounded the warning bells for Test cricket and one-day cricket.

The study throws up many interesting trends. While the ICC Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa on ESPN and Star Cricket (ESC) in September 2007 saw 85 million tune in for the entire duration of the tournament, the final between India and Pakistan alone attracted a viewership of 48 million.

The Twenty20 games played out from March-April, 2008 in the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) on Ten Sports and Zee Sports also managed a healthy 55 million with the final match between the Lahore Badshahs and Hyderabad Heroes drawing 6 million viewers. And this given the ICL is the pariah of international cricket.

The largest slice of the pie, however, belongs to the IPL, beamed on SET Max from April-January 2008, which piled up an impressive 101 million viewers - a jump of 18.82% from the Twenty20 World Cup - with 36 million tuning in for the final

In contrast, India's three-Test series at home against South Africa during March-April 2008, telecast on Neo Sports, Neo Cricket and Neo Cricket Plus, attracted 48 million eyeballs, the same number as for the final of the Twenty20 World Cup alone.

The picture gets marginally brighter when we take a look at the figures from the recently concluded series between Sri Lanka and India. The three-Test series aired on Ten Sports in July and August managed a viewership of 50 million viewers - an increase of just 4.16% from the South Africa series.

In the one-day format, the Kitply Cup telecast on Neo Cricket and Doordarshan 1 (DD1) was followed by the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka beamed on DD1 and ESC in June-July 2008. Both managed 63 million and 77 million viewers respectively, but still failed to reach the highs set by the World Twenty20 or the IPL.

The largest slice of the pie belongs to the IPL, beamed on SET Max from April-January 2008, which piled up an impressive 101 million viewers - a jump of 18.82% from the Twenty20 World Cup

The five ODIs between Sri Lanka and India which followed from August 18-29 notched up 62 million in viewership - a small dip of 1.58% from the Kitply Cup but, more significantly, a bigger drop of 19.48% from the Asia Cup.

Blame it on India being crowned Twenty20 champions or ESS' whopping bid for the Champions League rights, but the indications are that the momentum is firmly with the newest avatar of international cricket as far as getting large numbers glued to their television sets is concerned.

Comparative figures have clearly shown Twenty20 is No. 1 in the pecking order, followed by one-day cricket and then Tests in viewership numbers. One-dayers and Tests, however, switch places when the rankings deal will the net percentage rise or fall.

Rohit Gupta, SET India president for network sales, licensing and telephony, says Twenty20 is a powerful format. "The audience involvement is three-and-a-half hours compared to eight hours for a one-dayer," Gupta told Cricinfo. "Though an over-exposed format, Twenty20 offers huge excitement, which means the youth and females get involved in large numbers. Understandably, viewership for Test cricket and ODIs has dipped when we talk in relative terms. Hopefully, the concerned authorities will take note of this trend and work on the one-day format in the near future."

While ESS said "it was too premature to comment", industry insiders believe the superhuman success of Twenty20 has resulted in the others taking a beating. "It's a temporary state of affairs and that if the hypothesis persisted for two years, it would certainly a matter of concern. However, I believe one good Test series, especially with the upcoming tour by Australia, will change the picture completely," said a source.

A top official of Ten Sports says the decline in viewership for Test cricket and one-dayers stems from the overexposure to cricket. "There is definitely a lot of fatigue involved for the audiences when it comes to the longer versions of the game. Admittedly, it does reflect in the ratings, something the channels didn't see earlier, but considering the illustrious past of the game, it would be too soon to say the future is Twenty20."

Judhajit Basu is a senior sub-editor with