Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo
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Through IPL 2011, ESPNcricinfo will be tracking TV ratings using the TAM People Meter, India's leading TV ratings system. This is the third installment in the weekly series
Television ratings for the 2011 IPL continued to plunge, with the average rating for the first 37 games down 25% from the previous year across six key markets. But it wasn't all bad news for the league, as the cumulative number of people that have watched the tournament this season has already surpassed last season's total, and ticket sales have boomed.
The tournament has drawn an average Television Viewer Rating (TVR) - a time-weighted figure which accounts for time spent watching by viewers and the number of viewers - of 4.07 across the cities of Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad. That figure is down from 5.44 in 2010, according to TAM Sports, a division of TAM Media Research, the leading television ratings agency in India. The ratings are the lowest for the first 37 games over the four years of the tournament.
However, a cumulative total of 146.4 million viewers have watched all the games so far, a number that exceeds the 143.7 million that saw the entire 2010 season (60 games). This suggests that while the IPL continues to attract new fans, they are watching each game for shorter periods.
League leaders Mumbai Indians have not been immune to the trend of diminishing returns either. Their game against Rajasthan Royals, in which they were dismissed for 94, their lowest total in the IPL, posted a TVR of 2.28 with only 12 million people tuning in. The best game of the week was between Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Daredevils, where Kolkata successfully defended a total of 148 at the Feroz Shah Kotla. The TVR for that game was 5.20, the only rating over 5 over the last 11 games, and it drew 21 million viewers.
The best watched game was Chennai Super Kings' comfortable win at home over the fast fading Pune Warriors, with 23 million catching at least some part of that match.
Media experts pin the blame for the downward trend on the surfeit of cricket, the diminishing meaning of the IPL to fans in view of India's World Cup win and the shuffling of the players on each team, but advertisers are not worried by the lower ratings, saying there is still plenty of buzz around the tournament.
"As a country we have been watching competitive cricket since February 19, so there is no doubt that would have a bit of an impact," Abhijit Avasti, national creative director of advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, told ESPNcricinfo. "But personally, I wouldn't think advertisers have to worry. We still have clients eager to get on the IPL bandwagon. Interest is definitely alive and kicking."
Not everyone is convinced, though. Santosh Desai, the chief executive of Future Brands, a leading brand consultancy firm, believes the viewership numbers might reflect a deeper structural problem with the league, in that it has been marketed as a television programme that features cricket and the "fault lines are [now] showing between sport and a television programme."
"A sense of meaning has been absent," Desai said. "It has become repetitive. Sports must produce some sort of meaning finally. Otherwise it is just leather hitting wood."
But even he agrees advertisers don't have to worry yet, saying "there is still good reason for [the IPL] to exist" and that it simply needs to transition from being a spectacle into a tournament that reflects "what every team represents and stands for".
There has also been strong demand for tickets for most of the games. Ashish Hemrajani, the CEO and founder of Book My Show.com, which sells tickets for four teams, concedes that a certain amount of fatigue has set in with TV viewers, but believes the World Cup created a latent demand for tickets because "lot of people could not go to the stadium and see the games [then]. So now a lot of people want to go and see the same players in the same atmosphere."
According to Hemrajani, Mumbai Indians sold as many tickets in the first six days as they did all of last season, Delhi Daredevils have sold over four times as many tickets as last year and for Kings XI Punjab, that figure is two and half times. The website handles both online and offline ticket sales for the teams (with the exception of Delhi, for which it deals only with online sales).
Neetu Bhatia, the chief executive of KyaZoonga.com, which handles ticket sales for the two new teams, Pune Warriors and Kochi Tuskers Kerala, said demand has been good considering the teams are in their first year, especially for Pune, whose games have seen at least 70% of the tickets sold. Sales for Kochi have been slower in comparison, Bhatia said, but the early bird tickets for the team's home games in Indore were sold out overnight, indicating more interest. KyaZoonga also handles the entire gamut of ticket sales for both teams.