The IPL's fifth season has registered a fall in total viewership and television ratings for the opening six games in comparison to the 2011 season. This includes a decline in cumulative viewership for the first time in the IPL's five-year history.

The cumulative number of people who tuned in to watch the first six games was 90.1 million, down from 101.77 million last year, according to TAM Sports, a division of Tam Media Research, the leading television ratings agency in India. "Cumulative reach" is the number of individuals who watched a channel/programme for at least one minute. The tournament had managed to increase its audience in each successive season till 2011.

Television Viewer Ratings (TVR) were down 18.7% as a result, with the opening six games posting an average TVR of 3.76 compared to 4.63 last season (TVR is a time-weighted figure which accounts for time spent by viewers in addition to the number of viewers). The opening ceremony held in Chennai the day before the first game drew a rating of just 1.16, despite the presence of a number of Bollywood celebrities.

The 2012 season is considered something of a litmus test for the league after ratings slumped last year. The 2011 IPL produced the lowest television ratings of any of the first four seasons, down 29% from 2010. That reversal was largely blamed on "cricket fatigue" arising out of India's victorious World Cup campaign, with the IPL starting a mere six days after the final between India and Sri Lanka. With no international cricket in India in the build-up to this season, the league was expected to bounce back, with BCCI president N Srinivasan telling the Hindu he expected the tournament "to be a sweeping success".

Sridhar Ramanujam, the head of brand consulting firm Brand Comm, thinks the problem is that there are too many games in the IPL now and that the BCCI needs to find a way to shorten the tournament. "I expect viewership will be selective," he said. "If I like Sachin Tendulkar, then I might watch the Mumbai Indians. I will probably watch Rahul Dravid. There might be people watching Sourav Ganguly.

"It is not as if people are going to stop watching it. There will be selective viewing. In a 50-over game, people are now watching the first 10 overs and the last 10 overs. Possibly there is a viewing pattern emerging for T20 as well."

Advertisers have also adopted more of a wait-and-watch approach to the tournament this season, with three major brands - Parle, LG Electronics and Godrej - choosing not to continue their association with the league. "Advertisers are starting to look at other options," Alok Bharadwaj, senior vice-president of Canon India, told the Times of India. "Each year the rates have gone up by 15 to 20% and the returns are not directly proportionate." Canon has reportedly cut down its spending on the league by 80%.

However, others, such as Vodafone, have backed the league, saying it is still the best platform to reach to reach a mass audience.

Sridhar believes Multi-Screen Media, which broadcasts the tournament on its Set Max channel, will need to consider moving to a pricing system that is linked to ratings in order to sell out its advertising space. "I think the whole [IPL] business model is a bit shaky now and not as robust as it was made out to be when it first started."

Edited by Abhishek Purohit

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo