India's Ravichandran Ashwin bowls to Australia's Marnus Labuschagne during play on Day 1 of the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 26, 2020. (Image: AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)
While all eyes are now on the India versus England series that is being played in India currently, India's tour of Australia will be one of the most talked about cricket series for years to come.
The series, especially the test matches, piqued the interest of cricket enthusiasts so much so that just the test series was watched by close to 75 million viewers on Sony Sports TV channels, said Rajesh Kaul, chief revenue officer, distribution and head, Sports Business, Sony Pictures Networks India.
"The test series was extremely well received on TV. Cricket fans across the country enthusiastically followed the brilliant fightback by the Indian cricket team after being dismissed for 36 runs in the first test match," Kaul told Moneycontrol.
He further said, "Rahane's century in the second test match, the gritty batting display by Hanuma Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin to save the third test match and the century partnership between Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur in the fourth test match, all these performances did extremely good viewership numbers on TV. The historic final day of the fifth test match achieved one of highest ratings for a test match on Australian soil."
Overall, India's tour of Australia was watched by more than 100 million viewers on television.
"There was tremendous buzz around the series considering the Men in Blue were returning to action after a period of almost nine months. Even though the team lost the ODI series, they bounced back to win the T20 series which helped keep fan interest in the series alive. Ratings for the T20 matches grew as the series progressed. The cherry on top was the historic victory during the test series which is already being considered as one of the best ever by the Indian cricket team," said Kaul.
Along with users, the advertiser interest for India tour of Australia was also strong. Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) got on board 17 sponsors for the series.
The co-presenting sponsors included My 11 Circle, Maruti Suzuki, Byju's, Amazon Digital Payments, Vimal Pan Masala and Jio. Associate sponsors were MRF, Mondelez, Pernod Ricard, SBI Mutual fund, AMFI, Ultratech Cement, Netflix, Cred, Ather Energy, PharmEasy and Cars 24. Even for its studio show, Extraaa Innings, SPN roped in Dettol as the presenting sponsor.
Compare the number of sponsors with the ongoing England tour of India, the series has got same number of sponsors.
Overall, sports channels are seeing strong recovery after being hit hard due to coronavirus impact.
"While cancellation of major sporting events did impact viewership of the sports genre, non-India international cricket which resumed with the West Indies tour of England during July 2020 exhibited higher viewership numbers as compared to similar cricket before the lockdown," said Kaul.
As for Sony Sports, he said that COVID-19 impact had been lesser, thanks to live WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) events which continued to be telecast during the lockdown period. Both these fight sports have a sizeable following in the country, he said.
Now with the return of India cricket and other live sports, Kaul said that overall viewership for the sports genre was at similar levels as it had been before the COVID-19 lockdown.
And, it looks like viewership will only increase as Sony Sports has a lot to offer in 2021.
"We started the year with the India tour of Australia as well as the India special, WWE Superstar Spectacle. We have a calendar of international and local marquee events which includes three more India tours-India tour of Sri Lanka, India tour of Zimbabwe and India tour of England," said Kaul.
Along with cricket, events like Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, UEFA EURO 2020, WWE, UFC, UEFA Champions League, Serie A and UEFA Europa League and FA Cup among others will air on Sony Sports channels in 2021.